Lately there’s been talk that America’s post-racial. We’ve got a black president. A black Supreme Court justice. Even our most beloved media behemoth, Oprah, is a black American. It’s nice to think that we have, as a nation, moved past bigotry and discrimination.
What’s really happening is that we’re getting very good at talking the talk, and walking the walk just enough to make it feel like we’ve moved completely beyond our segregationist past. But scratch the surface of our shiny new post-racial America, and discrimination and disrespect come bubbling up. While things are definitely improving, we still have quite a way to go. Don’t believe me? The evidence is all around us.
Commemorating the End of Slavery
America has a bloody history, and the entrenched system of slavery that whites thrived on for centuries was perhaps our most inhumane practice. Celebrating the end of that system—and the recovery of our dignity as a nation—should be something Americans can unite around.
Juneteenth is a little-known holiday that commemorates June 19th, 1865—the day the last of America’s slaves were officially freed (the Emancipation Proclamation was effective as of January 1, 1863, but Texas failed to comply until two and a half years later, when federal troops entered Galveston). We have national holidays celebrating presidents and workers’ rights—the only excuse not to have a national holiday observing America’s greatest movement toward equality of its citizens is this: the largest segment of our population feeling uncomfortable about its nasty past.
Securing the Right to Vote
The Supreme Court recently struck down a key provision in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that puts states with histories of voter discrimination under scrutiny before being allowed to alter voting laws; the provision was deemed unconstitutional because it was using old data. Prioritizing bureaucratic intricacies over citizens’ voting access? The court couldn’t have said “Go for it” to racists in positions of power more clearly.
17-year old Trayvon Martin (who was black) was killed by an armed neighborhood watchman—George Zimmerman (white/Hispanic)—who ignored police orders to leave pursuit to the authorities, who were on their way. Zimmerman was arrested more than a month after the incident, claimed self-defense at trial, and, juried by six women—all white but one—was found not guilty in court.
The jury had the option to find him guilty of manslaughter—essentially killing without intent—but didn’t. Regardless of one’s position on Zimmerman’s acquittal, it’s hard to deny that the resulting rage, sorrow, and protests would be an inevitable reaction to not just the death of a teenage boy, but to decades of racial injustices built up within our criminal court system (visit http://www.asanet.org/images/press/docs/pdf/ASARaceCrime.pdf for more detail).
I am glad to say America’s race relations seem to be maturing. But to claim we are a post-racial state? Nowhere close.
By Mica Habarad