When Barack Obama broke the presidential color barrier, America gave itself an enlightened pat on the back. Tucked behind in her other fist, though, part of America still clung to a pointy white hood.
Instead of falling, the number of groups peddling hate last year jumped by 4 percent, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s springtime census of race-based hate groups in the United States.
The center puts the number of active hate groups at 926, up from 888 in 2007. With extremist groups swelling by more than 50 percent since 2000, more must be done to stop this hate revival from gaining proselytes.
The Sunshine State lags behind only California (84) and Texas (66) as top sanctuary for hate groups with 56, up from 39 in 2000. Central Florida, in particular, plays a shameful part. The Ku Klux Klan, black separatists, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads and neo-confederates hug the Interstate 4 corridor from Tampa/St. Petersburg through Orlando. Andrew Rosenkranz, Florida regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, calls that strip a “hotbed” for extremists.
In either case, decisive action is needed in Washington and in communities to combat what Mr. Rosenkranz calls a “virus.” The remedy? Reasonable people of all political persuasions need to speak out against racism and heap condemnation on hate groups when they show up in public. Experts say that schools can’t just teach tolerance of others; they need to emphasize acceptance and respect.
The state can’t legislate against abhorrent attitudes, but it can pass and enforce tough anti-hate and anti-harassment laws such as last year’s Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, which compels Florida schools to adopt anti-bullying policies.
Local municipalities must take stock of what measures are in place within their walls to counter hate and “set an example, create an environment where people are comfortable discussing those issues and constituents are comfortable bringing those issues to them,” says Simma Lieberman, author of “Putting Diversity to Work.”
And we must hear from the Oval Office, where the biracial president needs to amp-up the call for racial tolerance by, for example, boosting the size and charge of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service, which referees community dustups arising from racial or ethnic tensions.
Traces of racism may always plague our communities. Only by acting with singular resolve can the nation finally sweep racial hatred into history’s margins.
Editor’s Note: The above editorial appeared on May 4 in the Orlando Sentinel. It was reprinted here with permission from The Associated Press. The views expressed in the editorial are not necessarily those of the South Florida Times.
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