Ordinary Racists And Where To Find Them
Updated: Jul 4, 2020
Everyone is ignorant, only in different subjects. I understand that if racial inequality has never directly affected you or someone you personally love, you are probably not going to care enough about it to do a bunch of research stemming from a different viewpoint than the one your family, schools, and personal experiences have taught you. So I’ve done it for us.
While different races don't actually exist, the social constructs we've created around them for centuries are very real. This post will be discussing the ones pertaining to black people in America. Yes, it's long. But it doesn’t even scrape the surface. Please continue researching these topics and listening to black voices. All black voices. Even if you don't agree with or follow their directions. Because while people are busy arguing over whether the liberal or conservative map to equality is better, the racist people in power—who exist on both sides—are blocking off the roads.
There is not a single solution to ending centuries of systemic racism. And while showing love and solidarity are SO important, it’s not enough. Just because the black community is strong enough to overcome oppression, doesn’t mean we should sit idly back and cheer from the sidelines while they do it. We created this system of inequality and still benefit from it whether we want to or not.
I get that it’s uncomfortable and time-consuming to reshape your understanding of racism in this country. But how can we work together to find solutions if we won’t even acknowledge what the problems are?
A doctor cannot provide treatment to alleviate a patient in pain without listening to and identifying their symptoms first. (Unless you’re a POC, then a doctor may, in fact, do that. But we will get into racial bias in healthcare later.) It’s clear that the black community is deeply hurting right now. Police brutality is just one of the symptoms our country needs to consider while treating the much bigger underlying issue.
Before we begin I'd like to clarify a few misconceptions.
Supporting #blacklivesmatter doesn’t mean you hate white people or that you should feel guilty for being white. And it doesn't mean black lives are the only lives that matter. It just means that you recognize the dehumanization of black people in our country is a problem and because all lives matter, you want to help end it.
Photo Source: Sarah Smith Willis / Parents
Not being a white supremacist doesn’t automatically make you an ally. Just because you don’t hate or want to physically hurt black people doesn’t mean you aren’t racist. You can work with and have frequent positive interactions with black people and still be racist. You can even condemn violent acts of racism and still be racist. America is inherently racist—especially toward Black Americans and Native Americans. We literally stole one’s land brought the other here as slaves. And yes, everyone experiences prejudice to some extent. But the difference is the systemic relationship of power.
The racial majority in our country, white people, have been able to enforce their power and privilege over another race through political, economic, and institutional means. So if you combine prejudice with power, it creates a system of inequality. For example, a white person may experience poor service at a restaurant due to prejudice. But the fact that the black owner struggled to or couldn’t get a loan to open that restaurant because it’s in an area that generations ago a white person with prejudice and power deemed as less desirable, is racism. While both are wrong, your cold soup is not comparable to their inability to get a business loan.
Well what about if the black owner won’t hire me to work in that restaurant because I’m white, that’s reverse racism, right?
Not exactly. That is an example of racial discrimination. Is it wrong? Yes. Is it the same as a black person being denied a job because of their skin color? No. While the action itself may be the same, the context surrounding it is different. In America as soon as that white person leaves the restaurant, they regain their cultural power and continue benefiting from being white in other areas of society such as education, healthcare, housing, the justice system, wealth, and the media. When the roles are reversed, the black person doesn’t walk out with that same cultural power. This doesn’t mean a Black American can’t gain power in these areas, we see examples of that happening every day. It just means that systemic racism, in many ways, makes it more difficult than it should be.
Having white privilege doesn't mean you won't face adversity or that your life can't be hard. It absolutely can. It just means your skin color isn't one of the things making it harder.
There are levels to it. Let’s start with racial bias.
Racial bias toward black people is so woven into the fabric of our society that unless a black person points it out to you, or you take the initiative to educate yourself on the subject, you won’t notice it.
Amy Cooper is a perfect example of this. She is not an Alt-Right or White Supremacist. In fact, she consistently supported Democratic politicians. Yet, she still called the police on Christan Cooper and assumed that they would target him, a black man, even though she was the one breaking the rules.
She also either didn’t understand or have any regard for how falsely stating to the police that a black man was threatening her life could have resulted in his death.
Yes, more white people have died in police shootings, but that is because we have a higher population. Black Americans account for less than 13 percent of the population but they make up 24 percent of police deaths. Statistics vary slightly due to law enforcement agencies across the country failing to provide information on deaths caused by police encounters, but the numbers consistently show that Black Americans are at least 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police and are also at least 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed at their time of death.
Photo Source: Mapping Police Violence
Also, there is no correlation between violent crime and who is killed by police officers so the argument that these disparities are because there is more violent crime in black neighborhoods is false.
(Side note: Yes, black people kill other black people more than cops kill them. White people kill other white people more than cops kill them too. Murderers exist in every race and walk of life. Yes, homicide is a leading cause of death amongst young black males and it is an important topic that needs to be discussed. But racism is not a factor in those murders. So if you want to bring up murder statistics as a way to derail the conversation, consider watching this video first or if you are concerned about the high number of youth homicides consider learning more about the socio-economic circumstances that lead to crime and investing more in education--especially early childhood education because 90 percent of brain development happens before a child is 5 years olds. But right now the focus is on police bias toward black people and how it exists whether or not you are personally aware of it. )
What if, due to Amy Cooper’s false report, police officers mistook Christian Cooper’s cellphone for a weapon? Like they did to Stephon Clark.
In 2002, Joshua Correll, PhD, a psychologist at the University of Colorado, conducted a series of studies titled, “The Police Officer’s Dilemma” using a first-person-shooter video game. Participants are shown images of young men, white and black, holding either guns or harmless objects such as cellphones. The goal is to shoot armed targets but not the unarmed targets. The researchers found that participants shot armed black targets more often and quicker than the armed white targets. What’s more, is that the most common mistakes were shooting an unarmed black target and failing to shoot an armed white target.
