Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Us VS Them- A Guest Post on the Larger Implications of Ferguson by Dr Lori Martin

The systematic killing of people of color provides the best evidence that many Americans have been wrong about racism all along. For far too long racism has been understood as an illness, a sickness, or a disease, that older and uneducated individuals come down with because they are ignorant, ill-informed, resistant to change, or are mere products of their racially segregated environments. Racism-for individuals adhering to the aforementioned definition-was manifested in signs that read, For Whites Only, or when some folks from the Deep South draped themselves in white hoods and the Confederate Flag. In fact, comments from people like Donald Sterling notwithstanding, some have declared racism dead. Welcome to the so-called post-racial, or colorblind era. The wave of violence against people of color-particularly at the hands of law enforcement officials- is the result of the establishment of a racialized social system whereby members of the dominant racial group in America use social institutions to subjugate and control members of subordinate racial and ethnic groups. Criminal justice, education, the economy, politics, and the mass media, all play key roles in perpetuating, producing, and reproducing disadvantage and privilege. People of color are dying in inner cities, in the suburbs, and in rural areas. They are relegated to under resourced schools, while new schools are established and marketed as everything the very schools students of color are trapped in, are not. People of color throughout the country experience economic recessions and depressions long before the rest of the nation. When a national recession hits, people of color are hit the hardest. Asset poverty among people of color is the rule, not the exception, even among those considered income rich. As in days past, majority black communities are represented by majority white elected officials. Clever gerrymandering and the peddling of messages of apathy, hopelessness, and despair, account for the lack of civic engagement in some areas, and changes in voting registration laws contribute to disenfranchisement in others. Representations of people of color in the media often perpetuate myths, misconceptions, and stereotypes, which are taken as truths and become part of the collective imagination of some whites, including those sworn to protect and to serve. The silence about the role that racism-and not merely race-plays in understanding why history-in this case the killing of unarmed black men- is repeated, is deafening. The silence drowns out the cries from grieving parents tasked with planning yet another funeral for a young person of color who will not live to see the dawning of another day. It drowns out the chorus of voices pointing to the gap between what we say we value as a nation –liberty, equality, and justice-and how we actually treat people. Any loss of life that results from an act of violence is tragic, including the loss of a black life. As a society we must respond with the same indignation, passion, and empathy no matter the race, age, gender, geographical or social location of the victim. When mass shootings take place in schools, or in other public areas, the response from elected officials, interest groups, and the general public are almost immediate. Condolences for the family, the community, and the nation are almost instantaneous, and rightly so. Efforts to address a number of related public policy concerns fill the airwaves, including debates about mental health matters and gun control. As a society we tend to elevate these events because of the perceived threat the events pose to all of “us.” When the mass killing of people of color takes place in virtually every corner of the U.S.-in urban, rural, and suburban areas-there is reluctance on the part of those in positions of power and influence, and the broader society, to call it what it is-racism-and to work towards meaning change. Part of the problem is that the killing of unarmed people of color by members of the dominant racial group is understood as an issue affecting “them.” We must come to the realization, as a society, that no one should remain silent in the face of the injustices taking place across the nation. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., so eloquently reminded us as he sat in a Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”