As Obama declares that, though we have much to do, race relations are clearly better than they were 50 years ago, I am struck by the two Americas in which we live.
Clearly some aspects have improved, and dramatically, as Obama’s election bears witness. Diversity is in vogue, and everyone (except the hardcore racists) want a sprinkle of diversity in our otherwise white lives. Anecdotes abound about the “hard working” Black man that made it in corporate America, allowing the myth of meritocracy to reign. To be sure there are opportunities that did not exist 50 years ago for some Americans but the systems that privilege white lives (at the expense of others) are perhaps even stronger than they were on Bloody Sunday.
The baseline struggle for a Black child born in America is stunningly unchanged. Poverty is crushing, malnutrition is high and healthcare scarce. While childhood poverty crosses lines of race, our public school resources do not appear to be so color blind. The disparities in funding are immoral and so too the disparities in punishments (suspensions). Given that suspensions literally remove children from the classroom, the loss of education based on race is underscored. To be sure there are children of color at the fancy private schools, like the ones where Obama’s daughters attended, but this is NOT the norm for children of color in America. Our public schools are actually MORE segregated than they were 50 years ago.
While the years since Bloody Sunday brought us our first Black president, these same years also provided a cloak for the “war on drugs” and the “prison industrial complex” and any number of euphemism that have created the #newjimcrow. Not only do we have an incarceration rate that is utterly ridiculous, it is quite literally the highest in the world. Do we really believe that Americans are more dangerous or are we simply more vengeful or (my personal hunch) we’ve become dependent upon the prison-industrial economy. And in this unconscionable system, we fill our prisons with Black and brown skinned boys (who become men behind bars). Not only do we charge and imprison dramatically differently along lines of race, we have also created an elaborate system to ensure that even upon release “convicts” are stripped of economic and civic privileges, denied their human rights.
And, of course, our schools function as a pipeline to the prison system… the whole damn system is guilty as hell.
I have deep respect and true appreciation for our President. But I am equally disappointed in his failure to act at this pivotal place in history. Appealing to the American dream when children are quite literally being gunned down the streets is as morally bankrupt as the revivalist’s promise of an afterlife to the child who is hungry.