It's obviously time for this to change. Conveniently, I spent part of my official Day of Resting yesterday watching Netflix, which did not just consist of rewatching Friends. I watched the documentary called 13th which was super well done and very eye opening. Not in the sense that it was telling me things that I didn't know, but that it was pointing out things I have known inherently for my entire life and never really considered as particularly harmful because they didn't affect me. Let me explain:
(First off, you should watch it yourself, because it's amazing.)
It is talking about how the criminalization of African Americans is basically an extension of slavery, because of the clause in the 13th Amendment that states that slavery is illegal, except for those who are proven criminals. So naturally, law enforcement in the South (especially) started arresting black men in droves to put them to work as slaves.
This documentary makes it clear that this trend extends through all of American history since then, through the Civil Rights movement, through every major "crime reform" bill or "law and order" philosophy. I can't explain all the pieces, which is why you should watch it. It all comes down to one thing:
Whenever a politician has proposed a bill concerning "prison reforms" or "sentencing reforms" or something to be "tough on crime," it has DISPROPORTIONATELY affected PEOPLE OF COLOR. Especially black men, especially those who are already living in poverty.
This seemed so simple to me when I watched it. This police brutality towards black people that overtook the internet this year is not a new phenomenon. It came to light because of new technology, just like the Civil Rights movement used TV to show peaceful protesters being brutalized by those who opposed them.
This semester I taught through To Kill a Mockingbird and did my best to let the students know, the issues of racism in this book are not resolved. If I were still with that class, I would make watching this documentary a full-credit assignment, because I think it is that important. We as a country need to grapple with this reality. It needs to start now.
Unfortunately, we just elected the worst of the worst "law and order" candidates as our President. The list of why I loathe Donald Trump is long, and gets longer just about every time I hear him speak, but this issue is near the top: He has a long history of discriminating against people of color in his business practices, he spouts xenophobic rhetoric that white supremacists eat up like candy, and he actively encouraged people to violence against Black Lives Matters protestors who showed up to peacefully demonstrate at his rallies.
The videos of white people ganging up on blacks throughout history, especially during the 60s, and the videos from his rallies were only differentiated by the quality of film.
I hold out that the very fact that he was elected means that this country is a whole lot more racist than most white people are willing to admit. I include myself in the ranks of those who weren't willing to admit this, by the way. Because honestly, it never affected me. I saw these things from a distance, and there was no personal experience of the systematic oppression.
I am starting to come around. It's hard not to when you see the vast difference between how a white boy is treated in schools for persistent disciplinary issues vs. how a black boy is. At all levels of school, by the way. Particularly in an area like mine, where the students of color are few and very far between.
I have some other bad news for you. This is not going to get better. Not until everyone sits down and takes some time to speak to the other side. I posted on Facebook yesterday, "when does anyone make a major decision without hearing BOTH sides of the issue?" The answer to that was, unfortunately, the election because it got so toxic that no one wanted to listen to the other side. No one could be civil. No one could see the other side's people as people, not just talking mouths.
As a Christian, I'm starting to understand that this is a personal issue for me, whether or not if affects me personally. I am instructed to mourn with those who mourn. There are countless mothers, wives, children, and other family members mourning every day over men who were killed because we have historically viewed all black men as criminals, before viewing them as humans.
I am reminded of this quote from To Kill A Mockingbird from Atticus. It struck me while teaching, and again while watching this documentary:
"You know the truth, and the truth is this: some Negroes lie, some Negroes are immoral, some Negro men are not to be trusted around women—black or white. But this is a truth that applies to the human race and to no particular race of men. There is not a person in this courtroom who has never told a lie, who has never done an immoral thing, and there is no man living who has never looked upon a woman without desire."This is what we need to remember. We are all humans. One race of people is not made less human by their skin color. Not blacks. Not Arabs. Not Natives. Not Asians. White people often think, as I once did, that we have moved past that, it's not a big deal anymore, or that "I wouldn't have supported that brutality if I had been alive." We need to grapple with the fact that we are just as vulnerable as our ancestors, and it's not our fault. It's in the culture, it's in our upbringing, it's in the way the news covers crime, it's in the way our political system is constructed to skew towards those already in power. But even if it's not our fault, it is OUR RESPONSIBILITY to change it.
It can be small. It can be making a concerted effort to personally treat everyone you encounter equally. It can be standing up to someone who is spewing bile at people of color, letting the world know that is not okay. It can be by supporting organizations that focus on rehabilitation vs. punishment for those who have been convicted of crimes or supporting education programs for poor children.
Find a way. I am planning on making education my goal, not only for my own students, but also for myself. If I can move to education in those communities, that would be ideal. Find what works for you.
But first, confront your own participation in the system and vow to stand up for actual justice. Please.