I was almost in my 20s before I noticed a racial slur being used in a racist context.

I had heard homophobic slurs, often maliciously fired toward any of those unfortunate enough to be late in hitting puberty. I had certainly heard sexist slurs, aimed at young girls.

But in my comfortable suburban life, racism always seemed more a relic of the past than an active force in society.

It was simple enough to believe that I grew up in a post-racial world. The civil rights movement was historic, as was slavery. We learned about racism in history class—it could never have any real effect on our lives, so I thought. To discuss racism was irrelevant.

Yet, it was the election of our first African-American president that made me see just how prevalent racism still is in American society.

I heard a disheartening number of racist attacks, often coming from older individuals I had known for years, as well as from peers whose latent racism came out when they realized that the president would be an African-American.

African-Americans are clearly subjected to a double standard in public discourse. Barack Obama, in public forums such as Fox News, has had his status as an American openly challenged, been attacked as a socialist, and been subjected to a wide array of rude—and yes, racist—comments.

Last week, on "Fox and Friends," well-known country music singer Hank Williams Jr. declared President Obama "the enemy," and explicitly compared him to Hitler. You know it's a shocking attack when the hosts of "Fox and Friends" are taken aback.

The racial undertones of such an attack are rather incredible. I don't believe that such vitriol would be as prevalent if Obama was not an African-American.

The upcoming election has forced several Republican nominees to address the issue of racism.

The name of Rick Perry's hunting ranch, for example, is racially offensive.

Herman Cain, who is an African-American, has claimed that African-Americans have been "brainwashed" into voting for Democrats. He is willing to attack the use of explicit racial slurs by his fellow candidates, but then claims that black voters are capable of being brainwashed in a way that other American constituencies are not.

A 2008 Gallup poll showed that Republicans were more likely to believe that racism in the United States was more prevalent against white Americans than black Americans.

This rather extraordinary (yet apparently widely held) belief is one implicitly endorsed by every major Republican nominee for president.

Is denying the existence of racism now a requirement to win the Republican nomination—even if the candidate is African-American? Except, of course, reverse racism against white Americans, which, according to many Republicans, is still a serious problem in American society.

I want to believe that we live in a post-racial society, where a man or woman is not judged by the color of his or her skin.

But latent racism is still clearly present.

Because it ignores such a serious problem, denying racism is itself a racist claim. It is beyond offensive for white Americans to claim that they are plighted by the cruel forces of reverse racism.

It astounds me that this is an implicit platform for an American political party in the 21st century. Republicans should not allow their party to stand for this.

The Republican Party can represent more than this and protect conservative social and economic interests without endorsing and promoting racism, however implicitly.

This is not about the name of a Texas ranch or a pundit calling President Obama something outrageous or offensive.

This is about acknowledging that there is still work to be done. We must challenge the assertion that we live in a post-racial world.

In my lifetime, I believe I will see the forces of hatred and racism that still exist in America diminish greatly.

But if we want to live in a post-racial society, we must continue to acknowledge and address the underlying biases and overt attacks that are still a problem for so many Americans.

Sean McElroy is a member of the Class of 2012.