On my list of potential New Year’s resolutions, one stood out as I wistfully looked toward 2017.
Alas, it already has been scratched from the compilation.
How refreshing, I thought, to go a whole year without having occasion to write about race. We could devote that energy to more pressing causes once we acknowledged that race is primarily a social construct, not a biological one, and that we could easily deconstruct it.
Not only could I focus on other subjects, but all of those readers who live in post-racial Western New York would get a reprieve from having to hear about imagined inequity or bigotry that’s merely a figment of blacks’ collective imagination.
Then Carl Paladino shared his own New Year’s wishes via Artvoice.
In one vile submission, the Buffalo School Board member reminded even the most obtuse or willfully naive why "the problem of the color line" W.E.B. DuBois identified in 1903 will remain a problem in 2017 – maybe more so here than most places because not every place would elect a Carl Paladino.
Invoking the most hateful stereotype – the gorilla – to denigrate Michelle Obama and bestiality to demean the president, Paladino continued a familiar pattern: forwarding racist, misogynist emails exposed during his 2010 gubernatorial run, singling out black school officials by race and complaining about "damn Asians" attending the University at Buffalo.
Fortunately, he is arrogant enough to believe he doesn’t have to sugarcoat his attitude. Better we have this School Board member in a heavily minority district reveal himself openly than push policy affecting students of color while pretending to respect their potential.
As calls for his ouster multiply, the task for the state education commissioner and/or the School Board is clear: It is unthinkable that someone with his warped racial outlook would be setting policy to educate the next generation.
But Carl Paladino doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He won Western New York when running for governor and South Buffalo voters twice elected him to the School Board. Apparently there remains a constituency willing to overlook such views, one that seemingly includes his fellow business "leaders" whose silence speaks loudly as politicians and civic groups around them take a stand.
Nor does Western New York exist in a vacuum. Despite undeniably momentous progress, anyone who doubts that racism remains structurally embedded in American life need look no further than the series of New York Times articles this month laying bare the disparate treatment of blacks and whites in the state prison system. Or when up for parole. Or – because of economic inequities – when applying for prison diversion programs.
Criminal justice is just one more sphere – along with health care, employment, lending, etc. – in which race remains an immutable factor despite being nugatory as a measure of anything real.
So no, when the calendar flips at midnight Sunday, it won’t signal the start of a 365-day reprieve.
The most good people of all colors can hope for is that, if we grapple honestly with the issue over the next 12 months, we can end 2017 looking toward a better racial future the same way Buffalo fans look toward a better sports future: Maybe next year.