A volcano is one of nature’s most destructive events. Molten rock is spewed into the air and solidifies as it makes its way down the slopes, obliterating everything in its wake. The cloud of powdered rock produced by the eruption at Mount St. Helens was catapulted 80,000 feet in the air, polluting the world’s atmosphere, and changing the weather across the North American continent — and beyond. Ashes from the explosion covered the land for hundreds of miles. That eruption was thirty-five years ago, and you can still buy little bottles of the ash in novelty stores.
But what was seen was only the result of events taking place far below the surface. It was this boiling rock that finally found a weakened place and broke through the earth’s crust.
Most events of any magnitude have been the result of what goes on under the surface. Even our most gruesome episodes are little more than the bubbling up of what lies far underground. When little children are slaughtered in New Town or teenagers at Columbine High School, these are only outcroppings — lava flows — the evidence of what has been boiling under a nation where there are literally millions of firearms in circulation, and organizations committed to see they remain uncontrolled. Simply put; the more guns in civilian hands the more people will be killed with them.
Two eruptions a month ago, shocking in themselves, may be evidences of the racial bigotry still boiling under the surface in America. Donald Sterling continued his long-time diatribe against African Americans, even while owning a mostly black NBA team. The league came down on him as hard as it could, which is what he deserved. Cliven Bundy not only hates government, to which he owes a bundle of money for illegally running his cattle on Federal lands, but also believes African Americans were better off as slaves.
Then a year ago Phil Robertson, whose Duck Dynasty is not only homophobic but also blatantly racist, generated considerable support every time he or his crew made bigoted statements about somebody or some group.
And two years ago Trayvon Martin was stalked and killed for no other reason than he was a black kid walking in the wrong place. And is our historic memory so short we fail to recall that the solid Democratic south was lured into Republican hands when Lyndon Johnson called for Civil Rights legislation? That brave act generated Richard Nixon’s southern strategy built on an unarticulated racist agenda.
The recent effort in a handful of conservative states to limit voting is just another sign that racism remains alive and well, if mostly under the surface.
When fans of these constituencies awoke to discover that the nation had elected an African American as President, there was the dawning of an unarticulated shock — under the surface. What we see in the above illustrations may be only the volcanic explosions of an hostility that continues to infect America.
Clearly the nation has made enormous progress in dealing with its sordid history of racial bigotry. But all of these events — those a generation old and, those in last month’s news — reveal the subterranean existence of a hardened racial hostility.
What may be increasingly apparent is the racism that may still lie undetected in so many of us. As do others I know, I believe I have long since been free of any racial bigotry — and then I get reminded of some subtle insidious personal action or attitude that I may not have seen as a form of racism, but may well fit that designation. Not only do we need to identify what occasionally goes on in our society, but perhaps we need to continually examine our own inner motives and actions. At least that is my intention.