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Racism increasing in America
The many recent deaths of black Americans in the United States have led to an overall feeling of discontent and racial disharmony in that country, bolstered by the insufficient and seemingly incorrect and insensitive conclusions of grand juries in many of the tried cases. The failure of these juries to convict the police officers accused in the cases has not done anything to further feelings of justice and fair treatment in any American communities, regardless of their cultural or racial affiliations.
On Monday, December 28, 2015, the latest in a string of unsuccessful prosecutions was decided – CNN reported that the Cleveland police officer Loehmann, accused of killing an unarmed twelve-year-old black youth named Tamir Rice outside a recreation center, will not face criminal charges; his partner Garmback will also not face criminal charges in the case (Fantz and Shoichet). The case was tried before a grand jury in the state of Ohio, and prosecutor Tim McGinty indicated that Rice’s pellet gun possession and physical size were to blame for his death, as the officers must have seen Tamir as a threat (Fantz and Shoichet).
Tamir Rice’s family accused McGinty of “deliberately” sabotaging the case and “never advocating” for their son; they stated that
“In a time in which a non-indictment for two police officers who have killed an unarmed black child is business as usual, we mourn for Tamir, and for all of the black people who have been killed by the police without justice. In our view, this process demonstrates that race is still an extremely troubling and serious problem in our country and the criminal-justice system” (as cited in Fantz, and Shoichet).
Systemic racism explained
Racism, according to Encyclopædia Britannica, is
“any action, practice, or belief that reflects the racial worldview – the ideology that humans are divided into separate and exclusive biological entities called “races,” that there is a causal link between inherited physical traits and traits of personality, intellect, morality, and other cultural behavioral features, and that some races are innately superior to others.”
As an example of the persistence of racism, on March of 2015, University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon members released a video of the recitation of racial epithets (McElwee). McElwee pointed out that this was surprising since the younger generation is widely assumed to be more tolerant than older generations, and because a university education should be promoting tolerance and understanding for all walks of life (McElwee). McElwee’s study of opinions of young white survey participants and older white survey participants on ideas such as their conceived notions of black citizens’ laziness, amount of discrimination faced, and admiration felt for black citizens throughout their lives is nearly equal.
These findings carry over into a survey performed at Syracuse University’s Campbell Institute by Spencer Piston, which found that over half of whites surveyed between the ages of 17 and 34 believe black people are lazier and less intelligent than white people on average (as cited in McElwee). McElwee indicated that racism is not always, or even usually, overt.
The Ku Klux Klan does not patrol the streets of our cities in full regalia anymore; racism is more likely to be hard to detect – it is underlying in conversations, job hiring discrimination, and ingrained, biased opinions existing in the white consciousness and unconsciousness. Reverse racism exists, and all racism is a less spoken about, but still present, just as gender discrimination still exists. The age of the people discriminating, McElwee concluded, is not really relevant or affective in this situation.
“It is beyond dispute that the United States contains deep structural racial issues…perpetuated not only through explicit discrimination, but through the power”
and entrapment of historical norms. Issues such as mass incarceration, a predisposition of police officers to focus on black and Hispanic members of the community in criminal cases and arrests, and the predominance of black and Latino people living in poverty in the United States all strongly affect the racism that still exists. McElwee stated that racial justice must constantly struggle to make equal opportunity available in walks of life to decrease racial animosity; mass incarceration and racially-biased policing must be ended immediately; and the funding gaps between majority white schools and majority students of color schools must be closed.
Catherine E. Soichet, a writer for CNN, cited a CNN and Kaiser Foundation poll of Americans in which a significant amount of people found that racism is still prevalent for people of color, while it is increasingly overlooked in white communities. The poll demonstrated that 49 percent of Americans believe that racism is a big problem today; meaning that the percentage of those concerned about racism has actually increased over the past decade (as cited in Soichet).
The poll also found that 57 percent of blacks have experienced racial discrimination in their lifetimes such as being denied a job, being unfairly treated in a public place or fearing for their lives (as cited in Soichet). Only 34 percent of whites and Hispanics reported the same types of discrimination; 53 percent of blacks and 36 percent of Hispanics have been unfairly treated in public due to racial discrimination, while only 15 percent of whites report the same problem (as cited in Soichet).
Findings concerning segregation levels in the workplace or neighborhoods indicate that 60 percent of a white person’s colleagues are usually white, while 68-69 percent of social circles and neighborhoods are also white (Soichet). Cases such as those of Walter Scott in North Charleston, North Carolina continue to occur, in which there is a clear bias on the part of the police officer which goes directly against the American notion of “innocent until proven guilty”; the comparison is simple – would the police officer have shot the person if that person was white?
If the answer is no, then the presence of discrimination in a case should be simple to determine. While not all cases are this cut and dried – refusing to give the benefit of the doubt to young black men is a persistent problem in the United States, as well as the seemingly inborn and innate fear of young black men by police officers (not only whites, but also those of other races). Trayvon Martin’s shooting failed to result in the expected conviction; the question remains no matter what the reasons: why is the justice system failing to persecute those responsible for these senseless deaths? Dylann Storm Roof, the man who opened fire in a church in South Carolina, is slated to stand trial for his crimes in July of 2016 (Ford).
Combating systemic racism in America
Social media has allowed people of all races to “connect the dots” with incidents of racism or unfair treatment across the world and across the United States; awareness of problems becomes more prevalent faster (Soichet). Glenn Adams, a professor of psychology at the University of Kansas stated that
“It’s likely the level of racism in the United States is more or less the same [as it was in previous years], what’s changed is that more people are aware of it” (as cited in Soichet).
