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Earlier this month, columnist Chuck Arnold wrote about the divisiveness in our nation and made the following observation: “The story of how we got into this bitter and divisive mess is not at all clear, but at least one factor in the constant attacks on President Obama is his race.”

A reader wrote a letter to the editor questioning the accuracy of Arnold’s observation and suggested he needed evidence to back up his statement. The reader’s reaction surprised me because the evidence seems overwhelming and is increasing along with the pace of the 2012 presidential election.

I’m not responding for columnist Arnold, but here’s a few evidentiary reasons I believe the candidacy and election of President Barack Obama unleashed a current of racism that was, and is, tolerated, even encouraged, by what I hope is only a small segment of our population.

Last week, an Orange County Republican party official sent an email to friends and colleagues with an image of the president’s face superimposed on a baby chimpanzee held by two adult chimps. When a recipient of the email leaked it to media, the GOP official dismissed the outcry, saying it was an amusing joke and “much to do about nothing.” She apologized to those who may have been offended by it, a non-apology apology, and reserved her harshest words for the “coward” who leaked it to the media. Only after other GOP officials called for her resignation did the GOP official apologize fully and accept responsibility for her “unwise” behavior.

It’s not just viral emails that have and continue to manifest racist attitudes now deemed acceptable by some to express openly. Remember some of the signs at tea party rallies to protest health care reform legislation? Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose? There weren’t just a handful of these hateful signs, nor even dozens, there were hundreds of ugly, racist signs, handmade by self-identified tea partyers and displayed for media covering the rallies. Videos of the rally signs can be easily found on YouTube — a spectacle of creative racism in the 21st century preserved for posterity.

Last year, when the NAACP asked national tea party leaders to denounce racist rhetoric expressed at some rallies — a reasonable request, it seems to me — the leader of one of the largest groups, the Tea Party Express, came up with an unusual response. The tea party leader, Mark Williams, penned and publicly released a fake, satirical letter to Abraham Lincoln from the NAACP which read, in part: “Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government ‘stop raising our taxes.’ That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn?”

Williams, whose previous remarks included calling Obama an “Indonesian Muslim turned welfare thug,” was forced to resign, fortunately.

While emails and signs display blatant racism, we’re being offered creative, coded racism from the current crop of possible GOP contenders for president: In March, Mike Huckabee, who struck so many as a basically decent man, pandered to the basest of the base when he mangled facts, history and geography by offering the observation that Obama, having grown up in Kenya, was influenced by the Mau Mau rebellion and that’s why he’s so different than the rest of us and never played baseball. (Note: There are no actual facts in the preceding statement, which ultimately led to Huckabee’s handlers saying he “misspoke.”)

Newt Gingrich, reportedly one of the brightest bulbs in the GOP pack, picked up the Obama-isn’t-really-one-of-us smears by suggesting that Obama’s “Kenyan, anti-colonial mentality” caused him to hold a world view “that is so outside our comprehension.”

And Donald Trump, someone I would dismiss were he not now leading some GOP polls with his Obama-was-born-in-Kenya platform, explained to a reporter this week that the reason why Obama’s Kenyan relatives placed false birth announcements in Hawaiian newspapers was to make sure he would be eligible for welfare.

Racism knows no geographical boundaries, nor is it confined to members of any one political party or theory of government. But it’s not behind us as a nation, recorded only in history books, and it certainly isn’t hard to find.