How many more incidents need happen before we fully acknowledge that racism is still a part of our culture? South Carolina, where the most recent atrocity took place, still flies the Confederate stars and bars of the Southern Cross; it’s not even lowered at half-mast. In Kansas, a black lawmaker is facing possible disciplinary measures because she used “inflammatory” language in referring to supporters favoring the elimination of tuition breaks for undocumented immigrants as being racist. Blacks are claiming strong racist sentiment as the underlying cause for the shooting of Freddie Gray and the resulting riots in Baltimore. The statistics being kept for the number of ‘deaths by cop’ show that nearly half were minorities. The fear factor is rising on both sides of the equation. Blacks and minorities fear that it’s more likely to be shot and killed by police (especially while unarmed – nearly a third of the blacks killed had no weapon) and the police are wary of reprisals which only serves to make them more trigger-happy, as was evidenced by the officer involved in the Texas pool party incident – he didn’t fire his weapon, but he did train it on a couple of other teens to get them to back up.
The vacillating argumentation on racism, even as it exists today, would fill volumes upon volumes of books and newspapers. White supremacist organizations are as strong as they ever were, and just as vile. After the murders in Charleston, another bigot in Virginia was threatening violence against another black church.
My first experience with racism came in 1967. I was raised in the predominantly white neighborhood of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn (it has changed considerably since then). We had any number of children come through our school because Fort Hamilton was close by, and they came to our building while stationed there. At one point, it was decided that some of the under privileged schools would send some of their students to us for classes; they were to be bused in. I was in seventh grade and a member of the school safety program, which meant I helped the teachers monitor the students as they lined up with their class to then walk up the stairs to their rooms. The first day one of those busses arrived, an entire class of African-American boys and girls lined up in the gym. One boy in particular was stepping out of line and being very disruptive, so I walked over and touched his shoulder , asking that he please step back in line. He whirled on me and said: “Don’t touch me, I’m black”. I was stunned. Up to that moment, I’d never experienced anything like that. I really had had no understanding that one racial group could have an attitude toward another simple because of the color of their skin. But, it was a subject that was going to grab hold, for us all, in the months that followed.
I think the prevailing notion is that since the days of Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, George Wallace, and Malcolm X that significant inroads have been made to eliminate racism and prejudice. There probably have been, but it’s also fair to say, that it hasn’t gone away, and it never will. This is clearer by the moment, and racism isn’t just limited to black people, it’s flowing over to Muslims, still includes Jewish people, and certainly extends to the people of Mexico and all points south who desperately try to immigrate here. Oh, and let’s not forget the LGBT community – it’s still quite dangerous in parts of the country for homosexuals to take a breath.
Okay, so let’s face it. Try as we might: we can legislate, educate, and proselytize equal rights and tolerance. It simply isn’t going to happen. If we haven’t found a solution in at least the six thousand years we’ve been struggling with this, how can we expect to find a way to do it now? So, what next? What possible solutions can there be to allow for peaceful co-existence? How do we get whole communities and organizations to back off in order to reset the levels of rage and despair to the point where communication is even feasible again?
As I see it, it comes down to individual responsibility; to take that moment to rise above ignorance, to engage in a cease-fire from any personal agenda in projecting hate. It requires the self-discipline of stopping, thinking, and rationalizing before taking action, and this has to happen on all sides. Seeing a black person on a subway platform, strutting his attitude, showing off tattoos and sideways baseball caps, with rap music blaring from their Dr. Dre’s can be just as intimidating for some as a redneck with a bandana and a black tee shirt with a swastika blazoned across the chest can be. Attitude breeds fear, and fear drives pre-emptive retaliation where none is called for. We can’t rid the human brain of racism, prejudice, and intolerance, but hopefully we can learn to co-exist.
Everyone take a deep breath.