But this racial bias doesn't only apply to black men. In fact, Michelle Cusseaux, Tanisha Anderson, Aura Rosser, and Meagan Hockaday were all females within the last six years who died after police encounters where racial bias was evident. We don't tend to hear those stories because, as Kimberlé Crenshaw points out, our society lacks understanding when it comes to intersectionality.
And before you say “Well, if Cooper wasn’t doing anything wrong and follows protocol, he shouldn’t have anything to worry about.” Firstly, why is he the one having to prove his innocence to the police to avoid being brutalized? She could have just walked away at any point. In fact, that’s what he politely asked her to do in the first place. And instead of just apologizing for her dog being off the leash and leaving, she continues to harass him. Even right before she calls the police he repeatedly has to tell her “please don’t come close to me.” But she was somehow the one in life-threatening danger? As D.L. Hughley points out, the most dangerous place for a black person to live is inside a white person's imagination.
Secondly, I want to bring your attention to Charles Kinsey.
Someone called the cops stating there is a Hispanic man in the middle of the road who has what appears to be a gun with a black man trying to talk to him. And that the Hispanic man appears to be mentally ill. Police arrive. Charles Kinsey immediately lays down on his back, puts his hands in the air, is shouting to them that he’s a behavior tech at the group home and the other man is his autistic patient, he has a toy truck, not a gun, and begs them not to shoot. He can even be seen trying to get his autistic patient to lay on the ground. Dispatch confirms it’s a toy truck. A police officer still shoots Kinsey, the black man, in the leg. This was less than 6 minutes after arriving on the scene. Kinsey laid on his back handcuffed and bleeding for 20 minutes waiting on an ambulance to arrive. When he asked the officer, “Sir, why did you shoot me?” He responds, “I don’t know.”
If the video of Amy Cooper hadn’t gone viral, she probably never would have known she did anything wrong. And based on her apology, I’m still not sure she does. And that’s the problem. Even given time to reflect on it, she still didn’t see the bigger picture. Instead of saying something such as, “I understand how what I did was racist. And I’m deeply sorry. I need to do better.” Her apology was, “I’m not racist. I think I was just scared.”
And you may be thinking, “Well, I would never react to a person like that just because they are black.” But chances are you already have. A recent series of studies published by the American Psychological Association found that people are more likely to see black men as larger and more threatening than white men, even if the black men are not actually larger.
Jane Elliott does a brown eye vs. blue eye experiment to demonstrate most white people's ignorance toward racial bias:
Check your own anti-bias behavior with this self-assessment.
I've had black friends pretty much my whole life, starting in Kindergarten. In high school and college, my friend groups were predominantly black and from a variety of different socioeconomic backgrounds. These are people I grew up loving, trusting, and admiring. We've been through life-changing events together. We have more life-changing events ahead of us. But I will be the first one to admit, I STILL struggle unlearning the racial bias society, including my own family, has fed me my entire life.
It’s in schools failing to teach children about black inventors, black doctors, black scientists, black mathematicians, black lawyers, black politicians, black artists, black authors, black musicians. Not learning about black people and their significant contributions to history affects how society sees and treats them as well as the way they see themselves.
Some people want to sit there and say things like “black people need to respect themselves before we can respect them” but then only teach black children about black figures who overcame adversity and thrived one month out of the year?
And even that black history ends up being whitewashed. (Or at least it does for many children who, like myself, have only had 1 black teacher their entire life. Who, by the way, also happened to have the highest level of education.) Rosa parks wasn't a tired old woman who had enough after a long day of work. She was a 42-year-old activist working with the NAACP. She wasn't even the first woman in Montgomery, Alabama who was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat, that was 15-year-old Claudette Colvin. But Parks was the one publicized because her fair-skin and middle-class appearance were easier for white people to support and therefore gave the movement more credibility.
Did you know that 1972 was the first time a woman ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination? Or that she was a black woman? Because up until a few months ago, I didn’t. Her name is Shirley Chisholm. She was also the first black woman elected to the United States Congress and a key figure in the Women’s Liberation Movement. Maybe if children grew up learning about her in school we would have had more than nine black women attempt to run for president since.
Yes, learning about Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Harriet Tubman is important, but so is learning about other remarkable POC like Percy Lavon Julian—an American research chemist who is responsible for pioneering drugs such as cortisone, steroids, and birth control pills from soybeans. Who, by the way, had to travel to Austria to pursue his doctorate because while he was able to earn his master's at Harvard, they still prevented him from earning his PhD.
Or that George Washington's false teeth weren't made out of wood, they were made from a variety of materials including the teeth of his slaves. Even visual representations of Jesus have been whitewashed for our comfort.
Photo Source: Britannica
Curriculum aside, even the funding of schools is biased. There is no way for the majority of black children to get the same quality of education that white children receive. Past residential segregation, or redlining, still prevents schools in predominantly POC neighborhoods, which are funded by property tax, from being well funded. So, these schools can only afford to meet students’ basic needs which result in overcrowded classes, less experienced, underpaid teachers, and limited access to educational-based extracurricular activities.
If you aren't familiar with the history of racial segregation, please watch the following video. If you are unaware that this is still happening in Chattanooga, please read this article and this report on racial displacement.
And it’s not just that the funds aren’t there, it’s also that they aren’t being distributed equitably. According to the U.S. Department of Education, low-income students are being shortchanged because school districts across the country are inequitably distributing their state and local funds. This is heartbreaking because they are the students who need the services schools provide the most.
