Do Black Lives Matter in a Racist Country?
There is a heightened awareness about “Black Lives Matter” because of the recent highly publicized shootings and killings of African Americans by law enforcement officials (and the dismal level of accountability within our legal and judicial systems). Many of the pundits and apologists who defend these extra-judicial murders by law enforcement, however, frequently bring up the victims’ past as justification for the police conduct. Oftentimes, to deflect attention from the killing, you will also hear defenders referencing rates of ‘Black-on-Black’ crime and murders. For the record, most murders within racial groups are committed by their own members—White as well as Black. It is an ongoing and uphill challenge though to educate smug or fragile Whites about the reality of the ‘dual justice’ system in this country, because they have been sheltered from the lived experiences of African Americans and other people of color.
When I speak about the hypocrisy, racism and historical acts of slavery and Manifest Destiny to audiences or classrooms, I regularly hear some of the most addle-brained comments imaginable. It’s just par for the course in the structurally racist and frankly white supremacist post-secondary institutions where I teach. Neither the students (nor oftentimes the faculty and administrators) have any working knowledge of the basic racial terminology or current situation. To even begin to have a meaningful conversation, a refresher course on such simple terms as racism, bias, White fragility, White privilege is necessary.
That review, however, does not even begin to deconstruct the racial ideology and mentality of the openly White supremacist ‘Proud Boys’ and Confederacy-loving folks embedded within these nearly all-White institutions. The majority of White people are protective of their privilege to the point of even denying such schemes and advantages exist.
Examining the History
We cannot alter the nature of racism or racist institutions until we are open to examining the history of this country and the horrific acts that were done to people of color—particularly on the scale suffered by African Americans and Native people. The reason African Americans have not fully examined the past is because of the brainwashing the White educational systems have subjected us to. Call it “Negro Amnesia”: the endlessly perpetuated illusion “that all men [and women] are created equal”. Past and current racial demographic information, of course, demonstrates the opposite. We have millionaires and wealthy White institutions that derived their wealth off the backs of slave labor. There are large insurance companies, universities (Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.) and corporations that have profited from America’s apartheid economic system. Even White Christian churches are complicit in this ongoing bamboozlement of unsuspecting dark-skinned residents, conditioning them to accept their lot in life. And these apartheid beneficiaries are all aided by petty-bourgeois, negro elites, who operate as gatekeepers standing watch over the African American community to make sure we stay in our place.
The recent rash of murders and killings of unarmed African American civilians, however, has unleashed a raft of pent-up emotions across America’s racial fault line. While many Whites are reflexively rallying to the police and, like President Trump, flat-out denying America has a systemic ‘race problem’, others (both Black and White) have poured out into the streets at levels we haven’t seen in half a century. And along with the protests, we’re also finally seeing media coverage of just how segregated this country still is regarding social and economic opportunity three generations after the Civil Rights Movement.
A recent New York Times article reported that “The Black-White Wage Gap Is as Big as It Was in 1950”, with Black men today earning on average from one-third to one-half less than White men (NYT, June 25, 2020).
Some, though, will argue that poverty rates are narrowing because of social programs and nonprofit agencies. However—and a majority White state like Nebraska offers a classic example—these nonprofits mainly serve the needs of White people. Both their clientele and their administration are predominantly White.
Last but not least is the comparison of the wealth of African Americans and Whites. Research by the Brookings Institution provides clear evidence that the cumulation of wealth passes from generation to generation. “At $171,000, the net worth of a typical White family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family ($17,150) in 2016. Gaps in wealth between Black and White households reveal the effects of accumulated inequality and discrimination, as well as differences in power and opportunity that can be traced back to this nation’s inception. The Black-White wealth gap reflects a society that has not and does not afford equality of opportunities to all its citizens” (Brookings Blog 2/27/2020). Slavery and Jim Crow laws were the biggest debilitating factors that kept African Americans in caste or slave-like conditions—in contrast to an open or free society for most Whites. Even poor White immigrants from European countries could get acquire wealth in the U.S. because they were not bound by the apartheid conditions African Americans faced.
All this though becomes even more egregious when one examines the prison and jail rates for African Americans in Nebraska.
In 2017, Black people were incarcerated at 8.2 times the rate of White people, and Native people were incarcerated at 6.9 times the rate of Whites. African Americans constituted 21 percent of the jail population and 29 percent of the prison population, yet only 5 percent of the state population (Vera Institute: 2017). You could not make this stuff up. But in our apartheid criminal justice departments, they are not studying such structural topics. Instead, they have classes on “Gangs”, which is a code word for how to stereotype and make brutal arrests of African Americans in the community.
If we are to truly reverse the bleak conditions for African Americans, local, state, and federal governments in the U.S. must be willing to pay restitution for the trillions of dollars of wealth that was reaped from the slavery practiced against African nations, African ancestors, and the African Americans relegated to the sidelines waiting for their opportunity to have what White Americans have. We must support H.R. 40, the “Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act”, and then do all we can to change this country’s racial climate.
It’s apparent that all lives do not matter… Only those who have the power to have institutions enforce their apartheid laws governing petty victimless crimes. If we are going to change the unwritten state motto of Nebraska, “Good for ‘Lifers’, it’s not for everyone”, we must allow the victims of American democracy to sit at the tables of policymaking, establish sentencing guidelines to constrain White racist judges, and get their prison or jail sentences reduced to those of White criminals convicted of the same crimes.