This country has come a long way on race. The law no longer tolerates discrimination and most institutions, public and private, have accepted diversity as the new normal.
But all too often somebody stuns the nation by saying something so appallingly racist that it reveals just how far we still have to go.
Donald Sterling, the owner of the Los Angeles Clippers professional basketball team, is the latest example. Recordings of racist ravings from a man believed to be him in a conversation with his girlfriend were recently revealed. He was upset that she posted a benign picture of herself with basketball legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson and another woman on her Instagram account.
"Don't put him on Instagram for all the world to see," Sterling is reported to have said. "It bothers me a lot that you want to broadcast that you're associating with black people." He told her not to bring black people to his games.
Then there's Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher whose anti-government diatribes over grazing rights on federal land garnered 15 minutes of fame that became infamy when he said of black people, "I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton?"
Before that, it was celebrity chef Paula Deen. A former employee alleged Deen said she wanted a "true Southern plantation-style wedding" for her brother. Using a pejorative for blacks, she said she wanted a bunch of little ones in long-sleeve white shirts, black shorts and black bow ties. "You know in the Shirley Temple days, they used to tap dance around," Deen said, according to a lawsuit dismissed last year after she had admitted having used racial slurs.
Those bigoted comments, and the mindset they expose, are raw proof of just how stubborn prejudice can be. The nation is becoming more multiracial by the day. And with so many people embracing that reality, there's hope that eruptions of such bigotry soon will fade away.