Friday, August 15, 2014

Rejecting hoods and sheets did not eliminate racism

Most Americans don’t wear white sheets and hoods, hold public rallies, burn crosses or openly support those who do. It is not clear, however, that the national subconscious has given up the Ku Klux Klan’s most basic belief: white supremacy.
    The St. Louis, Mo., suburb of Ferguson is embroiled in controversy following last week’s fatal shooting by police of unarmed teenager Michael Brown. Local and federal authorities are investigating the conflicting information about the incident as demonstrators and officers face off.
    It is the latest in a string of deaths of unarmed black men. It is also the latest incident that has generated discussions about how young black men are perceived by largely white public safety officers, about the common use by the media of images that play to negative stereotypes, and about disparities in police practices that may be linked to skin color.
    Such conversations were assumed to be unnecessary after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended Jim Crow laws with their separate water fountains and seats for black people at the back of the bus. Black people gained a place at the table in all aspects of public life. Barack Obama became president of the United States.
    Even so, Ferguson, whose population is more than two-thirds African-American, has just three black police officers. Missouri’s attorney general released a report in May showing that black drivers were 66 percent more likely to be stopped than whites, a disparity that is rising. Federal Bureau of Investigation data show that African-Americans are arrested on drug charges at rates 2.8 to 5.5 times as high as whites, even though drug use is proportionately higher among whites.
    Police interactions with black people are not the only indicator of a seeming reversal in interracial progress. In an Aug. 10, 2014, article in the New Republic, author Jason Zengerle documented how Republicans in Alabama effectively used white antipathy toward a black president to begin eliminating 40 years of progress for black constituents.
    There should be no rush to judgment about the Michael Brown shooting before the facts are in. However, it’s not too early to acknowledge that race remains the Achilles’ heel of America’s civic dream.
    Rejecting hoods and sheets is not sufficient to eliminate racism from our national subconscious. We must also continue those difficult conversations about how our world views are determined by our individual racial identities.

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