August 17 , 2020 /

UNDERSTANDING RACISM

There are many covert as well overt practices that contribute to racism today in the United States. There are some white people who seem not to be able, or willing, to acknowledge the bias of white privilege.  It may be easier for them to blame others rather than accept any responsibility for many of the issues that continue to threaten the safety and security for people of color.

It was apparently Rodney King who said, “Why can’t we all just get along?” and if you don’t remember who Rodney King was, here’s some background. King’s car was pulled over for speeding by four LAPD officers in 1991, and he attempted to escape on foot. After being chased down, he was repeatedly kicked, struck with batons, and stunned with Tasers, and he sustained serious injuries, including skull fractures and facial paralysis. The beating, which was surreptitiously recorded by a bystander and then widely broadcast on television, heightened racial tensions nationwide and rendered King a symbol of a perceived pattern of police brutality toward racial minorities.

Under public pressure the officers were brought to trial in 1992, but the jury acquitted three, and a mistrial was declared for the fourth. The verdict spurred some of the worst riots in U.S. history, resulting in more than 50 dead, thousands injured, and an estimated $1 billion in damages in the area of South Los Angeles. King pleaded for peace during the riots, famously asking, “Can we all get along?” The beating and the subsequent riots prompted widespread investigation of police conduct and the resignation of the LAPD chief. The officers later were indicted on federal civil rights charges, and two were convicted; King sued the city and was awarded $3.8 million in damages. He spent most of the remainder of his life struggling with substance-abuse problems and was arrested numerous times, including at least once for domestic assault. His memoir, The Riot Within: My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption (2012, with Lawrence J. Spagnola), was published just weeks before King was found dead in his swimming pool at age 47.

Even within the same family who live under the same roof there are disagreements, dissension and in extreme cases, homicide, fratricide, patricide, and suicide.  Trying to resolve differences by means of violence seldom solves anything and most often makes conditions worse and more painful.  We see this playing out in our current conditions of systemic racism, continuing police and contracted militants’ brutality to peaceful protesters.  I saw it personally and up close in July, 1967, in Detroit when the National Guard was mobilized to help quell the riots there.  The Kerner Commission appointed by President Lyndon Johnson and headed by Otto Kerner, governor of Illinois reported the following:

“Many Americans blamed the riots on outside agitators or young black men, who represented the largest and most visible group of rioters. But, in March 1968, the Kerner Commission turned those assumptions upside-down, declaring white racism—not black anger—turned the key that unlocked urban American turmoil.

Bad policing practices, a flawed justice system, unscrupulous consumer credit practices, poor or inadequate housing, high unemployment, voter suppression, and other culturally embedded forms of racial discrimination all converged to propel violent upheaval on the streets of African-American neighborhoods in American cities, north and south, east and west. And as black unrest arose, inadequately trained police officers and National Guard troops entered affected neighborhoods, often worsening the violence.”  Remember too, that on April 4, 1968, MLK, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis.

For a detailed report, check out the following article and ask the question, what have we learned and how have we changed in 52 years? https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/05/the-report-on-race-that-shook-america/556850/

It appears that the report did not shake America into new behaviors of conscious compassion.  We must find ways to live together peacefully in our communities in spite of perceived differences whether in matters of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, religion/spirituality, nationality and socioeconomic status.  If we do not find better ways we will continue to make victims of others and end up with results that continue to divide and separate rather than bring people together in unity.

Racial identity shapes privileged status for some and undermines the social standing of others.  I would urge you to see the following film if you have not already done so. From Wikipedia:  “I Am Not Your Negro is a 2016 documentary film directed by Raoul Peck, based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the film explores the history of racism in the United States through Baldwin’s reminiscences of civil rights leaders Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr., as well as his personal observations of American history. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 89th Academy Awards and won the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary.

I would also recommend that you read Jelani Cobb’s article on implicit bias among white people as he details it in this article entitled “Starbucks and the Issue of White Space”. Appearing this past May: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/06/04/starbucks-and-the-issue-of-white-space

Finally, let’s ask ourselves, our friends and family, what are we doing to help solve the issues of bias and prejudice where we see it or hear it today?  What can we do to make the world where we live a safer, happier and healthier place for everyone?  Conversations matter.

 

 

 

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