Equitably is when people have the same opportunities to obtain benefits even if the outcomes are unequal. For example, if you and your friend were trying to see over a 6 ft fence and there were three boxes you could use to stand on and you’re only 5’2 and they’re 5’7 you would need 2 boxes and they would only need one.
Here is an article further discussing school funding.
This video does a great job of explaining systemic racism.
Then you have private schools that want to appear diverse on the pamphlet and sports teams, but don’t actually want to be diverse. Black children who are able to receive a private school education still have to deal with racism and often have to censor and desensitize themselves to accommodate their predominantly white peers and avoid being labeled as an “angry black person” or face disciplinary actions. Which are usually harsher. (This is applicable to the workplace as well.)
Personal examples from high school:
One day in the lunchroom (please check out this video if you are curious about why minorities tend to sit together at lunch and other racial barriers ) my friends and I overheard a girl repeatedly say the n-word. My black friend politely, given the situation, called her out on it. The way this girl and her friends looked you would have thought my friend had threatened to burn her house down. And her legit response was, “Chill out. It’s in a song.” Meanwhile, I call someone out in a similar fashion and am told, “Oh, you’re right. My bad. I’m sorry.”
A student used the n-word while angrily ranting about Obama during history class. Then, on the day Obama was elected President two students drew nooses on a whiteboard. When my black friend confronted them, she was the one sent to the principal’s office and told to explain herself. It wasn’t until after she complained about the situation that the other students were punished.
And while my friends were never punished for having natural hairstyles, I saw first hand how much time went into making sure it didn’t happen. Yet, I could dye my hair 3 different colors, throw it in a messy bun and be good to go.
Also, there were SO many teens who smoked weed and drank underage and never got arrested for it. It wasn’t because they were “too smart“ to get caught. It was because they were upper/middle class and white. And yes, I am fully aware I am one of those people.
But these problems don't just start in high school, black children face discrimination starting in preschool. While black children constitute 18% of preschoolers nationwide, they make up nearly 50% of suspensions. Why? Adults, especially in classrooms, are punishing behaviors instead of teaching them.
These disparities in disciplinary actions continue throughout elementary, middle, and high school. The U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights examined all age groups and found that black students are three times more likely to be suspended than white students, even when their infractions are similar.
In my county’s school district black students made up 56.5 percent of suspensions of students with disabilities during 2017-2018. What's more alarming is that black students only made up about 44 percent of the student population.
A study in 2002 found that white students were more likely to be disciplined for provable, documentable offenses — smoking, vandalism, and obscene language — while black students were more likely to be disciplined for more subjective reasons, such as disrespect.
A child calling a teacher "stupid" or "bitch" is disrespectful and the behavior should be addressed. But teachers who are so shocked and appalled that they want a child arrested for it clearly don’t understand that this child has probably been on the receiving end of those words more times in their short life than they will ever experience. Build a relationship with them. Teach them how to better manage their stress and how to hold themselves accountable. And if they don’t respond to that positively, which will happen, don’t get offended. Keep trying to prove that you actually care. Chances are they’ve never felt safe enough to talk about these things or empowered enough to advocate for themselves.
Giving a child an out of school suspension for a non-safety related offense doesn’t teach them accountability for their behavior, it teaches them to ignore their problems and hope they go away. (Side note: Yes, there are cases where suspending a student is necessary, like bringing weapons or drugs to school. That is a separate issue.)
It also pushes them toward the school-to-prison pipeline.
Source: Western, Bruce & Becky Pettit (2010). Incarceration and Social Inequality. Daedalus, 139(3), 8-19
Acknowledge the behavior is unacceptable, but also ask what might have happened to them to cause it. From birth to age 5, a child’s brain develops more than any other time in life. Just because a child may not fully understand their circumstances, it doesn’t mean their brains aren’t affected by them. Too many teachers aren’t trained on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and don’t know how to handle children who have experienced trauma or live in an environment that causes toxic stress. Or the school has too many kids with high ACEs scores and not enough trained staff to adequately help them.
Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. It changes the very way your brain develops. And ACEs aren’t just something a single group of people experiences, they are something we ALL experience.
What’s more, the effects of ACEs can be passed on to children. So it becomes a cycle. And some children may face further exposure to prolonged stress, also known as toxic stress, from historical and ongoing traumas due to systemic racism or the impacts of poverty. So for black people in America, it’s generational. Starting with their enslaved ancestors who undoubtedly experienced trauma.
The repeated stress of abuse, neglect, instability, or parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects. This unfolds across a lifetime, from the ability to form healthy and stable relationships, unstable work histories, struggles with finances, jobs, depression, self-destructive behaviors, and a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of death such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and suicide.
Dr. Nadine Burke does a great job explaining ACEs in the following video:
Photo Source: ACEs Connections
Photo Source: Anne Marie Project
Experiencing toxic stress as a child can change brain development and affect someone’s attention, decision-making, learning, and response to stress. In an effort to better suit its environment, the limbic system, responsible for fear and panic as well as desire, becomes more powerful and overrides the behavior regulation function of the cerebrum. This is good in certain situations. For example, automatically intervening when you see a man on the ground being beaten. But when your limbic system starts overriding healthy and normal stressors because the dangerous ones are so common, it becomes problematic.
For example, let’s say two children accidentally drop a cup of milk at school. Their teacher isn’t upset but doesn’t immediately respond. The first child feels embarrassed and might apologize while getting something to clean up the spill. The second child, whose brain has been wired to reduce their ability to regulate behavior as a response to the toxic stress in their environment, may interpret the teacher’s lack of reaction as anger or not be able to handle the stress of everyone seeing them make a mistake and enter the fight, flight, or freeze mode. Once they are operating from their brain stem, their reactions are not rational. They may start hysterically crying and run away or have an explosive episode and start throwing things, or stand there and do nothing when asked to clean up the spill. All of which can be deemed as "disrespectful."