Rick Gonzales, a man with a mother from Mexico and a father from the United States, stated that
“darker-skinned people are at a disadvantage” and this is why race is still a problem (Soichet). Mark Naison, a professor of history and African-American studies at Fordham University stated that “People may agree that racism is worse, and disagree profoundly on who the targets and victims are.”
Ingraham reported that the rural Northeast and the South are strongholds of racism in the United States, according to a study published in PLOS ONE, a peer-reviewed, inclusive, open-access resource of the Public Library of Science. Because Google data is unlikely to be subject to major social censoring, thus opinions expressed online are “unusually forthcoming” on all subjects (Ingraham). Ingraham noted that the Gulf Coast, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and a large portion of Ohio seem to be more racist in their ideals; the farther West the more racially tolerant, according to Google’s data search information.
According to many expert sociologists and psychologists, combating systemic racism is the best way to help eradicate it from our society. Kirabo stated that the institution of white supremacy is to blame for the constant “racial profiling, racialized discrimination and scapegoating tactics” used by white law enforcement officials today; he quoted Elizabeth “Betitia” Martinez’ activist writing:
“The most common mistake people make when talking about racism…is to think of it as a problem of personal prejudices and individual acts of discrimination. They do not see it as a system, a web of interlocking, reinforcing institutions.”
Martinez noted that racism is present in political, economic, social, cultural, legal, military, and educational institutions throughout a country (as cited in Kirabo). Kirabo noted that “white guilt” is actually counterproductive to endemic racism in the United States, causing a useless, apologetic reaction which does not incur change. Guilt leads to avoidance and non-discussion of the true issues, which results in no significant change.
Kirabo recommends viewing a video recently produced by Race Forward: The Center for Racial Justice Innovation out of New York, Chicago, and Oakland, California, which is a national nonprofit organization which advances racial justice through media and practice (Race Forward). The video is entitled “What Is Systemic Racism?” (Kirabo). Kirabo himself recommends that people who do not wish to contribute to the problem of racism
“Make a concerted effort to humanize and identify with all individuals” and “focus less on your guilt and more on being a catalyst for change.”
Coping with racism in the future
As tensions continue to rise, justice seems to be failing the black people of the United States in many instances. New killings are reported nearly every day in a country that seems to have lost control of both its police force and its respect for people of color. How does the country address this? How can we teach our children to respect the law, respect others, and respect cultural differences in a world that seems to concentrate only on the negative?
Systemic racism is being addressed in classrooms across the nation, including teenagers and college student’s classes (Hofer). Some believe that systemic racism will always exist; but this is not a belief held by everyone; a film called “I’m Not Racist, Am I?” has been used in Rochester, New York, to promote discussions of predisposed racism in college students (Hofer). The film consists of deep and open discussion between twelve teenagers of different cultural, racial, and economic backgrounds, and the challenges they face in confronting and correctly handling racism, and is worth a look (Hofer).
The biggest change we can make is with ourselves – being aware of the reasons we believe certain things about certain people, and examining where the ideas and beliefs truly come from. This requires a deep examination and awareness of the self, something that teens are not necessarily known for. The truth is that deconstructing racism comes from experience, meaningfulness for certain age groups, and open discussion – these things come with time and persistence, and are innately present in people when they are born. Cleveland has begun retraining it’s entire police force on racial sensitivity.
Privilege and race seem to be tied together in many aspects of American society. Catherine Wigginton Greene noted that many of the teens in the video did not usually have a safe space to discuss the topic of racism and privilege in their everyday lives; they did not think about the issues as deeply as they did when they participated in the film. The availability of experts and researchers well-versed in these issues was also advantageous to the discussions (as cited in Hofer).
In conclusion, it is evident that racism still exists in many aspects of American society, but the consensus seems to be that we must change this systemic problem one person at a time, through our own actions, our own beliefs, where we spend money or don’t spend money, researching institutions and fighting racism on a daily basis wherever it rears its ugly head. Experience with people of other cultures, genders, and belief systems is just one way to expand vision and a sense of fairness and certainty about doing the right thing in relation to others and staying in the fight to conquer endemic racism in the future.
CNN. Cable News Network, 2015. 25 November 2015.
Fantz, Ashley, and Shoichet, Catherine E. “Tamir Rice Shooting: No Charges for Officers.” CNN. Cable News Network, 2015. Web. 28 December 2015.
Ford, Dana. “Trial Date Set for Dylann Roof in Charleston Church Shooting.” CNN. Cable News Network, 2015. 16 July 2015>
Hofer, Hélène Biandudi. “WATCH: How Youth Can Change Systemic Racism.” WXXI News. WXXI News, 2016. 19 November 2015.
Ingraham, Christopher. “The Most Racist Places in America, According to Google.” The Washington Post. Nash Holdings, LLC, 2015. Web. 28 April 2015.
McElwee, Sean. “The Hidden Racism of Young White Americans.” PBS. Newshour Productions, LLC, 2015. Web. 24 March 2015.
Race Forward. “About Us.” RaceForward. Race Forward, 2015. 2 January 2016.
Racism. In Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved from http://www.britannica.com/topic/racism
Shoichet, Catherine E. “Is Racism on the Rise? More in U.S. Say it’s a ‘Big Problem.’”