a little bit of history repeating itself is happening in america. we are seeing a resurgence of jim crow mentality and legislation in cities and states across the country. segregation. unemployment. voter suppression. policing state. hold on a second while i hunt for my “free papers” so i can navigate my way in this post-racial society without harassment.
even in the face of overwhelming evidence that we are taking giant leaps back to the days when i knew my place and i’d better have the good sense to stay in it, some of my paler skinned brothers and sisters want me to stop making everything about race. they’re quite vocal about it.
it’s not racial. we don’t see color. stop jumping to conclusions. wait until you have all the facts.
now would be a good time for you to take a break from gulping down the syrupy-sweet kool-aid from your refrigerated, whites-only drinking fountain. i wouldn’t want you to choke on all that white privilege.
let me explain something to you. it’s always about race. there has never been a time in american history when life wasn’t about race. period. our ancestors saw to that when they commodified black bodies and stole them from their homelands by the thousands introducing them to forced labor. it has been about race since our young nation chose to dehumanize black lives rather than live up to the notion that all men are created equal. it has been about race since the south decided to secede from the union rather than have their power structures overthrown by the destruction of slavery. it has been about race since black codes started appearing on legal documents and jim crow became the law of the land. it has been about race since blacks were systemically denied access to education, housing, employment, legal representation, and health care. it has always been about race.
every single institution in our nation has a foundation of establishing and propagating racism. every single institution. let that sink in for a second. nope. don’t object. nope. don’t raise your hand. nope. don’t speak at all. just listen. every single institution. and as history has a tendency to repeat itself, we find ourselves again at the crossroads. do we seek justice for all, or do we cave under the weight of its promise.
for the most part, blacks (and people of color) live in a world that looks very different from whites. i can speak to my own experience. i won’t bore you with my stories of culture shock when i enrolled at a predominately white, private university in a conservative, midwestern town. let’s just say i went to school with a bunch of people who had never seen a black person in real life. can you imagine what that’s like? never? never ever? just wow.
so you can imagine how unshocked i was when public religion research institute released new survey data that found that 75 percent of white americans have “entirely white social networks.” there are few instances when a white person will be the “only” in the crowd, yet it is something i experience on almost a daily basis. especially in overwhelmingly white seattle. how white is seattle? 66.7% white. that’s a really big number for a city that prides itself on being post-racial, colorblind, and progressive. i assure you it is none of the above.
in fact, our country really needs to stop throwing that phrase around like it’s gospel. to say that you don’t see a person’s color says you don’t see or acknowledge all of the painful and unjust experiences connected to their color. and as i said before, there is not one single institution in our country that does not propagate racism by its design. i realize this might be hard for some to digest. that’s fair. i live it so it’s first-hand knowledge. but i’m from missouri and we’re the show me state, so i’m cool with a little factual demonstration.
legal and criminal justice system:
we can start with dred scott v. standord and chief justice taney’s assertion that blacks had zero rights a white man was bound to respect and therefore couldn’t even sue in a court of law. yes, this ruling was overturned by the 14th constitutional amendment but the legacy continues to this day. let’s look at the numbers.
blacks now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population. blacks are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites. about 5 times as many whites are using drugs as blacks, yet black americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of whites. black kids represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (center on juvenile and criminal justice).
so what does this mean in real life? a return to jim crow laws, but without the outrage. surely these black criminals deserve to be thrown under the jail. they must be guilty. we see it over and over again as each new case of police brutality makes headlines. the benefit of the doubt is always afforded to the police officer (or fill-in upstanding white citizen) and never to the criminalized, demonized, and victimized black body. there are consequences to this behavior and they follow black americans throughout the other institutions.
it is no longer socially permissible to use race explicitly as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. yet as civil-rights-lawyer-turned-legal-scholar michelle alexander demonstrates in her book “the new jim crow,” it is perfectly legal to discriminate against convicted criminals in nearly all the ways in which it was once legal to discriminate against african americans. once labeled a felon, even for a minor drug crime, the old forms of discrimination are suddenly legal again.
home ownership is considered the crowning achievement of the american dream, and the surest way to build wealth in our capitalistic society. so much so that following world war ii, the government handed out thousands of dollars to soldiers to purchase homes and start building stable communities. those dollars passed through many hands but few were black. although black soldiers fought and died defending freedom around the world, they were excluded from that same freedom at home.
