“I don’t understand. Bathrooms, schools, and water fountains aren’t segregated anymore. There aren’t any more lynchings. Jim Crow is a paragraph in a history book. I have never owned a slave. Is there even a problem?”
I have heard a variation of this many times. It always hurts a little to hear. Anytime our emotions are tied to something or someone and the catalyst of those emotions is discounted rather than empathized with, our response is defensive aggression.
We snap. We talk (or type) faster and louder. How could this person not see this blatant injustice? This hurts even worse when the person questioning the validity of those emotions is close to us: a parent, grandparent, member of your church, neighbor, friend, or spouse.
However, you must remember that we did not reach this level of active conviction overnight. You didn’t just wake up one day and know everything about the injustice that kept you awake. It developed through a process of education and discovery.
When that neighbor, Facebook friend, acquaintance, parent, or fellow congregant questions the injustices of the world, rejoice. You now have an opportunity to thoughtfully and gently inform this person about the people around you that are hurting and invite them along for the ride. As hard as it may be, validate their quest for information. Thank them for asking, even if it hurt when they asked.
The specific questions of the first paragraph are understandable. We are currently realizing 400 years since the first slaved humans were shipped across the Atlantic. Lincoln became The Great Emancipator 156 years ago. Dr. King told us about his dream over half a century ago. Why are we still working for racial justice? Why is race still a topic of discussion?
Poverty, unemployment, and hunger disproportionally impact black neighborhoods. This means there are children that are going hungry just because of the block they live on. They often rely on free meals provided by their school or a local organization like the Boys and Girls Club or a local congregation. We could discuss why poverty is a dilemma in black neighborhoods, but let’s work to fix it first.
Incarceration is robbing young men of their formative years. African Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of their white counterparts. More disturbingly, African American children make up 32% of incarcerated juveniles.
The life expectancy of a black male is less than that of a white male. Think about that. You are expected to live a longer life if your skin has less melanin. That’s privilege!
The graduation rate among African American men is unsettling as well. Just 65% of black males are expected to graduate high school. Although that number is steadily climbing, it should still call us to immediate action.
Then there are the intangibles. The most dangerous and pervasive racial issues impacting America today are the silent ones. The implicit racial bias. This is the unseen, unstudied, and misunderstood. This is non-verbal communication of racism in society. In this realm, let me be clear: perception is reality. We should be ever-vigilant of systematic, societal tendencies that benefit or marginalize a race. If someone perceives racism, let us address it rather than dismiss it.
I never want to be the guy who points out a problem without a solution. Therefore, we must figure out how to address these problems. I will go more in depth on the topics of homicides and mass incarceration on a later post, but let me provide a heading on the journey.
Involve yourself in the matters of race. Educate yourself on the experience of young black men. Mentor a student, tutor, volunteer, or, dare I say, befriend someone that doesn’t look like you or grow up like you.
As our eyes are opened to the injustices and statistical disparities, may we not blame culture or politics, but may we ask ourselves, “How can I fix this?”