Two posts in one day seems unbelievable for me this summer, and this one will NOT be about my fitness or wellness journey. This blog is a Cultural Commentary, and while a lot of what I have to say is about body image, feminism, and my own journey in this American culture, this post is about none of that.
Many in this country (and across the globe) have been following the George Zimmerman trial for the murder of Trayvon Martin. This week the verdict acquitting Mr. Zimmerman of the murder charges came down, and it’s shaken up many in our country. Stevie Wonder is boycotting the entire state of Florida, and he & other African American stars are using their public influence to demand social change. But I think the best response is the one given by our President today.
I do not agree with many of our President’s political positions, but I am still grateful he is our country’s leader. I am grateful because he is a black man. Our country needs a strong black leader who isn’t a professional athlete or music performer, and we have that in our President. Because of President Obama, I think our country will move in a direction where African Americans will have equal opportunity to do and be anything they want.
But this post is about more than President Obama’s speech. This post aims to show the horrific history of an entire race of people and to show, using population statistics, that the lives of African Americans are lives of struggle, poverty, and criminalization.
The birth, success, and history of our nation is built on the slavery of Africans. This country brought them from their homes, enslaved them, tortured them, and murdered them. This was the status quo until the Industrial Revolution came to America. With factories in the North, production went through the roof. But it didn’t matter how fast or how much the urban factories could produce; nothing compared to free labor in the form of slavery. So the South was an economic powerhouse, despite the lack of industry.
Enter the Civil War.
In the North, I’ve learned that students are taught this was solely about slavery. But in my own 7th grade state history class here in Tennessee, we were taught that slavery was the social platform that was used for an economic war. As an adult with more exposure to alternate histories, I see it was about both. If the Civil War were ONLY about slavery and the rights of black people, then when it ended, freed slaves would have been given equal rights then and there. But it wasn’t just about the rights of black people; it was also a calculated economic strategy, the aftermath of which left the South in shambles economically and African Americans as freed persons without personhood status. The Civil War ended in 1865, but African Americans had to endure over 100 years of struggle and racist oppression before they were granted civil rights as equals in this country.
And in that century & the near 50 years since the Civil Rights Movement, our country has left African Americans behind. The current situation is that African Americans are the largest oppressed racial group in our country.
The recent headline about Detroit filing for bankruptcy is a perfect example! According to the 2010 Census, 84.3% of the population of Detroit identified as black. I do not think that’s a coincidence, people. Other poor, struggling cities with high percentages of African Americans are Jackson, Mississippi at 80.1%, Birmingham, Alabama at 74.0%, and Flint, Michigan at 59.5%.
More shocking statistics showing the current condition of African Americans from the same 2010 American Community Survey and the 2010 US Census:
- 18% of African Americans over the age of 25 had a bachelor’s degree.
- $32,068 was the median income of black households in 2010, with 27.4% of African Americans living in poverty.
- 47.6% of African American grandparents were raising their grandchildren in 2010.
- According to the NAACP Criminal Justice Fact Sheet, grandparents are raising their grandchildren in large part due to African American incarceration being SIX TIMES that of white Americans. A black person is SIX TIMES more likely to be in prison that a white person.
- 26% of all juvenile arrests are African American;
- 44% of youth in custody are African American;
- 46% of the youth sent to criminal court are African American; and
- 58% of the YOUTH sent to STATE PRISONS are African American.
- Despite their circumstances and this country’s responsibility for those circumstances, 2.4 MILLION African Americans identified as veterans on the 2010 American Community Survey. They’re continuing to serve our country with their very lives, for which we all need to be grateful.
I think we all need to learn from the tragedy of Trayvon Martin, and we need to commit ourselves to changing the way we think of young black people in this country. We need to stop seeing them as criminals to fear. More than that we need to prevent them from entering our criminal justice system altogether.
The only practical solution to bridge the gap that’s existed between black and white Americans for almost 150 years now is for every single white American to volunteer his or her time in service to our African Americans communities. You don’t have to travel to Detroit or Birmingham to do it. Serve YOUR OWN community. We need to serve before school and after in tutoring and support programs. We need to give our time and resources to our struggling local schools. We need to pay attention to our local economy to see those kids working when they’re a little too young, or kids who are turning to criminal activity for lack of a better option. We need to do this for all of our kids because kids shouldn’t have to grow up like this. But our black children are growing up like this at a disproportionate rate than any other race in this country, and we need to do something about that specifically as white people FOR black people.
I grew up seriously poor and disadvantaged as a youth, but because I’m white, I’ve had opportunities that I know black people haven’t–just because I’m white. And I think it’s the white American’s responsibility to help create those opportunities for African American youths. It’s not about white guilt; but it is about erasing white privilege.
The horrible abuse of blacks in this country shames us. Trayvon Martin’s murder shames us. I think we can all admit we’re ashamed and sorry for slavery’s part of our country’s history. But we’re almost 150 years removed from slavery, and Trayvon Martin was murdered for nothing more than being a black male. Our shame and sentiment don’t do a thing to make up for the abuse that has been inflicted throughout our country’s history, and they don’t do a thing to pacify Trayvon’s murder.
I think our country has a great opportunity to redeem itself from this shame by individually stepping up and filling in that gap. And we need to do it as long as the gap exists. There is no price tag or timed sentence of penitence. We can never gain absolution for this part of our history. Nothing will ever be enough to make this situation right. But we CAN commit to changing the racial disparity in our country. White people get to live our whole lives without race EVER being an issue or question. Until it’s like that for African Americans, white people need to put our service where our white privilege is. I hope it doesn’t take us another 150 years for African Americans to get real equality in their own country.