Often times the hardest part of overcoming a problem can be accepting that you actually have a problem in the first place, and America has a problem with racism.
Still some Americans consider racism to be a relic of the past – an ugly mark on our nation’s history that our ancestors overcame back in the 1800s and now is only brought up as a crutch by those looking to avoid taking responsibility for their own lives. We hear regularly about the dismissal of people “playing the race card” as if the mere suggestion of racist intentions in this modern society of ours is simply preposterous, with anecdotal evidence used to deflect the blame back inward to turn victims into adversaries while denying that this terrible blemish on the American spirit is still very much alive and present.
Of course, nobody likes being called a racist – it’s a term that ranks among the worst of us … the murderers and the adulterers and the pedophiles and the rapists … and under this guise that racism has long since been defeated in America, in a way the word itself has managed to become disconnected from the actions that define it in the first place. For if racism was a problem that America solved a long time ago, then it can’t be possible for any of these things that people say and do in America today to really be racist … can it?
Yet many of us do understand that while great strides have certainly been made to improve civil rights particularly around race here in the last 150 years, embers of that terrible rift between skin colors continue to glow red hot and bear a scorching impact for those who experience their burns…
- When kids on the playground pick on the little Asian girl because her face looks different than theirs – that’s racism.
- When people make jokes about lynching or derogatory comments calling President Obama the n-word – that’s racism.
- When law enforcement officers repeatedly use lethal force to subdue people of color without justification, remorse, or consequence – that’s racism.
It was a significant day on December 6, 1865 when the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, thus abolishing slavery.
Great progress was also made on July 2, 1964 when the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin here in America.
But the reality is that today in 2016, 52 years after the end of segregation and 151 years after the abolition of slavery, a subset of American citizens are still slighted by their own society based on the color of their skin when somebody thinks it’s ok to tell an off-color joke or when a police officer shoots a man reaching for his ID during a routine traffic stop after being informed that the man is legally carrying a firearm of his own.
The fact that you’ve never personally experienced it or known anyone who has doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
The fact that black on black crime is a major problem in metropolitan cities, and that occasionally white people are shot by police too, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.
The fact that politicians whom you may or may not agree with use these events to connect to their own supporters doesn’t mean that racism isn’t a valid problem that the United States of America has to face in the 21st century.
It’s uncomfortable to think that a nation of our stature, with a hundred and fifty years between now and the tainted period in our history books when our ancestors believed that it was ok for humans to own other human beings, still grapples with unfair treatment of its people based on race today. It’s embarrassing, and we’d all like to pretend that an inequality like that was never in the blood of not just Americans, but our Founding Fathers … but not only did it happen, the same hatred that made slavery and segregation acceptable back then still lives on in how people of color are treated in America right now.
As long as people fear for their lives during a simple police encounter because they may not feel the same treatment that their caucasian counterparts do, and as long as parents have to warn their children not to dress in certain ways because it might make people suspicious or give them the wrong impression, racism will live on in America.
When news commentators shrug off claims of inequality as people just playing the race card and their viewers take to social media to protest that “it’s time for them to get over it already,” we move further away from actually addressing the problem by continuing to stoke this fantasy that racism doesn’t really exist anymore.
By twisting civil rights movements like Black Lives Matter to retort that All Lives Matter as if the original message was that Only Black Lives Matter, which couldn’t be further from the truth, we simply fuel even more animosity and anger and distrust between those who endure the effects of modern day racism and those who are in a position to do something about it.
There’s no reason why we can’t continue the pursuit of true equality because generations before us have already done the same as they slowly came to realize that the actions of their time and those before them were unjust and needed revision. Even one of the most pivotal phrases from our Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” – required improvement as our Founding Fathers came to terms with the ills of the same slavery that first helped our country to prosper.
Step number one is accepting that we still have a problem.