The events of the last week are jarring to White people, but sadly an all too familiar reality to our Black citizens. They have been experiencing this sort of violence for years. With the advent of phones with cameras, many people are just now seeing what Black people have known for generations : they are subject to abuses and deaths at the hands of those who are supposed to ‘serve and protect’.
What is perhaps more disturbing, though, is the way this sort of bias is etched into the American experience. In fact, it is as ‘American as apple pie’, as the saying goes. This is the reality that needs to be recognized and dealt with.
There is a fascinating article that I read recently that deals with White people’s fascination of Trump. It is rather long, but I encourage you to read it. One of the things the author mentions is that poor Whites and Black slaves were natural allies, and, indeed, often intermarried and Whites helped some slaves escape. From the beginning, businessmen who relied on slave labor saw this and made sure to get laws passed that punished Blacks more than Whites for similar offenses. Poor Whites were also given jobs as overseers and were made to see slaves as subhuman. At the same time, the trope of the male over sexed Black beast intent on raping White women was spread, along with all sorts of hateful propaganda towards Blacks in general. Thus did the wealthy Plantation owners and others of their ilk plant the seeds of racial hatred that grew into the full bloom of virulent race hatred towards Black people from the White population.
This hatred has deep and strong roots, and the harvest has been destructive to the psyche of this entire country since its inception. The crops are frequently watered by new indignities. The Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and literacy tests, population concentration in blighted areas, voter ID laws, vastly disproportionate representation in prisons; these are all examples of the fruits that have grown from this poisonous outgrowth. And police brutality is only the latest outrage to come to light, at least to the White majority. Anyone who has been paying attention and knows their history already knew of this state of affairs.
So what can be done? Certainly there have been remedies suggested, such as better police training; more community policing; body cameras; and more stringent punishment when the police do break the law.
Ultimately, however, these measures would only be treating the symptoms and not the underlying disease. Until we as a nation confront the historical racism that has been a part of our collective experience as Americans, the violence and division will continue. There needs to be a sincere and honest national effort to look at this problem in the eye, solidly and without fear, and tear out its roots. A truth and reconciliation commission of the sort used in South Africa might be a good start. Reparations, that great fearsome bogeyman of the White masses, should be paid. These funds should be used to invest in schools, support businesses, build housing, and to invest in a solid infrastructure that will support a thriving economy.
Most importantly, though, the justice system needs to be completely overhauled and made truly fair to all people, regardless of color or creed. Imprisonment must be made the exception and not the rule, and the focus should be rehabilitation and not revenge.
These goals are difficult, but not impossible, to achieve. We just need leaders who are willing to take a chance, and even though those are few and far between in the present environment, one never knows when a transformative personality may emerge. We may take some comfort in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr
The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.