Once all the stressors are removed and the cerebrum regains control, the child can think rationally and understand how they overreacted. Until then, the limbic system is creating what it thinks is a necessary response to a perceived danger. So trying to calm them down by yelling or having a stranger restrain them isn’t going to help.
I recently read a news article about a black kindergartner being arrested after throwing a tantrum at school. Not only is this problematic because she’s a KINDERGARTNER, but also because now you’ve added yet another stressor to her life—the fear of being taken away by police—which only increases the chances of future outbursts. And not letting her return to school creates instability, another stressor.
I’m not saying toxic stress is an excuse for a child to act out without reasonable consequences. I’m saying the way we respond to and prevent these incidents from continuously happening into adulthood is different. It’s not as simple as correcting a single undesired behavior because these behaviors are stemming from a scientifically deeper problem.
How do we help children overcome toxic stress?
By Building Stronger Brains:
The current solution is helping children build stronger brains. We do this by shifting the focus from individual responsibility to community solutions. This means educating and working with parents to reduce the stigma around seeking help with parenting challenges or for substance misuse, depression, or suicidal thoughts. As well as communities providing safe, stable, and nurturing environments or “charging stations” for children to build the resilience needed to overcome toxic stress. When a child has places that allow them to express how they are feeling as well as multidisciplinary teams to teach them how to manage their emotions, their brain will be more likely to heel. Thus, they will ultimately be less likely to act out and face a lifetime of self-destructive behaviors.
Because of the socio-economic class I was born into, I was fortunate enough to attend private schools with teachers and programs that provided these charging stations for me. I also had access and could afford mental health professionals when needed. Therefore, while my ACEs have caused pain and hurt, they haven't resulted in some of the detrimental effects that may have occurred without my privileges.
What would these charging stations look like for low-income communities that disproportionally affect black people?
It can be pretty challenging to create schools and programs that reflect these positive environments in segregated areas where people are experiencing sociological conditions stemming from oppression: cycles of poverty, violence, neglect, and abuse because a lot of people with the ability to help either continue to deny systemic racism exists or don’t want to put in the grueling work to fix it. In both cases, they tend to use the “Well, it starts at home” argument to avoid being part of the solution. And they are absolutely right, it does start at home. So why does our country insist on trying to keep black children stuck in these perpetual cycles by denying them and their parents access to quality education, healthcare, and mental health counselors, subjecting them to job inequalities and a wealth gap that is almost impossible to bridge due to generations of white inheritance and privilege, over-policing their neighborhoods, unjustly throwing them in jail over a fake war on drugs, keeping them there for longer sentences, and then portraying them as thugs in the media as if we didn’t create that stereotype?
If we had more social programs that actually reduce harm by addressing the underlying causes of crime, including poverty, inadequate housing, and poor education we could be proactive instead of just reactive. When it comes to schools, this means investing more money into after-school programs and youth counselors as well as ACEs education for teachers and parents. Some schools have even started doing things as simple as replacing detention with meditation.
Ron Brown College Preparatory High School is an example of a school restructured to better fit the needs of its students. Do I agree with everything implemented? No. But creating a public school that only had to suspend a total of four students, ended the year with a 90% enrollment rate, and teaches young black men with the expectation that they will not only debunk stereotypes but also be successful citizens who give back to their community is phenomenal.
We need more schools to stop waiting for children to have a breakdown or get into trouble and then expelling or arresting them for it. Especially considering these children are likely to end up in a for-profit private juvenile detention center whose main purpose is to get as many offenders as possible in order to continue making more money with zero regards for how it will change the entire trajectory of these children’s lives.
Once black children are in the criminal justice system, they are 18 times more likely than white children to be sentenced as adults. This is especially disheartening considering The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology did a study in 2014 that found people are more likely to view black children 10 years and older as “significantly less innocent” than their white counterparts. CHILDREN.
Speaking of children. Please take a break from reading this and watch this hilarious Drunk History about The Little Rock 9.
Then remind yourself that, as one of the comments points out, “This was less than 62 years ago. Meaning currently there are COUNTLESS cops, judges, and politicians who were raised by people who shared the ‘we're better than blacks’ mentality.”
Which brings us to our next point…
To better understand this topic, please watch 13th available for free here:
Black people are incarcerated at a rate that is 5.1 times that of white people.
The judicial system discriminates against POC at every stage. They are more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, convicted, harshly sentenced, and end up with a lifelong criminal record. This leads to possibly having their voting rights, employment, business loans, license, student aid, public housing, and other public assistance denied. Making poverty not only a predictor of incarceration but also an outcome.
Because when you can only get a minimum-wage job that doesn’t pay a livable income, are facing homelessness because you can’t find an affordable place to rent that is close to your job, which is important because you can’t afford a car and rely on public transportation, or you do find a place but they won’t rent to you because of your record, and your public housing was denied, and you can’t get student aid or afford to work fewer hours to go to college or a trade school to get a better paying job, and don’t have any family support because this cycle started with your grandparents, and the community support groups can only do so much because they are underfunded, and the stress of all of this is affecting your mental health but you can’t afford health care, and you still need money to live, pay court fees, and provide for your family, what do you do? Sell drugs or something else illegal to make money. Because at that point it becomes more of a necessity than an option.
This is why we should push for more education opportunities and fair wages in prisons. It's also why it's important to support and encourage more black entrepreneurs and business owners who can use their resources to put people in their community in a position where doing something illegal doesn't seem like the only option after the traditional labor system has failed them.
