While I fully intended for my first substantial post to cover a topic that has more of an international relevance, I felt as though the immediacy of the Zimmerman trial and tragic circumstances of the final hours of Trayvon Martin’s life warrant a few words on the subject. The controversial decision of the jury to acquit George Zimmerman of all charges and criminal culpability in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin has reignited the fleeting contemporary American dialogue on the difficulties of being non-White in America. Regardless of the effectiveness of the prosecution’s arguments in proving ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that Zimmerman took Martin’s life in a malicious and/or pre-mediated fashion, the decision continues a dangerous and detrimental precedent in terms of society’s tolerance for violent interactions, especially those of involving African-American victims. While Zimmerman was dismissed by Judge Debra S. Nelson of Seminole County and told that he ‘has no further business with the court’, Marrisa Alexander, a thirty-one year old mother of three was given distinctly different treatment by the Floridian justice system. Despite not committing a crime anywhere near as serious as the slaying of an unarmed youth, Ms. Alexander was given a 20 year prison sentence (keep in mind: that’s 20 more years than Mr. Zimmerman received). Her offence? Firing a bullet into a wall to scare away her ex-husband who she believed threatened her safety. [1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/19/marissa-alexander-gets-20_n_1530035.html] This stark dichotomy is nothing new, though. It’s only the latest episode in a continued narrative of inequality in today’s American society.
Having spent a significant portion of my formative years in a city that hosted the largest racially-motivated riot since the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles (coincidentally the other city in which I grew up), I feel as though I have no lack of personal experience with the issue of race in America.[2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cincinnati_riots_of_2001] As a teenager I participated in demonstrations, school walk-outs, and other various forms of protest against the perpetuation of the glaring disparity in police action (read: violence) against African-American citizens (especially men in the younger demographics) compared to their white counterparts. While things have calmed significantly in and around Cincinnati over the past few years, the larger problem remains. The striking discrepancy between the treatment of inner-city African-American communities and their suburban white (and young urban professional) counterparts persists as a highly-visible relic of Jim Crow-era bigotry.
The difficulties for the YBM (Young Black Male) in America don’t stop with the police, however. In addition to dealing with nearly omnipresent racial profiling (for an easy example, see studies done on New York’s ‘Stop and Frisk’ program and wildly disproportionate incarceration rates [4. According to a 2009 Bureau of Justice Report, ‘Black non-Hispanic males, with an incarceration rate of 4,749 inmates per 100,000 U.S. residents, were incarcerated at a rate more than 6 times higher than white non-Hispanic males.’ http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/pim09st.pdf], the YBM must cope with entrenched social structures and other factors that discourage success. According to the Schott Foundation for Public Education, the four-year graduation rate for YBMs that received their diplomas in the 2005/2006 school year (which, for argument’s sake, is the year I myself finished) was still below 50%. The report states that the ‘one million Black male students enrolled in the New York, Florida, and Georgia public schools are twice as likely not to graduate with their class as to do so.’ [5. http://www.schottfoundation.org/drupal/docs/schott50statereport-execsummary.pdf] If these numbers aren’t cause for a widespread genuine national debate, I really don’t know what is.
Personally, I find the utter lack of concern displayed by the silent majority and their elected representatives to be the most disturbing. Some politicians have even ventured to the extreme, claiming that we live in a ‘postracial’ society, and that race is no longer a dividing factor in America. This is an unbelievable feat of cognitive dissonance and proof positive that some truly think that ignoring a problem will make it go away. Believe it or not, this was actually the official position taken by a Congressional candidate that I had the distinct displeasure of sitting next to on a flight from Washington D.C. to Boston in the summer of 2010. Despite the torrent of exasperated anecdotes flooding in from those surrounding him, the candidate-who-will-remain-unnamed stood his ground firmly and even took the liberty of informing us of how he came to this conclusion after evaluating his son’s experiences in school. This popular delusion isn’t even limited to white men. Herman Cain, the pizza-mogul-turned-2012-Presidential-candidate and avid Tea Partier, nearly built an entire voter base on the idea that race isn’t a significant factor any more (thus African-Americans are perfectly capable of ‘picking themselves up by their bootstraps’ in veritable Reagan fashion). [6. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-15765349]
The election of Barack Obama in 2012 certainly marked a milestone in the continuing battle for equality. Equally, however, the pervasiveness of the ‘birthers’ and other inane detractors have proven that the claims of America’s attainment of a post-racial society upon Obama’s inauguration were wildly premature. While the present-day paranoia over Islamic terrorism has produced plenty of its own prejudicial quagmires that our nation is only beginning to confront, it’s absurd to pretend as though it has somehow magically supplanted the need to solve our racial problems of the past. As recent events have shown, we are certainly not living in the post-racial utopia that certain politicians and social darwinists would have you believe, in fact it’s quite the opposite.