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Fatimah Ali: 'Race war' in America

AT LEAST 2 million readers visit daily, and, for the last two weeks, it seemed like most of them were steamed at me.

AT LEAST 2 million readers visit daily, and, for the last two weeks, it seemed like most of them were steamed at me.

Thousands of hostile messages flooded my e-mail after my Sept. 2 column that the Daily News called "We Need Obama, Not 4 More Years of George Bush."

Drudge cleverly headlined it: "Philadelphia columnist warns if McCain wins, look for a full-fledged race war."

I stand by the column - but after all of that backlash, I realize I was dead wrong. We don't have to wait until after the election for a race war. We're in one now.

I know that putting the words "race" and "war" together is like hurling an incendiary device. But I wasn't issuing a call to arms, it was a metaphorical prediction.

I hate violence, but I do see a growing wave of intolerance sweeping the nation. And most of the responses were hostile, like one from someone who identified himself as Dennis Van Pelt: "Obama runs like a porch monkey in Alabama during a KKK concert." But, not all white Southerners feel like Dennis. Russ Nelson wrote: "I am a white male who was proud to cast my vote for Barack Obama in the Alabama state primary. He inspires me!"

Nelson sounds more like the liberal whites I grew up with in West Mount Airy, a community that pioneered integration in Philadelphia and kept me wearing rose-colored glasses. I didn't personally experience racism until I was 40, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks.

The recent onslaught of hate mail I received is a cruel reminder that racism is a like a simmering pot ready to boil over. But it's diametrically opposed to what democracy should represent.

I move in diverse circles and was raised in an upper-middle-class family with parents who exposed us to a wide range of experiences. My family includes several races and religions and a range of political views.

But from what I've been seeing lately, including the reaction to my column, the racial, economic, cultural and religious divides are getting wider. Most of the 2,000 negative responses used language so foul my ears curled.

These excerpts are some of the milder ones: Jerry Caruso threatened: "Pleeeeease bring it, we'll extinguish you." Michael Babich from Wichita, Kan., accused me of "calling for rampant crime and a plague of locusts."

From John Hassler: "I'd rather have an all out war than have [Obama] for president." John Hermanek: "There will be race wars either way. Why? Because he's black." Roland hated my column: "I don't like threats, so I will for sure, vote for John McCain." Jim McDowell was less polite: "I just realized after I saw your last name you're a damn rag head. You stupid S.O.B.'s want to take us back to the seventh century."

Do these quotes shock you? Is the vitriol not far from the kind of hatred that led to lynching?

Unfortunately, sentiments like this are not uncommon. Flip through right-wing talk radio, and you can hear this type of intolerance daily. Syndicated talker Jim Quinn wondered if I'm some "liberal black Muslim" and (according to fumed, "Get an American name if you want to be an American."

You have to have a European name to be an American? Barack Obama's candidacy has simply been the latest stage on which some of this antagonism plays out. I wonder about people like Larry Coltslinger, who said: "Our unemployment rate is as good, or better than it was after all eight years of Bill Clinton."

Yet, like so many others, my family has to tough it out daily to get by. But we're hardly alone. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 592,000 Americans lost their jobs last month. Many share a similar plight - middle-class families who've lost financial footing because of corporate greed.

DECADES after Brown v. Board, after a long civil-rights struggle and the fact that we live in an increasingly multicultural society, our nation's sagging economic state is also causing great racial strife among those who are financially at the bottom.

In some neighborhoods in L.A., violence is rampant between blacks and Mexicans. Gang wars are frequent, and, the LAPD says, are based on race and competition for jobs. In Philadelphia, police believe several recent robberies and murders of shop owners were directly related to race.

No, we're not anywhere near "post-racial" times. If we were, the possibility that a black man may well become our next president wouldn't matter. And two words out of 775 in my original column would not have unleashed the kind of hatred that makes me want to retreat to a bunker. *

Fatimah Ali is a regular contributor. E-mail her at