If you've never experienced poverty, please play this game. I only lasted 20 days.
Yes, plenty of white people experience cycles of poverty. But the whole judicial system isn’t designed to keep them in poverty.
One in nine black children has an incarcerated parent compared to one in 57 white children. Black and white people are consistently documented by the U.S. government to use drugs at similar rates, but the imprisonment rate for black people for drug charges is almost 6 times that of white people.
This is an example of why the context behind statistics is important. Black neighborhoods are over-policed, hence the "higher" crime rates. White perpetrators are undercharged, as shown above, hence "lower" crime rates. Also, Black Americans from poor neighborhoods often can't afford lawyers and end up with overworked public defenders who encourage them to plead guilty in exchange for less time. Not only are Black Americans more likely to be wrongly convicted and account for almost 50% of exonerations, but they also spend more time in prison before being exonerated. I mean look what happened to the Exonerated Five. In 1989 five black teenage boys were automatically assumed guilty, coerced into giving false confessions, and when they were finally exonerated in 2002 they had all already served sentences ranging from 6 - 13 years each. Please watch When They See Us on Netflix.
Or countless others such as Walter McMillian. Who was on death row in Alabama for a murder he didn't commit. Please watch Just Mercy and look into Bryan Stevenson and his work with the Equal Justice Initiative.
Anyways, back to the overcriminalization of drugs as you can see reflected the graphs below...
Mass incarceration is highly unrelated to violent crime. A lot of it stems from the “war on drugs” which Richard Nixon's domestic policy chief, John Ehrilichman, even admitted to Harper’s Magazine was created to fight black people and hippies. "We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities," Ehrlichman said. "We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
And is the overcriminalization of drugs still affecting the black community? Of course, it is. Because how can you elect government officials who have the power to help you reform laws and change the system that is oppressing you, if they send you to prison and take away your right to vote? In addition to that, how are you supposed to know who and what to vote for if your underfunded schools didn’t actually explain how the government works? Or because "the electoral college is an institution rooted in slavery and designed to guarantee to slaveholders and states with a small white population and a large slave population the kind of federal leverage they wanted." - Angela Davis (Here are some other examples of voting suppression throughout history. And here is a short video series on state laws that are still discriminatory toward POC: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5)
In 2018 Patrick Beadle, who had no prior felony record, received an 8-year sentence for driving through Mississippi with 2.8 lbs. of medical marijuana, which he bought legally in his home state of Oregon. Yes, he broke the law. But how is possessing, or even attempting to sell, pot worse than raping an unconscious girl?
Which is what Brock Turner, a 19-year-old swimmer at Stanford, did. He was only sentenced to six months in jail and told he could be released on good behavior in as little as three months. (Side note: Here are some disturbing things judges have actually said during rape trials.)
Even when the crimes are the same, a report by the US Sentencing Commission found that black men got 19.1 percent longer sentences than white men between fiscal years 2012 and 2016.
Why would our country want to put more black people in prison and give them longer sentences? Most people assume it’s because private prisons are just parasites trying to make money off of black people’s misfortune, which is true, but they aren’t nearly as problematic as the massive publicly-owned system.
“Prisons rely on the labor of incarcerated people for food service, laundry and other operations, and they pay incarcerated workers unconscionably low wages: our 2017 study found that on average, incarcerated people earn between 86 cents and $3.45 per day for the most common prison jobs. In at least five states, those jobs pay nothing at all. Moreover, work in prison is compulsory, with little regulation or oversight, and incarcerated workers have few rights and protections. Forcing people to work for low or no pay and no benefits allows prisons to shift the costs of incarceration to incarcerated people — hiding the true cost of running prisons from most Americans.”- Prison Policy Initiative.
So slavery ended unless you commit a crime. (Which is literally stated in our constitution under the 13th amendment.) Or are wrongfully convicted of a crime. Or are accused of committing a crime and can't afford or are denied bail and are stuck waiting on delayed court dates to dispute the charges. (Or live in parts of the rural south where the effects of sharecropping are still resulting in abusive labor practices. This is a different topic I’m not going to get into at this time, but I at least wanted to bring it to your attention. Please watch this video.)
If the goal is really to reduce recidivism, you would think teaching skills and providing adequate earnings for the labor of those skills would be more effective. And that allowing inmates to save money for bills, rent, living expenses, etc. would help create more productive citizens upon release.
The U.S. justice system controls almost 7 million people, more than half of which are on probation. Some reports show that parole violations account for over one-third of some jail populations. And in 2019, the Council of State Governments found that 1 in 4 people in state prisons are there because of supervision violations. “If a parole or probation officer suspects that someone has violated supervision conditions, they can file a “detainer” (or “hold”), rendering that person ineligible for release on bail. For people struggling to rebuild their lives after conviction or incarceration, returning to jail for a minor infraction can be profoundly destabilizing.” - Prison Policy Initiative.
To fully understand just how destabilizing it can be please read the full story of Kalief Browder. He was a 16-year-old who, because he fit a description, was falsely arrested for stealing a backpack while walking home one night. His family wasn’t allowed post bail because he was on probation for a prior incident. His court case was moved 30 times. He ended up spending over 3 years at Rikers Island without ever being convicted of a crime. While there, he was brutally beaten by prison gangs and guards, spent two years in solitary confinement, and had tried to take his own life multiple times. He was finally released and all charges were dropped. He got his G.E.D, took college classes, and even had a 3.5 GPA. But he still couldn’t move past the trauma of his confinement. He again attempted to end his life. On June 6th, 2015, he succeeded. He was only 22 years old.
