Hey America, Wake Up and Smell the Racism!
This past week CC asked our readers whether or not racism was still an issue in the country. You all were pretty mixed in your responses—a third of you said that it was a major issue, another third said that we’d made progress but still need to work on it, and another third said that it wasn’t an issue anymore.
Probably a lot of the confusion comes from what we perceive to be racism.
For example, a male Caucasian clerk is friendly with a Caucasian female and then rude to an African American male—now this could be a clear cut case of sexism—clerk is hitting on the female and rude to the male, or a clear-cut case of racism.
The way in which you experience that scenario is really dependent on your previous life experiences.
During my childhood in Southern California, I understood racial tension to be part of a larger issue—i.e. gang violence or immigration. For me the civil rights movement was a thing of the past. In the scenario above, I definitely would have leaned towards the sexist explanation.
Then I moved to Washington, DC.
It’s an angry city with a massive history of racial tension.
Many of the people who work in DC in fact live in either Virginia or Maryland (during the work week the city’s population swells by 71.8%!), and those who live in DC (aside from college students) are either upper class or lower class. The majority of upper class reside in Northwest DC or Capital Hill. The rest live in Northeast and Southeast. (The Capital is the center of the grid).
The tension is palpable (check out my earlier rant over the Supreme Court handgun ban ruling). DC was the site of some of the worse race riots over the years. The city has the worst public school system and the 3rd highest poverty rate in the country as well as the highest child poverty rate. Its destiny is controlled by the US Congress—a group of mostly Caucasian elites overseeing a majority African-American city.
I worked for 3 ½ years at the B. Dalton at Union Station located directly behind the Capital and consequently the place where these two worlds met.
Certain memories are imprinted upon my mind. One Saturday afternoon, four people started yelling at each other outside the store—that was fairly typical. But then I heard two loud shots. We all hit the floor. Luckily the gunman fled the building—otherwise I might have been involved in a hostage situation.
The cops caught up with the shooter and the victim was taken to a nearby hospital—and that was the last I heard of it.
Sure it made local news that evening but when I scoured the Washington Post the next morning, the incident was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t news that an African-American shot another African American. That happens all the time. The cops never questioned my coworkers and I (despite the fact that we were eyewitnesses).
It seemed clear that there was no desire to put a case together concerning what had happened—they already knew. I’ve seen more concern over a car crash than that shooting.
It was just another day in DC.
I was 6 when the Rodney King riots occurred in Los Angeles, yet before I moved to DC I probably wouldn’t have factored racism into the way the shooting was handled. Yet now I am absolutely certain of it.
Racism is ugly; an issue that all of us (who can) would just as soon pretend is nonexistent. But let’s be honest—it’s not going anywhere.
The schisms between races in our country will only begin to be healed through massive national dialogue. For such a dialogue to take place, it is essential to understand that even if you yourself aren’t affected by racism (or don’t realize you are), others are. Racism is still an issue—and it must be dealt with.
[Images courtesy of wikipedia commons and Quaker House]