The amazing thing about Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates’ ordeal was he was amazed at being arrested.
The mainstream media and nameless others are spreading the notion that America has become a post-racial society. Hypocritically, they proclaim that race-based policies and behavior are things of the past, knowing full well that’s not true. Some Blacks actually join in promulgating the color blind myth, pointing to Barack Obama’s presidency as effectively ending he pre-eminence of race. However, incontrovertible evidence affirms that racism, rooted in White superiority, is still very much alive.
Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s Senate confirmation hearings on her nomination to the Supreme Court is instructive. The process has become increasingly political and all but one Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted not to confirm her, even though most agreed she was eminently qualified for the position. For her part, Judge Sotomayor seem to do everything possible to skirt the issue of race, coming across as a skilled mechanic with unwavering politically correct responses but revealing virtually nothing of her feelings on critical issues.
The confirmation hearings made it crystal clear that justice is anything but blind, and that political considerations are the principal criteria for elevation to the nation’s “color blind” highest court-a contradiction that escapes many of us.
Public education is another arena where race plays a major role. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second largest, now has over 70% Latino students; the Black student population is approximately 8 percent. Blacks have long been LAUSD’s lowest achievers and with the huge increase in Latinos, they receive even less attention and are further disadvantaged. The combination of diminished numbers and continuing systemic negligence ensures their continuing disparate treatment.
Law enforcement is another example of prolonged race-related issues. Los Angeles and surrounding cities such as Inglewood and Compton exemplify distrust between police and local residents. Inglewood, for example, has had five officer-involved killings in a year-four Black men and one Latino-all under highly questionable circumstances, were shot by the police while allegedly unarmed in most cases. One officer who had shot and killed a 19-year-old Black youth was reassigned to street patrol after several weeks and subsequently was involved in the killing of another Black man. Inglewood’s mayor and city council seem to have an unspoken policy of total silence about these killings, which only exacerbates fear and distrust. Race must be accorded proper weight, not only in police training, but even more important, in the recruitment process as well.
It cannot be over emphasized that ever since enslaved Africans arrived in this country, the criminal justice system has been used as a mechanism to control Blacks based on the false premise of White superiority and Black inferiority. This has been manifested in countless ways, including, “19th Century vagrancy laws forbidding Black from loitering in public places and the plethora of other Jim Crow laws, not just in the South, but in urban “dark ghettos” where the police were perceived as an occupying army sent in to control and maintain peace among a suspicious, unruly law-breaking and culturally different people.” (The Criminalization of Race by Dr. Charshee McIntyre.)
Similar contemporary examples abound, such as the war on drugs where disparities in sentencing are blatant. Whites consume more drugs, but are incarcerated far less often than Blacks. OF course, continuing race-based disparities in employment, housing and healthcare are legion.
President Obama’s speech at the recent NAACP Convention could be a “teaching moment” depending on whether he, and the rest of us, follow through on his stirring oratory. In his speech, the President said, “Even as we celebrate the remarkable achievements of the past 100 years…….even as we marvel at the courage and determination of so many plain folk, we know that too many barriers remain….We know that African Americans are out of work more than just about everybody else….that they are more likely to suffer from a host of diseases, but less likely to own health insurance than just about anyone else. The pain of discrimination is still felt in America….Discrimination cannot stand-not on account of color or gender, how you worship, or who you love. Prejudice has no place in the United States.”
Rhetorically, President Obama makes a compelling case that racial profiling exists and that the nation has an obligation to end it. But it will take sustained commitments at all levels of government and society- and from President Obama himself- to move from rhetoric to the reality of a post-racial society.
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org