Two stories out of the Carolinas this week reminded me that confronting America's legacy of racial injustice is a task that remains on-going. The first was the BBC's coverage of North Carolina's restitution efforts related to its involuntary sterilization program Targeting the poor and minorities, this program operated for several decades starting in the 1950s, sterilizing people who were under state care either in mental institutions or on the welfare dole. The darling strategy of eugenicist governments everywhere-- think the Czechoslovakian communist government's' forced sterilization of the Roma-- also happened to African-Americans in North Carolina. To be fair, this story had legs this week because North Carolina has agreed to pay restitution to the living victims of this crime against humanity-- a measure that the other dozen mostly southern states who had similar programs have not yet done. The second story was today's New York Times piece about the curious case of a black pastor controlling a famous white supremacist shop, the Redneck Shop, in Lauren, South Carolina. Through various machinations forming exactly the southern Gothic tale the headline promises, the Rev. David Kennedy has come to own the property on which stands one of the most well-known retailers of Ku Klux Klan paraphenalia-- yet according to an agreement made between the seller and the original owner of the shop, the original owner's shop could remain as long as he lived. Therefore, Pastor Kennedy, who would like to convert the space into a community center, which "won't be a place for any race to have supremacy," is forced to wait things out. Meanwhile, mostly out-of-towners flock to the store for all their racist retail "needs."
Together, both stories clearly show that America is far from being the post-race nation some would claim in the age of Obama. The current subculture of white supremacy in the south has a viable retail consumption market and the state of North Carolina is only today coming to grips with its sterilization programs used against poor minorities in years past. Far from merely remembering a racist past, Americans must realize the necessity of holding a racial justice orientation as an act of "doing" in the present. The full accounting of racist policies and programs perpetrated in the U.S. remains pending and many of the attitudes and ignorance which led to such policies in the first place are far from eradicated from today's sociopolitical landscape.