And you may be thinking, how can things like this still be happening? Why didn’t this young black man’s life matter? Well, we literally created policing institutions to chase down runaway slaves and prevent slave revolts. Then, they were used to enforce segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves. Modern policing was invented to make sure social hierarchy remained intact and in that sense, it’s doing a great job.
White-collar criminals who have robbed people of millions and engage in other illegal activities, such as cocaine use, often get away with it because they essentially own the police. Meanwhile, black teenagers in poor neighborhoods are still sentenced to years in prison for possessing marijuana even after it's been legalized in 12 states and only remains completely illegal in 8 states. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, about 84% of the more than 2,000 marijuana offenders who were federally sentenced in 2018 were people of color. Only 11% were white, even though whites make up more than 60% of the U.S. population. Please read this article for a better idea of how our nation's failed weed war turned many into prisoners and others into moguls.
There are so many layers to this though. The TV/Film Industry also ensures the social hierarchy remains intact. Whether it’s stereotyping POC, only using them for background or supporting roles, or casting white people to play POC and leaving them out altogether. The lack of representation sends the following message: POC aren’t as valuable, marketable, or desirable as people with white skin.
Photo Source: Huffington Post
When you grow up thinking those things, it can really damage your self-esteem and self-worth. Which is why we don’t just need to see all races represented, we need all skin tones represented as well.
The industry pats itself on the back for thinking it’s progressive while continuously disregarding people with darker skin tones. And it’s not like the demand isn’t there; we all saw how Black Panther smashed at the box office and is now the highest-grossing superhero movie in the U.S.
While colorism is a slightly different topic, it also goes back to slavery and how slave masters raped black women and then tended to treat their light-skinned offspring better. The approximation to white is what has been and currently is valued in our society. Imagine feeling so dehumanized for your dark complexion you would rather risk the damaging effects of bleaching your skin than spend another day in it. Please watch this.
My friend and I were talking and she brought up this point: When we were growing up, how many movies did we see with a black, male love interest? (I’m 27 for reference.)
I couldn’t think of any off the top of my head. Then I later remembered Save the Last Dance. And how I thought it was so progressive at the time. But y’all, it ended with the white girl saving the black guy from a life of crime. With her dance audition. Which was not nearly as good as I remembered it btw.
And as this article points out, the sister, Chenille, was the only character who tried to educate Sara on her privilege and have a productive dialogue. And she was made out to be the villain who got in the way of their love. The real issue was overshadowed by the “colorblind” message. Which, in case you didn’t know, is problematic because if you don’t see color, you can’t recognize patterns.
Meaning most people who say they are “colorblind” are unaware of how race affects POC and American society as a whole. Being “colorblind” doesn't actually erase your bias, it just erases POC’s identity, experiences, plight, beauty, and strength. We should respect and embrace those things instead.
I wrote an article about racism in the fashion industry in 2013. The Battle of Versailles Fashion Show is still interesting to learn about. This point is still valid: “The industry doesn’t care how discouraging it is for these young models to be rejected based on their physical appearance because they chose a profession in which success is based solely on looks. Fair enough. But what about all the young girls who grow up feeling unattractive, not because of the unrealistic portrayal of how women should look (tall, slender, flawless complexion, exotic features, etc.) but because of the very real fact that their skin tones are perceived to be undesirable?"
Also, the fact that this was the fashion industry’s mindset only 7 years ago needs to be known especially since it’s now a thing for some celebrities and influencers to darken their skin and contour their features in a purposeful attempt to appear racially ambiguous, but only when it’s convenient for them.
“A few designers have said that the lack of color on the runway is more about making their collection look unified than anything else. If that’s the case, then why not hire an all-black cast as Givenchy did in 1980? Besides, it doesn’t explain why racial discrimination happens just as much, if not more, in print modeling.
Take Numero magazine. Two months ago they hired a white model, covered her entire body in brown makeup and dressed her up in a tribal-inspired outfit for a spread entitled “African Queen.” The worst part? They are one of the many publications that have done this sort of thing.
Legendary photographer Steven Meisel said he’s asked his advertising clients so many times if they can use a black girl. And they always say no. Why? Apparently black models “don’t sell.” The only thing people aren’t buying is the fashion industry’s apathetic attitude toward racism.”
This attitude was so publically chastised, designers were forced to take accountability and do better. The Spring 2020 season of New York Fashion Week was more racially diverse than it has ever been before. Nearly half of the models cast in New York shows were people of color. At the time I wrote the previously mentioned article only 17.6 percent of models were POC.
Photo Source: Jezebel
Photo Source: The Fashion Spot
Yes, it’s phenomenal that the TV/Film and fashion industry are more inclusive now. But let’s not mistake progress for completion; especially when a lot of sectors in society still aren’t there yet.
But I do want to point out that black homeownership is now at an all-time low (40.6%, compared to 73.1% for whites). And that gentrifying a community in an effort to improve it does not help the poor or POC who live there. In fact, it often leads to increased housing costs without sufficient compensation. If you are interested in how to improve a neighborhood without replacing it, I recommend looking into John Perkins and his 3 R’s of community development. While this process may take more effort and time, it still leads to the creation of more jobs, schools, health centers, homeownership, and other enterprises of long-term development without displacing the current residents and their culture. While it is religious-based, the key points are still applicable in a secular world.
Those of you who complain about affirmative action and how POC are taking your spot at a college or your job, the fact that you automatically assume they are YOURS to take is the problem. That’s like accusing someone of stealing something you haven’t even bought yet. Like...it’s not even in your cart. You both are just in the same aisle because you want some cereal.
These programs do not privilege POC, they just ensure that they are given equal consideration and opportunities. If a black woman wants to become a doctor, she still has to go to medical school, pass her exams, and undergo a residency just like everyone else. Affirmative action simply creates spaces for POC they might have otherwise been systematically kept out of.
