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Opinion

Racism in the United States

BREAKTHROUGH - Elfren S. Cruz - The Philippine Star

Racism in the United States is a known fact since it has been the subject of many books and even movies and television series. A majority of white Americans up to now practice some kind of discrimination against ethnic minorities like Hispanic Americans and yes even Asian Americans. Harvard University, the bastion of liberalism, is now being sued for discrimination against Asian Americans.

It is the discrimination against an entire race — African Americans or black Americans —  and the seeming open injustice that is really so appalling and  confounding since it is happening in a country that says it believes that “all men are created equal.” Perhaps, it is because we are outsiders that we may find it difficult to understand how this country that is supposed to represent freedom and equality could be the scene of such racist acts as we have witnessed in the last few months.

I am referring to two recent events wherein two unarmed black males were shot and killed by policemen and then were set free  by a grand jury who did not even find these policemen guilty of even the most minor offense of manslaughter.

The first incident was the shooting of an unarmed black male — Brown — by a policeman, Darren Wilson. This happened in Ferguson, Missouri and when the grand jury refused to indict Wilson a series of violent racial riots erupted across the United States.

The second incident was even more revealing because there was a video of the whole incident. It shows four policemen surrounding a black male and arresting  him for selling “loose” cigarettes. This was surprising because this is not considered a crime in the United and those violating are considered tax evaders and are issued a violation ticket. However, the black male – Eric Garner – was arrested and was allegedly choked to death, by Daniel Pantaleo, as shown in a video and later by an autopsy report.

In our country, there are also persons who sell “loose” cigarettes on the streets. Most of them are tolerated by the police unless they obstruct traffic. I am sure that it is not uncommon to expect that policemen expect some form of bribery for tolerating this practice. Sidewalk cigarette vendors are a common sight here and their most serious punishment would be having their stocks garnished by policemen. But I have yet to hear of any vendor being choked to death for selling loose cigarettes.

I will leave it to sociologists and experts on racial behavior to explain more fully the reasons why there is such intense negative feelings about black Americans . But I do want to share three observations, about this series of past events that surprised an outsider like me.

The first is that the protests and demonstrations were directed at the American judicial system – the police, the prosecutors and the jury system. Again, the demonstrators claim that these connivance, by the judicial system, for a white policeman to escape punishment for shooting unarmed, black males recently happened in Florida, the Trayvon Martin shooting of a black male suburbanite walking back to his home; the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri; and the choking to death of Eric Garner in New York City reveal that there is no geographic pattern. The latest incident is the shooting of a 12-year-old black child playing with a toy pistol and was shot by a white policeman who claims he thought it was a real gun. This happened in Cleveland, Ohio. Which considers a black — LeBron James — as a hero.

All these events seem to prove the point of some observers that these were not isolated events nor done by some aberrant behavior of a few policemen. But they indicate that there is a pattern of systemic, racist violence by a predominantly white police structure against the black American community.

The second, surprising observation — to me — is that this is happening in a country where black Americans occupy major positions of political power and have contributed so much to the American community at large. Barack Obama, the President of the United States, and Eric Holder, the Attorney-General — equivalent to our Secretary of Justice are both black Americans. The mayor of New York City is a Hispanic American and is married to a Black American.

The United States is also a country which has produced so many outstanding Black or African Americans that have achieved international stature. Among these are former civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. There have been several former Cabinet Secretaries like Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State; Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense, Eric Holder, Attorney General.  There have also been those in the literary field including internationally acclaimed writers like Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Richard Wright, James Baldwin and Gwendolyn Brooks; musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington; Paul Robeson; entertainment stars like Sidney Poitier, Denzel Washington, Halle Berry and Oprah Winfrey and athletes like Jackie Robinson, Michael Jordan, and LeBron James.

My third surprising observation is that these racist acts happened in New York City which is supposedly one of the most inclusive, tolerant and progressive city in the world. It did not happen in Southern or Old Confederate states where it is expected that there are still very strong racial tensions. These are the states where slavery of Black Americans was legal until the Civil War forced them to legally free their slaves in 1863. These are the states where racial segregation was legal until the 1950s and 1960s when the Civil Rights Act and several US Supreme Court decisions finally ended legal segregation. These are the states where the Klu Klux Klan was openly supported by the majority of the white population.

These are the states of the old Confederacy — Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.

Racism has two definitions. One is ”the notion that one’s own ethnic stock is superior.” The other definition is  “discrimination or prejudice based on race.” Racism in the US has become a national issue. The shooting of unarmed black males by white policemen who are then allowed to go free without any punishment is becoming more common.

According to ProPublica, a website for investigative journalism, between 2010 and 2012 young black males were 21 times more likely to be fatally shot than white men in the same age group. President Obama has said: “Communities of color are not just making these problems up.”

In 1619, the first Africans arrived in Jamestown, Virginia aboard a Dutch ship. In 1645 the first African revolt against slavery erupted in Gloucester, Virginia. In 1742, there was an African revolt against slavery in New York City.

Black Americans were subject to either slaver or racial discrimination from the very beginning of their settlement in the United States. After almost 400 years, the racial discrimination continues to exist. It seems that it is most likely the old wounds of racism and racial antagonism will continue to fester.  The world can only hope that somehow the United States, which so many Filipinos now call home, will find a way for people of different races and religion to learn to live together in peace.

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Email: [email protected]

 

AFRICAN AMERICANS

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BLACK AMERICANS

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