Do you recognize these names: Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, and Sandra Bland? I hope so. They are a sad and disturbing reminder that RACE continues to be an intractable issue in modern-day America despite the social advancements over the past 50 years.
However, let me preface my thoughts by stating that no one, not even the cynics, can deny the gradual progress in our society with regard to racial justice, thanks in large to the likes of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hamer, Thurgood Marshall, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Cornel West, and of course, Barack and Michelle Obama. Life for minorities have certainly improved; and yet, we still have a LONG ways to go.
As of 2016, the achievement gap in public education continues to linger for children of color. A profound number of minority children are at the mercy of the dubious waiting list, desperately hoping to be admitted to a charter school — since public schools are unequipped to handle the barrage of complex problems that mire these disadvantaged kids. If this predicament remains stagnant, then a segment of our society will continue to fall behind no matter who becomes President of the United States.
The issue of race is a sensitive matter, but it needs to be discussed — openly and intelligently — as it profoundly affects our lives on a conscious and subconscious level. At this juncture, our broken infrastructure debilitates particular races, which is tragic, yet very true. I can state this without bias because the current system benefits people like me while it insidiously cripples others. Irrespective of the rhetoric, the proverbial playing field is still uneven. To deny this disparity would be tantamount to blasphemy. As such, I believe the key to racial harmony involves transparency, accountability, sacrifice, and most importantly, compassion. We must approach our frustrations in a forthright manner instead of sweeping them under the rug, so to speak. If we harbor our anger and resentment, or suppress our anxieties through escapism, then sooner or later, they will certainly manifest in violent, destructive ways.
When I was a kid, my perception of black folk comprised of The Cosby Show, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Eddie Murphy, Mike Tyson, and his “Airness” — Michael Jordan. Their remarkable success was utterly mind-numbing. They literally dominated their respective fields, which I found inspiring based on the history of black oppression in America. For middle school had indoctrinated me with the likes of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., pioneers of the Civil Rights Movement. The unparalleled success of black entertainers and superstar athletes gave the appearance that equality was actually feasible in the 1980s. Nevertheless, by the time I reached high school, I realized how ignorant and naïve I was concerning the quandary of American black folk.
Various elements helped open my eyes to the disparity of blacks, which included: Boyz n the Hood, the poignant and riveting film about the plight of gang violence in south central LA, humanely directed by John Singleton; the rise of Hip Hop music as an educational vehicle, potently conveyed by Tupac Shakur, N.W.A., and Public Enemy; and sadly, the notorious video of police brutality pertaining to Rodney King that ignited the 1992 Los Angeles riots, which occurred before the advent of smart phones.
These social factors forcefully struck a conscientious nerve that altered my worldview. I recognized that individuals like Oprah Winfrey or Magic Johnson were outliers in terms of their success and acceptance from the mainstream. As a corollary, they didn’t represent the vast majority of American black folk whose pain and suffering remained rampant.
Fast forward to November 2008. Barack Obama became the first black president of the United States. I was genuinely happy for American black folk, especially the elders, whose tears spoke volumes about the historical moment. However, unlike my adolescent years, I clearly understood that equality was still a work in progress, albeit the first black president.
In my heart of hearts, the rise of Barack Obama was a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it was a monumental step toward acceptance and diversity in America. Barack could not have won the presidency without the help of white voters — and that’s the truth. Despite the growing numbers of Hispanics and blacks, white folks still comprise of the majority at this juncture. And thus, their support for Obama was integral to his political success, which exhibited a sense of inclusion and racial unity. On the flip side, though, the socioeconomic hardships for everyday minorities continue to endure. And yet, when the subject matter is brought to our attention, white folks are quick to argue, “Why are you complaining? You have a black president. Stop griping already.” Alas, this insensitive behavior will only delay and hinder the hard-fought battle for racial equality. Spin it all you want, but the numbers don’t lie. Incarceration rates between blacks and whites are still disproportionately high. And despite some patches of progress, the household income between black and white families is glaringly lopsided. Overall, people of color are still falling behind in the 21st century.
In order to move forward toward real equality, it’s going to require an enormous amount of empathy and sacrifice from each and every one of us. The effort needs to be collaborative among blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and so forth. In addition to this effort, equality demands unwavering patience. Or to put it more precisely: what we’re striving to achieve CANNOT be accomplished in one lifetime as a result of the complex nature of inequality. Yet it behooves us to continue the work of those who had toiled before us — and try wholeheartedly to BUILD another step toward social change rather than being distracted by the illusion of equality…due to the success of exceptional outliers. Then hopefully, the next generation of conscientious citizens will carry on that forward momentum, and in turn, help our society evolve.
Photo credit: Kayla Tong
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