Race is not a difficult topic for me to talk about, but for some it is.
Some people simply don’t like people who are different-period. I don’t understand this type of thinking, but it exists and I usually avoid these people at all costs.
There is one difficulty for me in trying to understand racism: you cannot understand what it is to be black in America unless you are black in America. Modern racism in America is subtle. I know this because I have had many conversations with friends of mine who experience it on a daily basis.
Selma, Ala 1965
I still think it is important for us to ask questions. Is it possible that there are failures in our system? Is it possible that there are laws which more heavily penalize people of color? Is it possible that a system failure has occurred which has resulted in our prisons being overpopulated with black men? Is it remotely possible that average white Americans are unaware of these issues because they are far removed from the average black family? Is it possible that we need to reassess our current system for failures? Is it time for ALL people to take these questions seriously and demand of our legislators to reevaluate what is going on in our leadership?
I believe the answer to these questions is yes. Racism has become subtle and institutional in the United States and you need look no further than our judicial system as it relates to mandatory minimums; especially crack cocaine. In the U.S. there is a legal difference between a conviction of crack cocaine possession and powder cocaine possession. There is a set sentencing disparity of 18:1 and differing mandatory minimums. A mandatory minimum in the U.S. states that for particular convictions the convicted must serve a sentence no less than the legally set standard or minimum. My reading on this topic began with Michele Alexander who is a law professor at Stanford Law School and author of The New Jim Crow, which led me to finding an article on Wikipedia loaded with tons of resource material. I highly recommend reading the Wiki article for an overview of some incredible facts.
The stats on race and drug conviction/sentencing are eye-opening to say the least. If you are black in the U.S. you are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana although the the same percentage of whites use the drug as blacks:
In 1998 there were wide racial disparities in arrests, prosecutions, sentencing and deaths. African-Americans, who only comprised 13% of regular drug users, made up for 35% of drug arrests, 55% of convictions, and 74% of people sent to prison for drug possession crimes. Nationwide African-Americans were sent to state prisons for drug offenses 13 times more often than white men, even though they only comprise 13% of regular drug users. A 2006 study found that blacks were significantly overrepresented among those arrested for drug delivery offenses in Seattle. The same study found that this was a result of law enforcement focusing on crack offenders, on outdoor venues, and dedicating resources to racially heterogeneous neighborhoods. A 2008 paper stated that drug use rates among Blacks (7.4%) were comparable to those among Whites (7.2%), meaning that, since there are far more White Americans than Black Americans, 72% of illegal drug users in America are white, while only 15% are black. A 2015 study found that minorities have been disproportionately arrested for drug offenses, and that this difference “cannot be explained by differences in drug offending, nondrug offending, or residing in the kinds of neighborhoods likely to have heavy police emphasis on drug offending.” – Wikipedia, Race and the War on Drugs
When I read these numbers and dive deeper into reading the sources I can’t help but ask myself what is really going on here. You see it is very easy as a white man to see the world through the lens of being white. It is only when you accept the reality that not everyone is white and not everyone’s view of America is the same, that one can then look at the situation for what it really is-people of color get treated differently in America. Not all the time, but often enough that people are finally getting fed up.
This is difficult for some to admit because it requires us all to recognize 400 years of oppression and misery. And I caution you against comparing the modern day events to that of Martin Luther King, Jr. back in the day. White America has fallen into a weird love affair with the deceased Dr. King. Don’t forget that before his ASSASSINATION (one that most people now recognize was perpetrated by the white establishment), MLK was viewed unfavorably by 66% of white Americans. So to ask black America to act more like MLK??…well they are actually.
So what do we do? I choose to ask questions and I do so because questions disarm hatred. They disarm my preconceived ideas about Black Lives Matter (which I will admit I am not a proponent). Questions disarm me from putting up resistance due to my own prejudices. Questions force me to take a look at issues from all sides. Questions make me take a step out of my world and consider the possibility that I could have a wrong opinion or world-view. Questions force me to consider compassion versus judgment. Questions break down walls.
It is easy to look at the current events in Charlotte, NC and get distracted with the rioting, looting, the exclamations of hatred toward whites. You see that is what the media does best-they distract away from the cause and get the reader to focus on the effects. They shape the story in such a way as to be dramatic, evoke emotions of fear, create chaos and division as a way to sell more news. You see, the cause is years of frustration over a political and financial system designed to keep people in their place. The effect is a riot. The cause is unfair treatment in the workplace. The effect is refusing to listen to the commands of an officer of the law. The cause is new information revealing the CIA actually did inject the black community with crack cocaine which has resulted in the destruction of many black families and the incarceration of a high percentage of black males (Huffington Post). The effect is a populace who is disenfranchised and suspicious of the government. The cause is getting seated last a restaurants or waiting long periods of time for service. The cause is having all eyes on you any time you enter a retail store. The cause is hearing car doors lock when you walk down the sidewalk. The cause is having your “funny” white friend tell an off-color, subtly racist joke expecting you to find the humor. The cause is having your resume ignored or trashed because the name sounds “too black.” The cause is having an overwhelming number of “black” schools being underfunded.
I’m not making this stuff up folks and these instances are not from my reading or imagination. These are instances from my friends who happen to be black. They are real and they happen every single day. The facts are overwhelming and they are real.
So what am I suppose to do? What is a middle-class, white dude from Charlotte, NC suppose to do? I am suppose to stand up for what is right. I am suppose to stand on the side of justice. I expect of myself to speak out. I might not be black, but that doesn’t mean I can’t look with my eyes and see something isn’t right.
My hope is that each one of you challenge your current views. Make yourself argue the counterpoints. Consider the argument from the other side of the table. Take a deep look at what the African-American community is really saying and consider the validity of their complaints. Ask the tough questions about conviction rates and our judicial system. Ask your legislators these tough questions. Take a couple of weeks and study the demographic statistics. I did and I can say that my “this doesn’t add up” bell went off.
At the end of my life I will die feeling satisfied that I stood for what was right. You will find me on my brothers side of the table; arm-in-arm, hand-in-hand. History will show that I stood for truth and justice, not what was convenient or popular. Where will history have you seated?