In one of Chris Rock’s more cutting remarks as host of the Oscars on Sunday, the black comedian wondered aloud to the mostly white audience why there weren’t protests in the 1960s when black actors surely weren’t getting nominated for awards.
“Because we had real things to protest,” he said, drawing winces from Hollywood’s elite. “We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer.”
It’s true. Black people are thankfully no longer getting lynched with the tacit support of the American people. But that doesn’t mean, as a country, we’ve shed our violent, racially divided past. And it doesn’t mean we’ve adequately addressed it.
If the events of this past weekend taught us anything, they taught us that.
A mere 30 miles away from where Rock took the stage in Hollywood, three people were stabbed at a Ku Klux Klan rally. Anaheim police say about 30 protesters jumped six Klan members when they got out of an SUV.
It was a bloody affair reminiscent of an era we wish were long gone, particularly for a city that once was nicknamed “Klanaheim” and has gone from mostly white to majority minority in a couple of generations. Instead, multiple videos were uploaded to YouTube.
One showed protesters stomping and punching Klan members, red soaking the sidewalk. Another showed a Klansman using a flagpole topped with an American flag as a weapon. Another man had a sign that read, “White Lives Do Matter Say No To Cultural Genocide.”
Five Klan members were let go after video footage proved they were acting in self-defense. Meanwhile, seven protesters are facing charges.
On Sunday – around the same time protesters in New York were gathering at ABC’s studios to rail about the lack of diversity in Oscar nominations – protesters were gathering outside an Anaheim police station to angrily demand the release of the anti-Klan protesters.
And if that weren’t enough racial ugliness for one weekend, the leading Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, refused to denounce the KKK and its former grand wizard, David Duke. Incredibly, Trump told CNN on Sunday that he needed to do “more research” first – on a white supremacist group. On Monday, he blamed his lack of resolve on a faulty earpiece.
Americans would be wise to take a lesson from Chris Rock, and confront escalating racial tensions and divisions as deftly and directly as he confronted the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for, once again, nominating only white actors this year.
The United States is far from post-racial, but we don’t have to be post-compassion, too.