If accounts are true, what the police did to Michael Brown is appalling and inexcusable, and sadly not the first. This is in the immediate wake of the strangulation of Eric Garner by an off duty police officer. And also the “Not Guilty” verdict of George Zimmerman. And the Marissa Alexander case. And the disgusting displays of xenophobia at our country’s border. And the Supreme Court declaring that racism no longer exists in this country to strike down the Voting Rights Act and within days, states putting Voter I.D. laws in place aimed at disenfranchising minority groups. (The reality of Voter fraud vs number of people who now can’t vote.)
Can you imagine how enraging that must be? To have the government say that your experiences and concerns are not valid, and then to immediately turn around and start down the path of your worst fears?
I am part of the white majority, so I can’t knowledgeably speak of the depth and pervasiveness of racism in this country. To be honest, on this one I feel like I am stumbling around, mostly blind. But it seems pretty damn plain to me it exists. I have to say that living so long in L.A., I got used to an amount of ethnic equality and intermingling. It wasn’t utopia by any means, but people worked together, went to school together and mixed socially with more ease than, say, the South where I am now.
(And moving to the more socially segregated South, where I was asked “Do you have a problem with racial jokes?” as part of a job interview, was a shock.)
But even in Los Angeles, I don’t think I and many WASP types really get the different American cultural experiences of the minorities in our society and how that effects their world view. While there, I was speaking with a friend of mine who was black about my trip to NYC and how seeing the Statue of Liberty was one of the greatest moments of heart-swelling patriotism in my life. To me, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free” was the essence of what the U.S.A. was about.
There was quiet moment.
“Well, my people had a different experience of coming to this country.” And she told me of the slave markets that you can still go and see in South Carolina. She wasn’t being angry, uptight or oversensitive. She was just trying to make me understand that the Ellis Island experience was not the universal one for people who came to this country, that she had a slightly different cultural context.
I’m not saying that we need to overcompensate with guilt, or maybe we do. That is a worthy topic of discussion as America has a lot of AmerIndian (which considering their conditions now is an imperative discussion as well), African American, Asian American, Latino American etc. historical blood on its hands. But at the very least we need to be aware that people in American subcultures have different perceptions and different experiences. We do not need to single them out. They are still American, part of our rich cultural fabric, but we need understand that the threads of their experiences are slightly different.
There is racism in our society. Some police departments, certainly some officers, do racially profile and have acted with unwarranted violence. Our justice system is often too ready to convict members of a minority group and sentence them unjustly. Even the highest court in the land is directly damaging their essential rights as Americans.
The economic situation in many of these cities, the pressure on the Middle Class and the number of people now slipping below it, the growing difficulties hauling oneself above the poverty line, has to have an effect as well.
There are legitimate reasons for these people’s anger that need to be addressed in a systemic way.
However, rioting is not only illegal, it’s stupid. It does nothing but damage property, invite injury and makes racists’ arguments for them. It solves nothing, but reinforces the other side. On that score, the African American community has to do better.
We all have to do better.