I often hear people say something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t you want the most qualified person for the job, not someone who is just filling a quota?” But why can’t a POC be both of those things? And why should they miss out on a opportunity because a lot of business value interpersonal relationships more than skill or competence?
Also, this: "Striving to increase workplace diversity is not an empty slogan — it is a good business decision. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.
In a global analysis of 2,400 companies conducted by Credit Suisse, organizations with at least one female board member yielded higher return on equity and higher net income growth than those that did not have any women on the board.
In recent years a body of research has revealed another, more nuanced benefit of workplace diversity: nonhomogenous teams are simply smarter. Working with people who are different from you may challenge your brain to overcome its stale ways of thinking and sharpen its performance." - Harvard Business Review
Photo Source: LeftyCartoons
Plus, white women have benefited a lot, if not the most, from affirmative action. And people with white-sounding names are more likely to get job interviews anyways. One study found job applicants with white-sounding names get called back about 50% more of the time than applicants with black-sounding names, even when they have identical resumes.
Photo Source: Harvard Business School
And for every $100 white families earn in income, black families earn just $57.30. African Americans with a college degree still have less wealth than white families where the head dropped out of high school. Income disparities aside, things such as inheritance, higher education, and homeownership, while not solely responsible for, also fuel the inequality of wealth. And inheritance doesn’t just mean getting a large sum of money, it could be helping with rent, a car, paying for school, a downpayment of a house, allowing you to build a house on their property, etc.
Photo source: Brookings
Photo Source: Ineqaulity.org
A report from The Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University titled “What We Get Wrong About Closing the Racial Wealth Gap,” suggests that even if black Americans made more money through business and homeownership, and were able to manage that income perspectively, they still wouldn’t be able to catch up to the overall wealth of white Americans because of deeply entrenched structural racism, and discrimination in the workforce and lending industries.
There is a quote from this article that further explains this concept. “The way we talk about the racial wealth gap has been very limiting. The issue is not just about how to help people build wealth. We have to also curtail how wealth is extracted in so many ways—we have to look at things like corporate power, mass incarceration, municipal fines and fees, and how they are directed at communities of color.”- Anne Price, president of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development (ICCED).
This doesn’t mean a black American’s hard work can’t result in a better quality of life than the one they were born into, we see examples of that happening every day. It just means systemic racism, in many ways, can make those lives harder. While we should celebrate those who have been able to "pull themselves up by the bootstraps," we should also acknowledge some weren't even given boots or had their boots burned. And having "a good amount of equality" the past 60ish years isn’t the same as justice for over 300 years of oppression. Especially when people with generations of inherited wealth and privilege insist on fighting it every step of the way.
Photo Source: PaperPincone
Photo Source: Bree Newsome Bass
Also, did it ever occur to you that affirmative action exists because otherwise a lot of employers purposely wouldn’t hire POC? A lot of people still don’t want black people in this country let alone their communities. When investigating Travis McMichael, the man who hunted down and murdered Ahmaud Arbery this past February, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found records of him messaging someone saying that he loved his job because there "weren't any N-words anywhere."
Just because you personally wouldn’t want intentional segregation in the workplace doesn’t mean a lot of people wouldn’t love to see it happen. There were still segregated proms in Georgia until 2013. And I would also like to point out that Travis’ father, Gregory McMichael, who was with him when he killed Arbery, most likely shared these same views and had a 30-year career in local law enforcement. He even faced suspension in 2014 for a lapse in required firearms and deadly force training. The District Attorney’s office continued letting him work until 2019 when he was finally stripped of his law enforcement duties after still not completing his training.
This is why we can’t keep blaming “a few bad apples” every time racism is exposed. Because when the so-called “bad apples” are in positions of power and aren’t held accountable for their actions decade after decade after decade—it’s the whole orchard that’s bad. Yes, some trees may produce more obviously rotten fruit, but racism feeds all the trees; it casually hides in the air, flows through the water, rises and falls with the sun, and roots itself deep in the soil.
We might be able to compartmentalize racism, black people have never had that luxury. Everywhere they go, it follows them. They don’t need a viral video to show them they are being unjustly murdered or that their melanin makes them automatic suspects to crimes they didn’t commit. These things have been happening to their family members, friends, and neighbors their entire lives. We are just now deciding to pay attention to it.
So how do we unearth these deep roots?
As Anthony Peterson said, we talk about them. Openly, not just behind closed doors or in certain company. Racism is more caught than it is taught. So not talking about race in an attempt to be colorblind leaves us blindsided. Race might not be real, but it does matter and it should be embraced. We don’t need to be post-racial in order to be post-racist. We just need to overcome ignorance. Make an effort to interact with people of different races, abilities, and socioeconomic backgrounds than your own and encourage your children to do the same. People's minds are often changed through observation, not argument. Visit museums. Sign-up for workshops at your local libraries. Cook food from different countries. Here are some kid-friendly recipes to get you started. Attend cultural festivals. Find a diverse church. If you live in a rural or predominantly white area read books. Watch documentaries. Listen to podcasts. Hoopla and Libby allow you to do this for free with a library card.
Preschools are assessed once a year using the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale. Diversity is one of the components. Regardless of your school/class demographic, you are required to include a certain number of books, toys, pictures, props, music, etc. representing different races, cultures, ages, abilities, and genders. Why? Because representation isn’t just for those it directly affects, it’s for everyone. It's not enough just to teach children not to hate. I was never taught any types of families were bad when I was younger, but I also wasn't taught they could be different. So when my best friend showed me a picture of her dad, I accused her of making him up. I was convinced that because he didn't live with her he didn't exist. Teach your child not to hate or be prejudice, but also teach them what that means to avoid creating ignorance. Create environments where they grow up interacting with, learning about, and accepting diversity. When buying toys, look for diverse dolls, books, puzzles & games, music, and toys. I promise you they are out there. (Although I will admit after going to multiple stores the only Asian doll I could find was a Mulan doll with white facial features dressed in Hanfu.)
