Anyone who insists that racism no longer exists in America need only look out their window today, whether you see predominantly white people in your sheltered, non-diverse community or the smoldering ruins of a people who feel so desperately helpless that they can only resort to violence and destruction as an outlet for the injustices that they feel within their own community.
Of course nobody condones looting and rioting, but it’s crucially important that we don’t look at these acts and merely write them off as those of violent criminals, but instead what needs to be taken from the imagery we’re seeing out of Ferguson is an example of a situation escalating to the point where words are no longer valid in the discussion, which is a very dangerous place to descend into and not out of fear of mere death or dismemberment.
They tried words, and nobody listened. Now things are getting worse.
And really, what’s expected isn’t an unusually reasonable demand – justice for a young, unarmed man who was shot and killed by a police officer, yet it turned out that the deck was so stacked against him that the prosecutor didn’t even deem it worthy of a trial in a court of law. Instead, a grand jury decided that there was nothing to charge the officer with and that he acted within his rights as a law enforcement official, and there in lies the rub because for an organization tasked with the duties to serve and to protect a community at large to not even question the death of an unarmed man as excessive use of force drafts a pretty clear dialog as to why the black community feels that it’s them against the police, not being protected by the police.
People protest to make their voices heard; they turn to rioting and violence when they go unheard to the point where collectively they feel as if they don’t even matter. What we’re seeing in these pictures aren’t just people who are “really mad” about the verdict – instead it’s a picture of desperation in a society so hopelessly stacked against them that one of their own being killed by the people who are supposed to protect them doesn’t even warrant a trial.
The images we’re seeing out of Ferguson are both terrifying and sad, but in a society where many want to insist that racism no longer exists in America, how else are those on the other side of the coin supposed to get anybody’s attention?
It’s easy to label someone who torches a convenience store as a lawless thug.
It’s more difficult to consider the question of what actually leads someone to do that sort of thing in the first place.
It’s no surprise that nobody who isn’t or hasn’t been a victim of racism wants to talk about it these days. It’s one of those things that we read about in the history books and like to shrug off as a horrible atrocity that our ancestors were very much on the wrong side of, but we’re better than that so there’s no way that racism would still be alive and thriving in America today. But it really wasn’t all that long ago when you consider that the USA is a little over 200 years old and for more than half of that, slavery was a real thing that happened within our borders.
Comedian Louis CK has a good joke that puts it into context:
“Every year, white people add another hundred years to how long ago slavery happened – I was talking to a highly educated guy who said that slavery was 400 years ago, and it very wasn’t! It was 140 years ago – that’s two seventy year-old ladies living and dying back to back … that’s how recently you could own a guy.”
So today in 2014, slavery has existed in our history longer than it hasn’t, and that’s why I think that it’s really ingenuous for us to just think that racism couldn’t possibly still be a real thing around us today when we have elderly black people right now who can remember a time when they weren’t allowed to do things that white people could do. And additionally, I frankly think that we’re going to keep seeing the root of that bubbling out in modern society because it serves as a spark to highlight the inequalities that exist today for their culture.
Sure, maybe slavery itself has come and gone, but things like racial profiling and what roles black people take in our society still have a profound impact on perception of a single class of people. And you would think that people like President Obama as the first black president and Oprah as the richest woman on the planet would serve to inspire, but really, when you’re in the trenches watching kids get shot by their protectors having to fend for yourself, it doesn’t really matter who the shining faces above the clouds are.
Violence is a terrible thing, but it gets people’s attention – maybe it’s time that we started talking about racism like it’s still a real thing and not some fictional excuse that black people dig up from the past to justify wanting to act like thugs. Because dare I say, people don’t protest because they want to … they don’t riot and throw rocks and burn down buildings because they want to … they do these things because they feel like they have to.
Let’s figure out why they feel this way so that we can change it.