With the election of an African-American president, some people thought this country had suddenly become "post-racial." Well, hardly. A new book quotes Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as saying that America was ready for a president like Barack Obama who is black but "light-skinned" and speaks "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." Disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said in an interview that he was "blacker than Obama" -- a comment that Blago later called "stupid, stupid, stupid." Here are 10 facts about racism and its close cousin, ethnic intolerance:
1. "Honky," a slur against white people, probably originated in Chicago. Experts trace it to "bohunk," used to describe Bohemians, Hungarians and other Eastern European immigrants. Black workers in Chicago's South Side meatpacking plants are believed to have referred to their white co-workers as "hunkies," which later became "honkies" to refer to all whites.
2. A 1906 newspaper article in the Atlanta Constitution described how a white girl suffered a fatal heart attack after dreaming that a "big negro" with a knife was trying to kill her. The Constitution seemed to blame the fictional black man, headlining the story: "Negro, Seen in Dream, Causes Death of Girl." Such newspaper transgressions are easy to find. In 1921, The New York Times reported that South Africa's black population, which outnumbered whites 5-to-1, was pushing for political power. Some would view that as democracy in action. The Times saw it differently with this headline: "Negroes a Problem in South Africa."
3. The Tribune has its own embarrassing archives regarding race. About 40,000 people viewed the body of lynching victim Emmett Till when it was returned from Mississippi to Chicago in 1955, but the Tribune's article suggested that the key civil rights event might be a Marxist hoax. The article's third and fourth paragraphs described communists distributing "inflammatory literature" outside the church. The fifth and sixth paragraphs quoted a Mississippi sheriff who questioned whether the body was even Till's and said that "the whole thing looks like a deal made up by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People."
4. There's nothing like a Disney movie to make some people whistle a happy tune and other people simply scream. The 1946 feature film "Song of the South" remains out of circulation because of the perceived offense it would give to African-Americans. The 1933 cartoon short "Three Little Pigs" featured the big, bad wolf dressed as a Jewish peddler. After complaints, the cartoon was revised so that the wolf posed as a Fuller Brush salesman. More recently, Arabs objected to a lyric in the 1992 film "Aladdin." It originally described Arabia as a place "where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face / It's barbaric, but hey, it's home." That was changed to "Where it's flat and immense, and the heat is intense / It's barbaric, but hey, it's home." A Disney spokesman emphasized that the new lyric meant that Arabian weather patterns, not people, were "barbaric."
5. It's now a slur, but it once was the official name of a federal program. "Operation Wetback" was conducted in 1954 to drive illegal immigrants from the American Southwest. Federal officials claimed that 1.3 million people were deported or compelled to flee. The offensive name for the operation came from Gen. Joseph "Jumpin' Joe" Swing, a former West Point classmate of then-President Dwight Eisenhower who headed the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
6. A few weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, Life magazine published an article headlined "How to tell Japs from the Chinese." The Chinese, who were U.S. allies, found themselves mistaken for Japanese on American streets and treated rudely by angry Americans. Then Life came to the rescue, with annotated photos. The Chinese had "parchment yellow complexion." The Japanese had "earthy yellow complexion." The Chinese were "tall and slender." The Japanese were "short and squat." In their facial expressions, the Chinese "wear the rational calm of tolerant realists," while Japanese show the "humorless intensity of ruthless mystics." A person from China "never has rosy cheeks." A Japanese person has "sometimes rosy cheeks." The apparent message: If you feel compelled to angrily confront an Asian stranger, harass the one with the rosy cheeks.
7. Ethnic prejudice can look a lot like racism. In 1855, Chicago's lily-white rulers clashed with new German and Irish immigrants. The battleground: booze. Mayor Levi Boone tried to shut down Irish and German beer halls while leaving open the taverns that served the whiskey preferred by his kind of people. An immigrant mob protested the crackdown, and the Lager Beer Riot ensued, leading to one death and 60 arrests.
8. Two of Chicago's best-known roads -- Sheridan and Roosevelt -- are named after national icons who disparaged American Indians. The phrase "The only good Indian is a dead Indian" is often attributed to Gen. Philip Sheridan. He denied saying it, but there's no question he viewed Indians as inferior savages and that he imposed hard-line policies leading to the deaths of many innocent Indians. Future President Theodore Roosevelt addressed the "only good Indian" expression in an 1886 speech: "I don't go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of every 10 are, and I shouldn't like to inquire too closely into the case of the 10th."
9. Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and standard-bearer of the "Back to Africa" movement, met with the Ku Klux Klan in the early 1920s. Garvey said the two groups' attitudes were "similar," explaining: "Whilst the Ku Klux Klan desires to make America absolutely a white man's country, the Universal Negro Improvement Association wants to make Africa absolutely a black man's country." Four decades later, Malcolm X also met with the Klan. According to accounts by Malcolm X and an FBI informant, the black Muslim and the Klan shared their distaste for integration. But unlike Garvey, Malcolm X later expressed regret for consorting with Klansmen.
10. No matter how bad race relations are today, they are better than they used to be. In 1983, only 43 percent of Americans approved of marriage between blacks and whites. In recent surveys, 79 percent did. When blacks and whites were asked in 1997 whether they had "a fairly close personal friend" of the other race, 74 percent said yes. In 2008, 81 percent did. Will we be anywhere near 100 percent by 2042, when America is projected to become a "majority minority" nation?
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor for the Tribune.
SOURCES: "An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad" by Claude Andrew Clegg; "The End of Racism" by Dinesh D'Souza; "Whitewash: Racialized Politics and the Media" by John Gabriel; "The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins," edited by Robert Hendrickson; "In Our Own Words: Extraordinary Speeches of the American Century," edited by Robert G. Torricelli and Andrew Carroll; "Phil Sheridan and His Army" by Paul Andrew Hutton; "Proverbs: A Handbook" by Wolfgang Mieder; " Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination" by Neal Gabler; "English with an Accent: Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the United States" by Rosina Lippi-Green; USA Today; Toronto Star; snopes.com; Tribune editor Jim Haglund; and Tribune news services.Copyright © 2015, CT Now