As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says, be aware of the danger of a single story.
Your child is not too young to start having conversations about skin tone or skin color. Children as young as 3 are aware of physical differences.
Children can also grasp the concepts of inequality, equality, equity, justice, bias, empathy, etc. Especially when they are already in the movies and books children absorb on a daily basis. Zootopia. I’m not saying boycott every Disney classic, just talk to your children about the good and bad concepts they may have picked up on. For example, just the other day I was talking to 3-year-olds about the Grinch and they brought up how in the song it talks about how he has yellow teeth. One child said that the Grinch had yellow teeth because he was so mean. Then I noticed they started looking at each other's teeth to see who was mean. I explained that you get yellow teeth from not properly cleaning or brushing them, not because you are mean. This might seem like an unimportant conversation because at this age they don't mean anything by it. But they are also learning how to develop reasoning skills. So as an adult, it is my job to address how they may have come to that assumption and correct it so they don't continue thinking people with yellow teeth are automatically mean.
If we’ve only seen negative examples of something, we hate it. But when we don’t understand something, we fear it. If we don’t overcome that fear and hate as children, we can become dangerous adults—whether it’s intentional or not.
And while most of us have recently seen how bias can have a dangerous effect on black people in the judicial system, a lot of people are unaware it also happens in healthcare.
Stereotypes and racial bias, even when unconscious, can negatively affect the doctor-patient relationship and become harmful to the patient's health. For example, a doctor may dismiss a patient’s symptoms, not monitor them as closely, or not diagnose them soon enough. Or a patient who experienced racial bias may not schedule important follow-up appointments that could prevent them from needing life-saving treatments in the future. Or differential treatment may happen due to communication gaps in the patient's history.
This can be improved by checking our bias, but also by encouraging our black youth to go into the medical field so we can have more black doctors as well as supporting the black doctors we currently have by providing them the same government grants for research projects as their similarly credited white peers and creating a less hostile work environment.
(The following information is from this article. Please read it in full when you have the chance.)
Due to residential segregation from redlining black people are more likely than white people to lack access to hospitals and other health care providers. The ones that are accessible aren’t as well funded and have less experienced practitioners. And going to a nicer hospital in another area isn’t an option for people without transportation.
Yes, there has been some improvement to medical care access under the ACA, but there are still major disparities between black and white health outcomes and black people are still more likely to die compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
Black people are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease than white people and are at greater risk for the onset of diabetes.
The African-American infant mortality rate is twice the rate for white infants. And black women are three times more likely to die of pregnancy-related causes than white women. Even successful and affluent black women, such as Beyoncé and Serena Williams, still experience unconscious racial bias which can lead to life-threatening pregnancy complications. This is truly alarming. Please listen to this eye-opening podcast: ‘The Daily’: A Life-or-Death Crisis for Black Mothers. And look into supporting The Black Women’s Health Imperative.
Photo Source: The Century Foundation
Mental health issues are extremely prevalent in the black community. However, treatment is often not affordable, accessible, or commonly talked about. Black teenagers are more likely to attempt suicide than white teenagers (8.3% v. 6.2%). Black adults are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than white adults. And black people living below poverty are three times more likely to report serious psychological distress than those living above poverty. Black adults are also more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than white adults.
On top of the social determinants (poverty, income inequality, food insecurity, etc.) all races face that can negatively affect the ability to attain health insurance and quality care, POC also have to deal with racism, which not only is it a stressor, but it impacts their mental and physical health.
According to a study published in the journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology, in which all participants came from similar socioeconomic backgrounds, racist experiences bring on an increase in inflammation in African Americans, which in turn increases the risk of chronic illnesses such as heart attack, neurodegenerative disease, and metastatic cancer.
So, police brutality aside, racism still causes African Americans to die prematurely and experience chronic illnesses and mental health challenges at higher rates than white Americans.
This is why the #blacklivesmatter is so important. These recent murders are just a piece of the puzzle. It’s time to see the whole picture. Black people, and POC in general, have been accommodating our ignorance toward their plights for centuries and have done so with so much grace and forgiveness. They are tired. The amount of accessible information on the internet is astronomical. A black person should not have to lovingly sit you down, hold your hand, and walk you through their oppression, and then dissolve you of your guilt afterward because you “didn’t know.” If you have the ability to post angry memes or self-serving solidarity photoshoots on Facebook, you have the means to educate yourself.
Social and system reforms are long overdue and it’s time to really care about change.
Start small. Continue educating yourself about race. Here are 15 books to get you started. Stay up-to-date on important issues by following and supporting these 28 Organizations That Empower Black Communities. Here is a massive google document with endless information. Justice in June features daily and weekly lesson plans based on what your schedule allows.
Do your part. VOTE. Not just in the presidential elections. Congressional, state and local elections are just as, if not more, important. Donate to or connect with local organizations and community centers that aim to equip and empower their residents. Here are a few in Chattanooga: CALEB, The Bethlehem Center, Bridge City, Hope for the Inner City, and Glass House Collective.
If you have the money, just be like Chance the Rapper who donated 2.2 Million Dollars to Chicago Public Schools stating, “As a parent and proud product of CPS, I'm committed to helping Chicago's children have quality learning experiences that include the arts.”
Photo Source: wttw
Need help starting difficult conversations? Please see the talking points below: