It Is about Race
A recent report showed that in our country an African-American male is killed by the police every 36 hours. That's at least one life lost every day and a half and amounts to 243 deaths a year.
Yet responses to the report online show that lots of my fellow citizens want to believe that those deaths aren’t about race.
When people of color die at the hands of hands of law enforcement, or even at the hands of their fellow citizens, the script is always the same- blame the victims, and insist that race had nothing to with it.
Last weekend, Anaheim police shot and killed Manuel Angel Diaz, an unarmed young Latino male. Earlier this year the police in my own backyard shot an unarmed African-American teen named Alan Blueford. In both cases, almost immediately, the victims were demonized in the press rather than mourned by our country. With Alan, people wanted to discuss the times he had gotten into trouble at school. With Manuel, they were quick to suggest gang affiliation.
We are a nation that is quick to jump to conclusions. Especially about young people of color.
We jump to conclusions about who needs to be watched, about who has the potential for violence. The Anaheim police did it by targeting Manuel. The Oakland police were no different.
Earlier this year George Zimmerman did it, the neighborhood watch member who thought Trayvon Martin looked suspicious enough to stalk and then kill him.
It seems to be all too easy for our country to believe that young men of color who are the victims of violence must have been up to something. And if they weren’t in the exact moments leading up to their death, they were probably dangerous or guilty of something anyway.
I can't help but compare this to our national response to James Holmes who recently killed 12 and injured over 60 at an Aurora Colorado theater. As a country, we are mourning the lives lost and condemning the violence. As horrified and saddened as I am for the losses in the Aurora community, I also can’t help but dig a little deeper.
Many people remain shocked, saying, “How could this happen?” At heart, what they are shocked about is that a white, educated, doctoral student could go on a deadly rampage.
We have a hard time believing that someone white could be the perpetrator of such horrific violence, yet seem to have an equally hard time believing that victims of violence who are people of color didn’t somehow deserve it.
As a nation, we are slow to see race. And even slower to have honest conversations about the role that race does play in our nation’s affairs.
After the death of Trayvon Martin, a poll was done by Newsweek and the Daily Beast. Only 35% of White folks surveyed believed that Trayvon’s murder had anything to do with race. Whereas 80% of Black Americans recognized the impact of race in his death.
John F. Kennedy once said: The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. Too often […] we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
I believe one of the largest myths facing our nation is that “it's not about race.” The myth that race and racism are no longer a big deal in the United States is persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.
Because it’s too hard for many Americans to accept the answers if the question becomes-- what if it is about race?.
If the shooting of Alan or Manuel or Trayvon had something to do with race, how would it change our response? We would have to be less quick to jump to conclusions that the victims must have been suspicious or dangerous. And maybe we would unite as a country to recognize that their deaths were no less a tragedy than the deaths in Colorado.
If we recognized how often our responses to acts of violence in our country are affected by the race of those involved, it might force us to admit that we haven't come as far as we want to believe we have when it comes to ending racism in our country.
The only way we will truly end racism in our country is to face it without fear. We have to be brave enough to call racism by its name when we see it. We have to continue to have the courage to ask the question “what role might race have played” even when we are not sure. And when those around us talk about race, we have to stop insisting that race has nothing to do with it, whatever it may be. And we have to have the love and compassion it takes to call out racism from a place of healing and a commitment to change, not from a place of self-righteousness.
So I'm gonna say, it is about race.
When, according to the Department of Justice, Black and Brown people are three times more likely to be searched during a traffic stop, and African Americans are four times as likely to experience the use of force during a stop than White drivers, It is about race.
When piles of data show that our jails and prisons are disproportionately filled with Black and Brown men despite the fact that whites commit more crimes overall, it is about race.
When victims of police and community violence who are people of color regularly face postmortem character assassinations, it is about race.
We can kick the can of race further down the road, or we can face it head on and courageously accept that conversations about our country- our strengths and our challenges- must be inclusive of race. For once we, as a nation can admit that, more often than not, it is about race, we’ll finally be a step closer to a country where liberty and justice for all is a reality.
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