This has been a decade of racial progress and setbacks. From the curb, it may be hard to tell the difference. So as a public service, I give you….
2000-2010: A Race Odyssey:
• After the tragedy of 9/11, Arab American stereotypes morph from harmless convenient store owner to new American nigger. The Simpsons' Apuh is suddenly nowhere near as funny.
• Apologies for slavery come from every corner. White guilt fades, institutional racism intensifies. The world keeps spinning.
• Black power rap group Public Enemy's William "Flavor Flav" Drayton hosts dating show "Flavor of Love," scuttles any political relevancy and becomes a new millennial Sambo with a twist of psychotic Mandingo.
• Talk-show host Oprah Winfrey asks a closed high-end retail store in Paris, Hermes, to open its doors for her and is subsequently rebuffed. This becomes her moment of clarity and, as she comers to grip with the reality of her race, radicalizes Winfrey… for about 10 minutes. Hermes offers her an apology and all is forgiven.
• Underground rap sensation Three Six Mafia wins Oscar for their contribution to the movie Hustle and Flow as white America sings along about the hard life of inner-city pimps. Much of black America cringes.
• After attempting a “shake’n’dash,” maneuver, two black female strippers falsely accuse Duke University Lacrosse players of rape. After forensics find several different sperm splotches on the woman's panties — none of them matching any of the team members — the boys are vindicated. Reputations ruined, they launch a blitzkrieg of lawsuits on the prosecutor and Duke University. Crystal Magnum, the primary accuser, pens a book insisting that she was assaulted.
• Professional radio bigot Don Imus declares that the Rutgers Women’s basketball team look like a bunch of “nappy-headed hos.” Despite the fact that it is his job to be provocative, the debate whether the young women are in fact nappy-headed or hos goes prime-time as black punditry hits a fever pitch. Commentator Roland Martin explains nappy-headed ho-dom to Paula Zahn and parlays his skill as Negro Tour Guide into a gig as CNN contributor. In the midst of the dust-up, Imus apologizes, is fired and is back on the air within a year.
• Hurricane Katrina. President Bush fiddles while New Orleans drowns. Rapper Kanye West makes perhaps one of the most poignant observations in the history of live television.
• Barack Obama swats his wife on the butt and gives her a pound in front of a live audience and in an unwitting moment of dog-whistle politicking, affirms his blackness, locks in the black vote and is subsequently swept into office.
• Not to be outdone by Blackface Jesus, actor Robert Downey Jr. remixes an offensive dramatic device to play a "dude playing a dude disguised as another dude" in the brilliant comedy Tropic Thunder. A boycott precedes the movie, followed by indifference and finally, raucous laughter.
• A nation wonders "What'chu talkin' bout, Willis?" as Black leader and cultural icon Gary Coleman's marriage and tragic marital problems prove that, indeed, the world doesn’t move by the beat of just one drum.
• Harvard professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is arrested while trying to enter his own home, prompting a discussion on race and class in this country.
• Michael Jackson dodges child molestation charges, mounts a comeback and dies, leaving all to wonder who the man in mirror really was.
• In the tradition of unforgivably black boxer Jack Johnson, multi-ethnic supergolfer Tiger Woods brought down by his philandering with 14 different white women. Everyone decides he's black.
Jimi Izrael is a regular contributor to The Root.
Single Father, Author, Screenwriter, Award-Winning Journalist, NPR Moderator, Lecturer and College Professor. Habitual Line-Stepper