Racism in America has always been a systemic problem that is perpetrated individually and institutionally. One institution that has a history of racism is law enforcement. This was evidenced two weeks ago when a police officer with his knee on George Floyd’s neck snuffed out his life. Floyd’s death was the tipping point of a long history of police violence against black people in that it triggered unprecedented protests and riots across the land.
Although there have been denials about racism in America for as long as it has existed, ample evidence refutes such denials. The historical artifacts of racism remind us that this is a country that the English settlers and their descendants−the founding fathers−created on the ideology of racism. This ideology with its tenets of white superiority and manifest destiny resulted in the subjugation of the indigenous Native American Indians, the enslavement of black people from Africa, the creation of the Ku Klux Klan, and Jim Crow Racism.
Despite the racial progress that resulted from the civil rights struggle of the 1960s and the subsequent enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, racism remains a problem in American culture. The reason for its persistence can be attributed to the fact that the ideology of racism has never been renounced and reconciled collectively by the nation.
Each time there is an anti-racism protest like we have seen recently, the pattern of the usual analysis and the usual platitudes permeates the news media. Nothing significant results from all of this, and whatever changes happen are mainly incremental changes or band aid fixes. The exception to this was the Civil Rights struggle that helped to dismantle the state sanctioned structure of Jim Crow Racism.
Having lived in Canada and the U.S. since 1974 (I’m originally from Jamaica), I have experienced racism directly and indirectly. During my residence in Canada as a student, my 16-year old nephew, Michael Habib was shot and killed by a young white man in Toronto. The shooter was reported in the paper as saying, “I’m going to kill the first nigger I see.” Here is a quote his high school class mate wrote some years later,
In high school I wrote about the murder of my soccer mate Michael Habib [black teenage boy]. He was shot by a white supremacist in a parking lot at Fairview mall in Toronto. Our high school newspaper refused to publish my article; the school principal nixed the article. The principal did not feel the ‘students’ were ready to discuss the issue.
After moving to the U.S. in 1979 my consciousness of racism was heightened by the constant news about race-related problems. Four months as a new immigrant residing in Miami, I witnessed directly what can be called a race riot. This riot was triggered by the acquittal of 12 white police officers who were charged for the brutal beating and killing of a black motorcyclist, Arthur McDuffie. Immediately after their acquittal, Miami erupted in violence. Liberty City a black enclave of Miami was almost burnt to the ground.
Early into my 29 years working experience, with two corporate companies as an engineer, I came to realize that in America people of color like myself are treated differently. This disparate treatment involved racial job discrimination, cultural isolation, racial bias, and stereotypes. It was my personal experiences with these problems that motivated me to write a book, A New Perspective on Race-related Problems in Corporate American Companies (Outskirt press, 2016).
If there is one thing that is definitive about racism it is that it has influenced and shaped the cultural psyche of America. One aspect of this is that racism is somewhat of a taboo subject. This taboo aspect of racism limits any discussion or conversations about it mainly within racial groups – black people talk about it to themselves and white people likewise do the same. Another aspect of the influence of racism on our psyche is that every person in America is affected by racism (those who perpetrate it and those who are targeted) one way or the other−it permeates our consciousness. Because I was literally consumed by the consciousness of racism, I came to the conclusion that the best way to cope with it is to understand its complex ideology. During the time I was writing, A New Perspective on Race-related Problems…I gained insights about racism that I felt should be addressed in a separate book. The outcome of this was the publishing of the book, Racism in America from the beginning to the end (Outskirt Press, 2016). Note: For reviews on this book click on the title.
Below is an extract from the book:
The observation that dialogue on racism occurs with accusations and denial does not mean that there is no conversation about it. To the contrary, there are conversations about racism but only within groups. Intragroup conversations about racism are common—blacks talking to other blacks and whites to other whites. Intergroup conversations—blacks talking to whites or vice versa—about racism are not as common. This tendency contributes to misunderstanding, mistrust, with more accusations and denial. With these tendencies, it is difficult to find solutions that will ameliorate racial conflict. Besides, there are different views about why it occurs, what causes it, and who is responsible for it.
Mistrust, which is a natural component of racism, is evidenced in almost all aspects of the relationship between blacks and whites. One area where this mistrust manifests itself is in the relationship between blacks and law enforcement. The history of law enforcement with respect to how blacks are treated disparately is no secret. Police officers have falsely arrested blacks, profiled them, treat them in a disrespectful and contemptible manner, physically assault them, and fatally shoot them even when they are unarmed. The use of excessive force, including deadly force, is something that the police seem to carry out more frequently against blacks (especially young black men) compared to young white males.
Racism is undoubtedly one of the most complex social problems that societies that encounter it have to deal with. This complexity is not a surprise, as psychologists inform us that human behavior in itself is complex and not easy to understand. Racism is an ideology that affects the psyche and influences human behavior. Its ideological structure
makes it a subjective matter that means it is even more difficult to discern and understand.
The complexity and difficulty that racism creates manifests itself in problems such as having genuine communication about it, negative emotions of shame and guilt about it, and the failure to change human behavior with respect to racism. The lack or failure to deal with these problems creates real obstacles that prevent opportunities to address racism objectively and honestly.
Because racism involves atrocities, a notorious history, and various negative emotions, it is impossible to write about it by sanitizing it or omitting the negative aspects of it. If you want to correct or eliminate a problem, you have to lift the rug and sweep out all the garbage that is under it. The reaction of whites to accusations of racism is that they prefer the garbage to stay under the rug. Leaving the garbage of racism under the rug is a disservice to society and to all people, including whites, as it only enables the persistence of racism. Like a cancer that weakens and ultimately destroys the body if it is not medically treated, racism will ultimately weaken and destroy society if it is not eliminated.
Note: To read reviews on this book, click on this link: Racism in America.
In Racism in America, I pointed out that because of their history and being on the front line in the fight against racism, African Americans more than any other group have suffered immensely from racism. They have been the warriors in the fight against racism and they have endured a relentless war. In this war many black people have lost their lives. And they have lost their lives in an inhumane and unjustifiable manner that makes them a sacrificial lamb to help achieve the common good for black people – the gradual breaking down of racism. George Floyd death by the police made him an icon in this process.
The relatively new social movement, Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) has been galvanized by George Floyd’s tragic death to become a potent force in the fight against racism. Perhaps BLM can stir the conscience of America to start a real social revolution that will lead to real changes.
BLM and all black people as the ones on the frontline in the war against racism must also work for changes in in black communities. Black people have every justifiably right to demand racial change in America, but they should realize that such change is harder to achieve when black communities are plagued with violence, drug abuse, and other social ills. They must heed the words of the great Mahatma Gandhi who said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.”
America desperately needs healing on all sides. Racism has persisted for too long and there is nothing positive that has been achieved from this persistence. To the contrary, it has only destroyed the lives of those that perpetrate it. It has also destroyed the lives of many black people and people of color. Meaningful change will not come easily. The challenges are enormous on all sides and therefore the expectation of real changes (especially racial change) must be tempered with the realization that it will only happen when white people renounce racism and hold a truth and reconciliation process like South Africa bid to end their apartheid system.