With the events of recent days, the mayor's race relations commission has enough raw meat to gorge itself.

With the events of recent days, the mayor's race relations commission has enough raw meat to gorge itself.


Last week, in a vote that fell along stark racial lines, Peoria District 150 School Board members re-elected Dave Gorenz as president. White board members voted for Gorenz, the white man; black board members voted for Martha Ross, the black woman. Ross, currently the longest-serving member on the board, blamed the sensitive issue of racism for her loss.


Earlier this week, arbitrators handed city officials (particularly Police Chief Steve Settingsgaard) an intriguing defeat, forcing the city to return fired police lieutenant Marshall Dunnigan to the force with full back pay. City officials claimed he was fired for intentionally stealing another gambler's winning ticket as they both gambled at the Par-A-Dice casino. Dunnigan said it was an innocent mistake and returned the money. The police department's highest ranking black officer at the time, Dunnigan blamed his termination on a potent combination of racism and racial retaliation for filing discrimination suits regarding promotions.


On top of everything else, we learned President George W. Bush is coming to town to help Aaron Schock raise money in Schock's bid to get elected congressman. Tickets are $500 each, $5,000 for a photo-op with the most unpopular U.S. president since Nixon.


What does a Bush visit have to do with race relations?


Simple. Progress on two fronts. The Bush administration screwed up so much, so completely that the nation was willing to seriously consider a white woman or a black man for president.


Schock, a conservative Republican, has had some success making inroads among local black voters in previous campaigns for state representative. The president, however, was elected (at least once) in voting outcomes pretty much along the same stark racial lines as the local school board members who voted for the local school board president.


If I were Schock's campaign manager, I'd like to think the candidate gave a passing thought to how embracing Bush might affect future success in reaching out to black voters.


If I were white, I'd like to hope I would wonder what all those black voters picked up on about Bush that so many white voters did not see. If I were white, history might get in the way.


It goes without saying that black people and white people have made tremendous gains in race relations over the last 50 years. But by and large in the pop-culture mind, black people are still viewed as more criminal, less patriotic and less intelligent than white people.


The mindset gets in the way of considering the possibility that most black voters were politically savvier about selecting a president.


Along the same lines, Ross' charges of racism in the School Board's vote for president can be easily dismissed because, after all, the superintendent of schools is black and the board has three black members. But that is Race Relations 101. The sophisticated workings of race and racism in a public school district call for Ph.D.-levels of racial analysis, starting with the realization that black people and white people are quite often operating on totally different definitions of racism.


Speaking of definitions, once word got out about the gambling-boat incident, the racial mindset required that Marshall Dunnigan's guilt or innocence could only be defined in the public sphere in terms of crime. Many dismissed the very idea that his termination was unfair, or that the police department totally bungled its investigation of allegations against him, or that the city subsequently bungled its handling of his termination.


Real possibilities, made all the more real by the arbitrator's ruling. The racial hold on popular mindset often makes clear thinking on race inconceivable - or indigestible when it comes to the race relations commission's tentative efforts to improve race relations.


Pam Adams is a columnist with the Peoria Journal Star. Her e-mail address is padams@pjstar.com.