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Racial tensions improved, but not resolved

It was a bright, sunny June Sunday, six or seven years ago, and our community's annual parade was marching down Dot Ave. to the delight of the many neighbors who had come out to enjoy the extravaganza.

I was standing near the entrance to Dot Park, and the spirit was festive among the many folks there. Most were unknown to me, including a pair of thirty-something guys who were enjoying a beverage or two while making sly asides at the passing throng.

They cheered the pols, saluted the veterans' post color guards, and cheered the youth hockey kids as they proudly passed by.

The two then saw a group of young pre-teens from a local Caribbean multi service center, all dressed up in the garb of their island roots.

"Lock and load," they said, laughing out loud.

That this country has a ways to go in dealing with race relations is indisputable; that conditions are better now than a generation ago is true, too. The Democratic campaigns underscore two festering fault lines that remain in American life: race and gender.

Some believe that men who support Obama are biased for men; others see Clinton's advantage over Obama among women voters as a function of women seeing a first-ever opportunity.

Among both camps, there's a certain animosity for the rival candidate, and as the fractures grow, deep fissures have emerged. It is a dangerous course for a political party that wants to win the White House.

The partisan divide worsens when talk comes about "the isms"- racism and sexism. One fervent Hillary supporter says that, in her view, sexist behavior is far more prevalent than racism. Sounds like it's long past time for honest discussion about both.

In his speech this week on race, Senator Obama said:

"Race is an issue that I believe this nation cannot afford to ignore right now. We would be making the same mistake that Reverend Wright made in his offending sermons about America - to simplify and stereotype and amplify the negative to the point that it distorts reality.

"The fact is that the comments that have been made and the issues that have surfaced over the last few weeks reflect the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through - a part of our union that we have yet to perfect. And if we walk away now, if we simply retreat into our respective corners, we will never be able to come together and solve challenges like health care, or education, or the need to find good jobs for every American.

"This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years… But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union."

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote that Obama's message reminds her of Irish playwright Eugene O'Neill's observation, "There is no present or future, only the past happening over and over again."

Locked and loaded, Americans urgently need to put down their verbal assaults and have a frank and honest discussion about the things that divide us.