Post-racial society far from reality

Posted on: March 12th, 2014

From the Loyola Phoenix:

As Black History Month comes to an end, many have taken the opportunity to learn more about our country’s long struggle for racial equality. Following the election of President Barack Obama, our nation’s first black president, some went so far as to suggest that racism was no longer a problem in America. However, one look at today’s headlines points to a much more sobering reality.

The death of Trayvon Martin in 2012 and the controversial case that ensued revealed that racial tensions are still high. While the case brought the infamous stand your ground law — a self-defense law that grants individuals the right to use deadly force to defend themselves without attempting to retreat from the situation — under much-needed scrutiny, the young boy’s death and subsequent lack of retribution was telling. A white male went unpunished after shooting and killing a young black boy who was deemed suspicious for wearing a hoodie, his choice of candy and the color of his skin.

Flickr/Derek Key: In the U.S., blacks face a much higher incarceration rate than whites, according to Human Rights Watch.

Flickr/Derek Key: In the U.S., blacks face a much higher incarceration rate than whites, according to Human Rights Watch.

And now, nearly two years later, we have the verdict in the case of Michael Dunn, who shot 10 times into a car full of black youth after they refused to turn down their “loud” music at a gas station, taking the life of Jordan Davis, 17, in the process. While the incident took place on Nov. 23, 2012, Dunn was convicted this month on three charges of attempted murder of those who survived the shooting. The jury could not come to a verdict regarding the charge of first-degree murder of Jordan Davis.

Perhaps what is most tragic about these cases is that these deaths were avoidable. George Zimmerman could have easily avoided confronting Martin, who he wrongly deemed as a suspicious threat. Dunn could have easily chosen to ignore the loud music being played in the car next to him. But both individuals took “justice” into their own hands and, as a result, two young men had to pay the price with their lives.

What messages do these instances send to black youth across the country? If anything, these cases suggest that the United States is still suffering from systemic and internalized racism that is not just present in our greater society, but also in our justice system. They also serve as a warning to black youth, especially in places such as Florida, where these instances happened, with its stand your ground law, that how you act or the appearances you choose to adopt might be reason enough for you to be shot and killed.

Martin and Davis remind us that our society continues to criminalize being black — any suspicion that you might be a “thug” and your morality and worth as a human being are automatically questioned.

The PHOENIX Editorial Board feels that, while the country has made significant improvements in the way of racial injustices, evidenced by such legislative accomplishments as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, these cases serve as a heavy reminder that the road toward racial equality is still long.

In this country, white Americans are more likely to have used most kinds of illegal drugs than black Americans, according to a 2011 survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The same study suggests that 20 percent of whites have used cocaine, as opposed to 10 percent of blacks and Latinos, each. Despite these statistics, blacks are arrested for the possession of drugs three times as often as whites, according to a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch. These statistics reveal that the stereotypes often associated across racial demographics can be misleading and, potentially, lead to detrimental social stigmas.

Also telling is that black youth are arrested for drug crimes 10 times more frequently than whites. Yet, a study conducted at Duke University found that young white Americans were actually more likely to use drugs and develop substance use disorders than black Americans.

As vast racial discrepancies persist within various facets of American society, The PHOENIX Editorial Board feels it is important to understand that confronting these issues is much more complex than adopting a “color-blind” approach, that is, assuming the belief that one’s skin color holds no meaning in today’s society. In fact, this approach fails to address racial tensions and is detrimental to our progress.

We feel it is important to acknowledge the diversity found in America, and, on a smaller scale, at places such as Loyola. In terms of race, it is important to see color in order to understand the different histories, struggles and experiences of every individual. Only then will the path toward racial justice and equality become tangible.

While civil rights have certainly seen progress since America’s founding, progress by no means suggests that the fight for equality is anywhere near finished.

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