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Saturday, Jul 12, 2014
Steve Otto

Otto: On this MLK Day, it's time to leave hate behind

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Published:   |   Updated: March 13, 2013 at 10:07 AM

You might think, considering the convergence of numbers, with this year being the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, along with the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, that today's second inaugural celebration of President Barack Obama would be one more triumphant link in our path to truly being a country for all the people.

There is so much that is positive. We are changing, becoming more inclusive, more used to working and living with people of color on common ground.

But — and you knew there would be a "but"— there are always going to be exceptions. There are always the few. There will always be those who need someone to hate.

What bothers me is how racist and divided we still are.

Last year I spoke to Col. Gene Carter, an old friend who had served with my dad in Germany and whose wife, Mildred, had been close friends with my mom.

Before that, Carter, a black man, had served with the legendary Tuskegee Airmen. His wife, although a pilot, had not been allowed to fly in the women's air branch. He spoke to me shortly before he died with a little sadness that this country he had fought for was still full of many of those prejudices we thought were no longer there. He told me he thought it was more subtle. But in his travels on behalf of Tuskegee University, he still dealt with being slighted, ignored or stuck in the corner.

Maybe it has always been there in larger numbers than I thought, but I wonder. It used to be that if a black face appeared in this column — and it didn't matter what the story was about — I could count on getting about a dozen or so letters of pure hate.

The Internet changed that, making it easier to send hate mail anonymously.

Oddly enough, with the rise to power of Barack Obama,my mail has changed. It's become more subtle. It's easier to attack the president on issues, only here and there dropping in racist remarks.

I was down at the old Tampa Union Station a few months ago listening as someone talked about how it had been restored to its original beauty. What he didn't mention was that at one time the station was divided in half by a wall that separated black from white. Each side had its own drinking fountains and restrooms. Now the wall is gone, but I wonder about the invisible wall that we still have. It's technically gone but still there in the prejudices we can't quite shake.

The problem is we can't afford bigotry anymore. We've got issues of health care and huge debts. We have to deal with crumbling infrastructure and power grids, lousy schools and hunger. We don't have time for those who use their prejudices to get in the way of where we need to go.

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