“Being black in America is tough,” Cleveland Cavaliers basketball star LeBron James said at a news conference in reaction to the N-word being spray-painted on the gate of a home he owns in Los Angeles. Such truth is the height of understatement. That folks need to be reminded of that is appalling. And yet, here we are — again — listening to an American remind other Americans that we haven’t overcome.
But James wasn’t the only person decrying racism in America on last week. A noose was found in one of the galleries at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, that jewel on the Mall that takes the blinders off our national history and puts it into proper context. Echoing James, founding director Lonnie Bunch said in a statement, “Today’s incident is a painful reminder of the challenges that African Americans continue to face.”
For blacks, these painful reminders come daily. Some are implicit, hidden. As James said in commenting on the persistence of hate toward African Americans, “We know people hide their faces and will say things about you — when they see you, they smile at your face. It’s alive every single day.” Oftentimes that hate is explicit. An ugly bit of malicious message-sending meant to sow fear and cow a people who can’t seem — in the eyes of the offender — to know their place.
That’s reportedly why 66-year-old Timothy Caughman is dead today. James Harris Jackson, a white supremacist and Army veteran from Baltimore, went to New York in March to “target male blacks,” according to police. They also say Jackson told them that he wrote a manifesto of hate. He was particularly irked by black men who dated white women. Surveillance video caught Jackson “stalking” another black man earlier on the day of his alleged murder of Caughman on March 20.
Police are investigating whether 23-year-old Richard W. Collins III is dead because of explicit hatred. Sean Christopher Urbanski, a student at the University of Maryland, allegedly stabbed to death the black Bowie State University senior just days before he was to graduate, in what police called a “totally unprovoked” attack on May 20. The Post reports that Urbanski was involved in a Facebook group that is a pixelated cesspool of racism and hatred.
Attacks are now part of our miserable national tapestry. One that shows, to all who bother to look and internalize its meaning, that whether young or old, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, the lives of African Americans are clouded by menace. Supremacists think nothing of taking our lives. Bigots belittle us in word and deed. Not even President Barack Obama and his family were shielded from racism.
“No matter how much money you have, no matter how famous you are, no matter how many people admire you, being black in America is tough,” James said Wednesday. “And we got a long way to go for us as a society and for us as African Americans until we feel equal in America.”
On one of the walls inside the African American Museum’s “Contemplative Court” is the title of Sam Cooke’s iconic song “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Sadly, the events of the past few months, or hell, years, show that change — of minds, hearts, souls — won’t come soon enough.
Jonathan Capehart is a Washington Post columnist.