The president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said last night that racism in the United States is more volatile than ever, calling on the crowd of about 150 people at the Enoch Pratt Free Library to serve in their communities to fight against discrimination.
"The barriers have become more permeable. But the point of our work is not to make the barriers more permeable, the point of our work is to make sure there're no more barriers," said Ben Jealous, the civil rights organization's 17th president. "Racism is a bit like an onion. You peel off one layer, then there is the next."
Jealous and Gerald Torres, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, were part of a wide-ranging panel discussion at the downtown branch centered on whether all races are on an equal playing field in light of Barack Obama's rise to the office of president.
Both panelists discussed whether talking about race in public is worthwhile; Obama's handling of the Henry Louis Gates incident; and the structural ramifications of discrimination.
"The fact that we have a black president, we have a lot of interracial relationships that have emerged; some of the grossest forms of racism are no longer permissible - it would be wrong to say society hasn't progressed," Torres said.
Jealous, 36, is the youngest person to hold the top position in the NAACP's 100-year history. Torres is the author of "The Miner's Canary: Enlisting Race, Resisting Power, Transforming Democracy."
The event was sponsored by Open Society Institute-Baltimore, the third of a year-long series by the organization addressing race.