The racial fault lines have emerged with a vengeance, tinged bright red with the blood of the black and blue in America. High profile killings of unarmed black citizens by mostly white police officers are matched by high profile targeting and killings of police officers by mostly black shooters.
The American history of equal rights for blacks is tortuous and bloody, punctuated by slavery, lynchings, mutilations, rapes and beatings, and the indignities of segregation and Jim Crow laws. It is also a history of white sacrifice for civil rights through the blood of Civil War soldiers and the grizzly deaths of white civil rights organizers at the hands of the KKK. The journey to justice continues -- laws passed to end segregation, treasure spent to ease black poverty, “Head Start” and Affirmative Action” to provide a hand up.
There has been great progress on the road to justice for blacks, the penultimate being the election a black President. So one would think … except the gulf between black and white perceptions on progress made and distance to go has widened not narrowed.
The gap widened because the goal for justice changed for black youth from equality under the law to equality in the eyes of others. Laws ending segregation and discrimination and programs to rectify historical injustices are insufficient for full acceptance. Full acceptance requires America to live up to the truth contained in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal, and by implication, to be treated with the respect and dignity accorded all human beings.
Dignity and respect are the youth’s metric for evaluating racial progress in America. On campus, microaggressions are the measure of racial insensitivity. For society at large, their litmus test is the interactions with the police, the front line of the government’s attitudes towards blacks.
Interactions with law enforcement are fraught with historical flashback moments. The echoes of the slave master heard in the harsh authoritarian voice and the requirement of unquestioned obedience. The poking and prodding of stop and frisk; the face down prone position of arrest; and the driving while black experiences, all reminiscent of the humiliating and degrading methods of Jim Crow policing.
“Black Lives Matter” is the prominent voice on police treatment of blacks. Not surprisingly the racial divide turns from a gap to a gulf over views of this movement. Whites are confused and angered by the accusations of the movement, particularly the accusations that racism is widespread and systemic. Blacks are angered that whites are tone deaf to the importance of focusing on black lives. The problem is not that all lives matter, it is that black lives in America matter less or not at all.
Political leaders and pundits add to the racial divide by promoting false narratives and misleading statistics. Two examples. Michael Brown was not pleading don’t shoot while holding his hands up. Instead, he attempted to wrest the police officer’s gun, ignored commands to stop, and was shot while moving towards the officer. Police are not color blind in their actions. A recent Harvard study shows police are significantly more likely to manhandle black suspects.
The philosophy of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is ominously radical and potentially dangerous. The leaders believe all of America’s institutions are designed by the white privileged to suppress blacks. Refusing to work within the system, they prefer to disrupt the system. White Democrats have been flummoxed by “Black Lives Matter” protesting, interrupting, and taking over campaign appearances. Blacks protesting Democrats instead of Republicans is new territory for Democrats who believe they have established bona fides on race relations.
“Black Lives Matter” leaders refuse to work within the system because it believes the institutions are inherently racist and therefore must be destroyed and rebuilt. These views create the potential for the movement to turn violent. There have been pockets of violent rhetoric against police, and property destruction, at some protest rallies. Further, the anarchistic views encourage the likes of Gavon Long, the black supremacist, anti-government, cop killer in Baton Rouge.
This is the time for courage from our black and white political leaders. Black leaders, while supporting the emphasis on dignity, must denounce the anarchistic rhetoric of “Black Lives Matter” and discourage the narrative that racism is in America’s DNA and is institutionally systemic. White leaders must acknowledge that police officers, and many other segments of society, treat blacks differently, and that many whites fear blacks, particularly young black men.
In short, it is time to have an honest conversation about race in America. Otherwise it will be a long hot summer.