Part II of “Ferguson Unleashes a Movement for Racial Equality”
Before diving into today’s racial issues, it’s important to understand the dynamics that have contributed to the environment in which black Americans have been raised.
Since it’s inception, America was developed through the bloodshed of millions of American Indians, to the extent that their race and culture have been virtually annihilated. To put that in perspective, imagine if there were only a handful of black Africans populating the continent of Africa. Had the climate been as favorable for mass production crops and beasts of burden (like the United States), it would likely look like that today.
In 1619 the first African American indentured servants arrive in the American colonies. In 1857 The Dred Scott vs. Sanford case deemed that Congress did not have the right to ban slavery on the grounds that slaves are not actually real citizens of the US, despite the fact that they were forced to live there.
In 1865, the 13th Amendment was ratified, prohibiting slavery. In 1866, as African American rights were on the rise, the Ku Klux Klan was formed in Tennessee. And they are still flourishing, largely across the southern states, today. In 1881 Tennessee passed the first of the Jim Crow laws, which officially segregated whites from blacks across the south.
This is a time when black people were publicly lynched and burned alive. This was acceptable behavior at the time. This barbaric behavior was often conducted at high profile gatherings of the influential white community. Much of the black community today was alive or parented by those alive during this time. It was not that long ago.
In 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks (1913 – 2005) is arrested for breaking a city ordinance by refusing to give up her seat on a public bus to a white man. This defiant act sparked the Civil Rights Movement. In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929 – 1968) and others set up the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a leading engine of the Civil Rights Movement. By 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed, prohibiting discrimination of all kinds. By 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed.
In 1968, our beloved MLK was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. On November 22nd, 1963, John F. Kennedy, an outspoken proponent of the African American Civil Rights Movement was assassinated, dashing the hopes of exponential equal rights for many African Americans.
In 2008, amidst a barrage of controversy and backlash, Barack Obama was elected as the first African American president, the first of 43 presidents before him. Regardless of the tendency for white American Republicans to use Obama as a scapegoat for any and all problems in America, this was still a monumental step for the African American community.
Areas like Compton, a notoriously violent city in Los Angeles County, California serve as government sanctioned designated areas for black communities, much in the same was as Indian Reservations. There have been more murders in Compton than in the entire Irish Republican Army (IRA) conflict. This area is still a “no-go zone” for most of the surrounding police force.
In an August 14th USA article, Kevin Johnson, Meghan Hoyer and Brad Heath published an article titled, “Local police involved in 400 killings per year” citing the rampant use of “excessive force” by the police department. They noted that “in 98.9% of the cases, they are stamped as justified and sent along”, which seems to be an al too common thread. This August 2013 Pew Research article titled “I Have a Dream, 50 Years Later” provides a litany of details about ongoing discrimination against the black community.
The Stacy Peralta film Crips and Bloods: Made in America showcases a chapter of American History that is rarely discussed. Eugene Jarecki’s film The House I Live In showcases the racially infused motivation of the government to propagate rampant oppression of people of color. These two films are nothing short of profound, and should be viewed by any American with the desire to contribute to a more egalitarian society.
Now that we have some background, let’s proceed.
Racism has been embedded into our governments and institutions since the beginning of civilization. In more recent years, this has been exemplified through racially targeted bank loans, housing and education systems designed to keep African Americans poor and struggling. Those that have achieved great success have done so despite living in an environment designed to keep them down.
We have developed an environment of division, discrimination and violence in the United States. Police are militarizing and preparing for war daily. Institutionalized fear breads inflated egos and itchy trigger fingers. The “war on drugs” was designed to keep minorities poor and separated from the wealthy (The House I Live In). The Internet has blown the door open on the injustices of the world. Consequently, minorities are more informed and growing angrier by the minute. Hence the ongoing, worldwide protests and riots we are witnessing today.
This is the environment in which people of color, have been raised. This is their world. Does any of this sound even remotely similar to the environment in which white America has been raised?
White Privilege and Institutional Racism are real, and thriving. Sometimes blatantly, and more often, quite nuanced. We need to pay attention and take necessary steps to diffuse this racial tension, even the playing field and deliberately work towards a more egalitarian society. One could say, we are in need of an ubuntu revolution.
To be clear, I am not proposing anarchy, nor am I condemning the police (as an entity) or the white race. I am not anti-American in any way. I have lived all over the world and I believe there could be no better platform for attaining true peace and unity, and influencing other countries to do the same, than within the borders of the United States of America.
I am simply pointing out the fact that we are fostering an environment of divisionism and violence, often blindly, and I believe we can, and should, do better. We’ve come so far since the days of slavery. People of color are treated more equally today than ever before. But that doesn’t mean we have done our best or that we should stop here.
We cannot trivialize racism today simply because things are better now than before. Our global mission to improve society should be exponential.
The ubuntu philosophy posits that we are all intrinsically connected. The more we embrace that, the more likely we are to realize the importance of peace and unity. What we dwell on tends to manifest itself. That energy and power works for good, and for bad. How we choose to use the power and responsibility is in the hands of each individual person. “Be the change you want to see.”
Here is an excellent CNN article by John Blake, “The new threat: ‘Racism without racists‘”.
This is a very poignant article that articulates the environment black America experiences daily, “In America, black children don’t get to be children“.
For some very poignant and concise commentary on this, I just found this little nugget from Russell Brand. As usual, he nailed it.
* More on this in the next post.