The deaths of unarmed black people at the hands of police officers in Missouri, Ohio, New York and other places around the U.S. have become the latest tipping point in a long history of racial tension.
Protests, marches, die-ins and sit-ins have swept the nation -- most recently resulting in over 300 arrests in New York City over a non-indictment in the death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old confronted by NYPD officers for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. Social media exploded with rallying cries like #DontShoot, #ICantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter, the latter of which points out what already should have been obvious.
It's become painfully clear that America is not the post-racial society we'd love to believe it is, or that some insist it's become. In light of that, it's worth taking a look at how 21st century society is, in many ways, still shaped by racial inequality. Below, we've rounded up just a few of the many thoughtful and informative writings on the subject. Some provide a historical perspective while some feature original personal anecdotes. Others are just trying to make sense of tragic events. All are worth the read.
Image via foxadhd.
History has shown consistent discrimination against black people across many aspects of American life.
"Indeed, in America there is a strange and powerful belief that if you stab a black person ten times, the bleeding stops and the healing begins the moment the assailant drops the knife. We believe white dominance to be a fact of the inert past, a delinquent debt that can be made to disappear if only we don’t look."
Ta-Nehisi Coates’ lengthy feature in The Atlantic, “The Case for Reparations,” illustrates the ways in which slavery and its aftereffects helped build the world’s largest democracy. Coates, who did not always support the idea of reparations, primarily dissects the history of housing discrimination. [Link]
And despite years of discrimination, it still persists.
"When we blame private prejudice, suburban snobbishness, and black poverty for contemporary segregation, we not only whitewash our own history but avoid considering whether new policies might instead promote an integrated community."
A report by the non-profit Economic Policy Institute explains how discriminatory policies in real estate, banking and finance over the past century contributed to the formation of mostly black, low-income neighborhoods like Ferguson. [Link]
Often, black children can't afford to remain innocent about race.
"It was the last day of school, and I was walking with my dad, preparing to leave. Suddenly, he paused, looked at me intently and said, 'Son, you're a black male, and that's two strikes against you.' To the general public, anything that I did would be perceived as malicious and deserving of severe punishment and I had to govern myself accordingly. I was seven years old."
Jazmine Hughes’ piece on how black Americans talk to their children about the police features an array of personal stories. The above comes from 26-year-old Robert Stephens from Kansas City, Missouri. [Link]
"Is this why I didn’t get the job? Is this why my lease application was denied? Is this why I got into college? Is this why this person keeps following me around the grocery store? And when you ask, you’re looked at like you’re crazy, met with denial -- because it’s always plausible, deniable.”
Bijan Stephen writes about “the talk” black American males sometimes receive from their parents and older relatives on the unfortunate realities of racism, particularly when dealing with law enforcement. [Link]
Police have long been accused of targeting black Americans through racial profiling, which has fed a vicious cycle of distrust between black communities and officers.
“Instead of feeling protected by police, many African Americans are intimidated and live in daily fear that their children will face abuse, arrest and death at the hands of police officers who may be acting on implicit biases or institutional policies based on stereotypes and assumptions of black criminality."
A letter released by Sociologists for Justice stated that “deeply ingrained racial, political, social and economic inequalities” are at play in law enforcement agencies around the U.S., and outlined practical suggestions for overcoming them, including body cameras for police. The letter has been signed by over 1,800 sociologists. [Link]
"Our courts and juries aren’t impartial arbiters -- they exist inside society, not outside of it -- and they can only provide as much justice as society is willing to give."
Jamelle Bouie opines on the consequences police officers commonly never face after using deadly force on citizens. In a separate article, Bouie critiques the officer Wilson's and the grand jury's image of "black brute" Michael Brown. [Link, link]
Although, again, inequality exists far beyond the realm of law enforcement.
"White rage doesn’t have to take to the streets and face rubber bullets to be heard. Instead, white rage carries an aura of respectability and has access to the courts, police, legislatures and governors, who cast its efforts as noble, though they are actually driven by the most ignoble motivations."
Carol Anderson, associate professor of African American studies at Emory University, writes about the institutionalized backlash that she argues has always accompanied black progress. [Link]
"There is no such thing as race. None. There is just a human race. Scientifically, anthropologically, racism is a construct -- a social construct. And it has benefits. Money can be made off of it, and people who don't like themselves can feel better because of it. It can describe certain kinds of behavior that are wrong or misleading. So it has a social function, racism."
In an interview with Stephen Colbert, author Toni Morrison talks about being pigeonholed as an "African American writer," when she would really like to be considered an American writer. [Link]
And reports of unfair treatment often fall on deaf ears.
"Photographs of lynchings didn’t foster a shift toward justice. News reports of water hoses and police dogs didn’t compel national outrage from 'sea to shining sea.'"
An argument that police body cameras will not solve the underlying issue behind police brutality over at The Root. [Link]
"Our white allies can alleviate their fears by returning the country to some imagined golden age of the friendly neighborhood constable, whistling as he strolls his beat, idly swinging his baton. Black Americans don’t have to be civil rights scholars to know that there is no idyllic utopia there for us."
Ezekiel Kweku writes about "respectability politics" -- wherein respectable people should have no reason to beware police -- in the media and the general public to determine whether Michael Brown's character was relevant to his death. [Link]
For his part, President Barack Obama has recognized that inequality is still a great hurdle.
"When you're dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society, you've got to have vigilance, but you have to recognize that it's going to take some time, and you just have to be steady, so that you don't give up when you don't get all the way there."
The president's most recent comments about race come in an interview with BET. [Link]
"We do not need to recite here the history of racial injustice in this country. But we do need to remind ourselves that so many of the disparities that exist in the African American community today can be directly traced to inequalities passed on from an earlier generation that suffered under the brutal legacy of slavery and Jim Crow."
Speaking in March 2008 after criticism of remarks made by his former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama delivered a speech touching on issues of inequality and race. [Link]
But oftentimes, the way we talk about racism is awkwardly flawed.
"But the thing is, we treat racism in this country like it’s a style that America went through. Like flared legs and lava lamps. Oh, that crazy thing we did. We were hanging black people. We treat it like a fad instead of a disease that eradicates millions of people. You’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down."
Chris Rock speaks about the isolating experience of being a successful black American with Frank Rich for New York Magazine. Rock points to the lack of other black patrons at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel overlooking Central Park the day of the interview to illustrate lingering inequality. [Link]
"These conversations are always so tense, so painful. People are defensive. We want to believe we are good. To face the racisms and prejudices we carry forces us to recognize the ways in which we are imperfect. We have to be willing to accept our imperfections and we have to be willing to accept the imperfections of others. Is that possible on the scale required for change?"
Roxane Gay dissects the aftermath of a grand jury’s decision not to indict Wilson at The Butter. [Link]
"We'll probably have to have a few uncomfortable conversations to sort of get things right, so everybody can walk and enjoy America like it's supposed to be enjoyed."
At the New York City premiere of "Annie," actor Jamie Foxx spoke out in wake of protests following the Staten Island grand jury decision. [Link]
“I think, if anything, more and more people are willing to talk. I think that this is opening conversation and not shutting it down. I’m actually more hopeful."
Missouri resident Mel Smith spoke about the discussion being created in the community when she came out to help clean up after the Ferguson protesters. Despite the violence, Smith thought there was still hope for repairing the community's relationship with law enforcement. [Link]