blacks were denied credit for home loans, they were zoned to live in specific neighborhoods and then penalized for those neighborhoods being all black with higher insurance rates and decreased property values. despite the fair housing act and the housing and community development act, blacks continue to experience high levels of discrimination in housing.
participants found that sellers and agents still use loopholes to continue to make it harder for people of certain races and ethnicities to find housing. these tactics included not only telling clients about fewer properties or showing them fewer in person, but also what was said during visits, perhaps an attempt to intimidate buyers or renters to keep them from a certain home, condo or apartment (housing discrimination against racial and ethnic minorities 2012).
no time was this more apparent than when the housing bubble burst and thousands of black and brown homeowners who were steered overwhelmingly into subprime mortgages despite qualifying for standard, more stable mortgages lost their homes. hud did some research on what housing discrimination looks like today. nothing has really changed. blacks still live in predominately black neighborhoods with limited economic centers.
when it comes to education, black kids can’t catch a break. 50 years after brown vs. topeka board of education, america’s schools are more segregated than ever. black kids go to the poorest schools with the least resources and are taught by the least-qualified teachers. (i’m looking at you teach for america.) they face harsher disciplinary actions, sit in overcrowded classrooms, receive less instruction, and are confronted with minimal expectation for success.
here are some numbers to chew on. black students represented only 17% of national public school enrollment in 2000 but accounted for 34% of suspensions. black students with learning disabilities are three times more likely to be suspended than white students with learning disabilities and four times more likely to end up in correctional facilities. school disciplinary, juvenile, and criminal records work against disadvantaged students when they apply for colleges, scholarships, jobs, and selective high schools.
and then there is the school to prison pipeline that is no longer the elephant in the room. criminal charges are disproportionately brought against youth in schools for violations that never would be considered criminal if committed by an adult.
when it comes to health, blacks are plagued by the worst of the worst. we have the highest numbers of heart disease. we contract the most aggressive forms of cancer. we have the highest infections of hiv. we have the highest infant mortality rates. we have the shortest life expectancy. we have the least consistent access to quality health care. black scientist who seek to address some of these disparities regularly go underfunded. and when you consider our history of being used as human guinea pigs without our consent or knowledge, you have a true distrust of the medical institution to overcome before any of these issues can even be addressed. and then there are the actual doctors themselves.
a 2012 study found that about two-thirds of primary care doctors harbor biases toward their african american patients, leading those doctors to spend less time with their black patients and involve them less in medical decisions. although doctors typically aren’t aware that they’re treating african american patients any differently, this ultimately creates an environment in which black people often don’t feel welcome in the medical system — and may start avoiding it (american journal of public health).
when a black person tells you it’s stressful being black, please know that is a fact, not an opinion. researchers found that blacks were more likely to have higher levels of blood pressure, a higher body mass index, and higher levels of stress-related hormones once they turned 20. the psychological toll that racism takes on adults has also been well-documented, and racial discrimination has been repeatedly linked to high blood pressure. just the fear of racial discrimination can trigger stress-related responses, which means that many people of color who live within a society defined by racism are constantly under increased biological stressors (tara culp-ressler).
there is so much to be said about racial discrimination in the workplace. the supreme court has recently weighed in on the need for affirmative action. they were split. we still want to hold on for dear life to the fallacy of meritocracy even as statistics show it’s not merit but rather connection that helps you land the job. it’s not what you know but who you know and where you met them. we want to pretend that our work places are colorblind even as black employees are forced to assimilate to make white employees and customers feel at ease with our blackness. we become fluent in codeswitching out of survival. corporate america is not a diverse place and it has no desire to be. just ask jose.
being black is exhausting because it means constantly being reminded of your color and what that means to white people. when driving. when shopping. when applying for jobs. when seeking healthcare. when searching for housing. everything single thing is about race. and until we are willing to confront that truth, we will continue to erode the progress made during the civil rights movement. the country moved forward kicking and screaming. it didn’t just happen. it took blood, sweat, tears, and lives. please understand that i won’t stand still and watch you try to drag me back into jim crow. please understand that i will defend my humanity and my right to live and breath and fulfill my god-given purpose with every ounce of energy i can muster. and i will do that for my brothers and sisters.
i hope i don’t have to take you out in the process. i hope you’re willing to listen and learn so we can do this together. but if not, get out my way.