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The Year 2010 in Review: Top Race Relations Stories

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How will the year 2010 go down in history in terms of race relations? It saw a black USDA official lose her job on the false basis that she's anti-white, celebrity after celebrity drop the N-word, a boycott of Arizona due to an immigration law viewed as racist and plenty more. Take a look back at which news stories about race gripped the nation over the past 12 months. Here's a timeline of the year 2010 in review.



1. Earthquake in Haiti

U.S. Army/Flickr.com

After a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked Haiti on Jan. 12, images of devastated black people flashed across TV screens, and Americans couldn’t help but remember Hurricane Katrina. When that storm ravaged the Gulf Coast in 2005, African Americans were portrayed as looters, and the black community expressed concern that the government was slow to aid the Gulf’s most vulnerable. But after the Haitian quake, relief poured in quickly. Americans rushed to adopt Haitian children, which sparked controversy because these children weren’t all orphans. Other controversies related to the quake include televangelist Pat Robertson accusing Haitians of making a “pact with the devil” and columnist David Brooks characterizing them as “progress-resistant.”



2. Celebrities Saying the N-Word

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The year 2010 will stand out as one in which various entertainers faced accusations of racism. Singer John Mayer, actor-director Mel Gibson and radio personality Dr. Laura may not have much in common, but they all faced backlash in 2010 for saying the N-word. Mayer dropped the word while bragging about his black fans during a Playboy interview published online in February. Gibson, in contrast, shouted the slur during an exchange with the mother of his child. He said that her attire would lead to a rape by a “pack of n____rs.” Racist much? And Dr. Laura repeated the slur to prove to a black caller that it’s not so offensive. The public disagreed. Dr. Laura resigned but will be back on the air in 2011, courtesy of Sirius Radio.

3. Compton Cookout

The 2010 year wasn't a good year for the University of California, San Diego--at least in terms of race. The school faced a public relations crisis when students held an off-campus party Feb. 15 called the “Compton Cookout.” Flyers to the event featured stereotypes of blacks. Partygoers were urged to arrive in “ghetto fabulous” attire--you know, the kind of gaudy gear organizers figured black people favor. After the party, tensions rose when supporters of the event used racial slurs to defend the “Cookout.” As tensions flared, UCSD officials worried if the negative press would cause minority enrollment to drop, and minority students called the party “disheartening and hurtful.” Sadly, students at other schools have thrown similar parties.

4. Slavery and the Confederacy

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What’s the best way to celebrate the Confederacy, and how should slavery be addressed during such festivities? That question was posed when Virginia recognized April as Confederate History Month to honor “the sacrifices of the Confederate leaders, soldiers and citizens during the period of the Civil War.” Newsweek’s Jon Meacham criticized the proclamation for the month because it didn’t mention slavery. The NAACP argued likewise when objecting to South Carolina’s secession ball. The Dec. 20 gala marked the 150th anniversary of the state’s secession from the Union but left out how slavery provided the impetus for secession. So, do such celebrations glorify the old segregated South or honor the fight for state’s rights? The debate goes on.

5. Arizona’s Immigration Law

Boycotts, marches and debate followed Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s decision in April to sign SB 1070. The law granted police officers authority to ask anyone they suspected of being an undocumented immigrant to produce papers. Immigrant advocates said the law would lead to racial profiling. Anyone with “Latino” features would likely be questioned by police, while those not typically viewed as immigrants would be left alone. Under the law, those unable to prove their immigration status would be guilty of misdemeanors. In July, immigrant advocates rejoiced when a federal judge prevented much of the law from being enacted. Police cannot ask drivers for papers during traffic stops and legal immigrants don’t have to carry papers at all times.

6. The Oscar Grant Murder Trial

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The case against the Bay Area Rapid Transit officer who shot Oscar Grant as he lay prostrate on an Oakland train platform marked one of the few times in California an officer was charged with murder in the line of duty. The case triggered racial tensions because Grant was black, and arresting officer Johannes Mehserle is white. Although Mehserle said he shot Grant accidentally, the black community largely viewed the incident as just another white cop disregarding black life. When an all non-black jury convicted Mehserle only of involuntary manslaughter in July, and a white judge sentenced the ex-cop to just two years in prison, Northern Californians took to the streets in protest, leading to more than 150 arrests       .

7. Is the Tea Party Racist?

In a bold move, the NAACP issued a resolution in July asking “all people of good will to repudiate the racism of the Tea Parties, and to stand in opposition to its drive to push our country back to the pre-civil rights era.” The resolution sparked debate about whether the Tea Party is indeed racist. It didn’t help the Tea Party’s image when shortly after the NAACP issued its resolution, then Tea Party Express Mark Williams posted a satirical letter on his blog in which he referred to slavery as “a great gig” for “coloreds” because it provided them with free room and board and a “massa” to make decisions for them. Due to the public outcry the blog post generated, the Tea Party ousted Williams from its ranks.

8. The Smear Against Shirley Sherrod

In July, a right-wing blogger posted a doctored video that made it seem as if then U.S. Department of Agriculture official Shirley Sherrod had confessed (during a speech at an NAACP event ) of discriminating against white farmers. In fact, Sherrod was not the anti-white racist the video made her appear to be. In the heavily edited video, she admitted to previously resenting whites who talked down to her but described how she’d worked through her feelings and even befriended a white farmer who’d offended her. Before the USDA found out the truth, however, Sherrod was forced to resign from her job. When the truth came out, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack offered her a new position within the USDA, but she declined.

9. Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor

Civil rights activists were stunned when Glenn Beck planned a rally called “Restoring Honor” on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington at the Lincoln Memorial—the same place Martin Luther King Jr. delivered “I Have a Dream.” Black leaders accused Beck of co-opting the symbolism of the civil rights movement to promote a right-wing agenda. Beck posited that the rally aimed to celebrate those “who embody our nation’s founding principles of integrity, truth and honor.” But it struck lefties as odd that one of the rally’s goals was to “take our country back.” From whom—President Obama—a man Beck and conservatives have painted as a threat to America? In the end, Beck inspired liberals Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert to organize their own rally.

10. The So-Called Ground Zero Mosque

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Anti-Muslim xenophobia reached a fever pitch in 2010. A Florida minister made international headlines after threatening to burn Korans. Mosque attacks occurred in California, Wisconsin and Tennessee, and angry mobs gathered outside of a proposed Islamic Center near Ground Zero. Moreover, a September ABC News poll found that 49% of Americans have an unfavorable view of Islam. This is a race relations issue because anti-Muslim resentment puts those who look “Muslim” at risk. Protesters outside of the Ground Zero mosque angrily confronted a black man they mistook for a Muslim simply because he wore a skullcap. This is just one example of why all Americans should shun xenophobia. Anyone can be a target.
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