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What is this issue all about?
Racism is what makes people see the “other” with suspicion or to attribute negative characteristics to an entire group of people. This manifests itself in the individual thoughts, and also in the workings of society itself. Today’s continuing inequalities in education, housing, employment, wealth, and representation in leadership positions are rooted in our country’s history of slavery and systemic racism.
A majority of Americans say race relations in the United States are bad, and of those, about 7 in 10, say things are getting worse. Roughly 2/3 say it has become more common for people to express racist views since Donald Trump was elected. “How Americans see the state of race relations. April 2019”.
Racism arises when—either consciously or unconsciously—a person holds that his or her own race or ethnicity is superior, and therefore judges persons of other races or ethnicities as inferior and unworthy of equal regard, based solely on their race. When this conviction or attitude leads individuals or groups to exclude, ridicule, mistreat, or unjustly discriminate against persons on the basis of their race or ethnicity they violate justice. Racism occurs because a person ignores the fundamental truth that, because all humans share a common origin, they are all brothers and sisters, all equally made. When this truth is ignored, the consequence is prejudice then fear, then anger of the other, and—all too often—hatred.
About 7 in 10 Americans (69%) say they have had conversations with family and friends about issues related to race or racial equality in the last month. “Amid protests, Majorities across racial and ethnic groups express support for Black Lives Matters, June 2020.”
A consideration of the history of discrimination in America can help us all understand our current state.
400 years ago white people enslaved black people. They sold them and treated them as less than human for 250 years. During this time white men built the country and created its laws and its systems of government. While 10 to 15 generations of white families got to grow and flourish and make choices that could make their lives better, black people were seen as property.
150 years ago white people “freed” black people from slavery. But then white people created laws that made it impossible for them to vote, or to own land, or to have the same rights as white people. The white people in power even erected monuments glorifying people who actively had fought to keep black people enslaved. During this time another 5 to 10 generations of white families got to grow and accumulate wealth and gain land and get an education…. Black people did not get to do this.
And then 60 years ago we made it “legal” for black people to vote, and to be “free” from discrimination. But white people still fought to keep schools segregated. They closed off neighborhoods to white people only. They made it harder for black people to get bank loans, or get a quality education or health care, or even to marry a white person. All while another 2 to 3 generations of white families got to grow and pass their wealth down to their children and their children’s children.
And then we entered an age where we had the technology to make public the things that were already happening in private— the beatings, the stop and frisk laws, the unequal distribution of justice, the housing discrimination, the police brutality. And only now, after 400+ years and 20+ generations of a white head start, are we STARTING to truly have a dialog about what it means to be black.
White privilege DOES NOT mean you haven’t suffered or fought or worked hard. It doesn’t mean white people are responsible for the sins of our ancestors. It doesn’t mean you can’t be proud of who you are.
White privilege DOES mean that we need to understand and acknowledge that the system our ancestors created is built FOR white people. It DOES mean that black people are treated at a disadvantage because of the color of their skin, and It DOES mean that we owe it to our neighbors — of all colors– to acknowledge that and work to make our world more equitable. It DOES mean that we all need to evaluate our actions to ensure we no longer contribute to the suppression of people of color.
- Slavery set the stage: Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries people were kidnapped from the continent of Africa, forced into slavery in the American colonies and exploited as labor in the production of crops such as tobacco and cotton. Some historians have estimated that 6 to 7 million enslaved people were imported to the New World during the 18th century alone. Enslaved people in the south constituted about one-third of the southern population. Enslavers sought to make their enslaved completely dependent on them through a system of restrictive codes. They were prohibited from learning to read and write and their behavior and movement was restricted. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery
- Black / White perceptions of conditions differ. In a 2018 Gallup Poll 54% of whites and 40% of blacks would say relations between whites and blacks are “very good” or “somewhat good”. However black respondents are twice as likely to describe the situation with the way they are treated as “very dissatisfied” or “very bad” versus white respondents.
Additionally, when asked if respondents thought qualified blacks have as good a chance as qualified whites to get a good job, only 32% of whites said no they did not, while 69% of blacks said they would not. This 2018 pole showed very different results from the same question asked in 1963 where 44% of whites acknowledged that a black person was not as likely to get that job. At that same time, 74% of blacks said they would not get the job that they were equally qualified for.
- Think qualified blacks have as good a chance as qualified whites to get a good job % of respondents who said NO
Similarly, when respondents were asked if they thought racism against blacks IS or IS NOT widespread in the United States, 56% of whites answered YES it was widespread while 82% of blacks said it was.
- Think racism against blacks IS or IS NOT widespread % of respondents who answered YES
And, when respondents were asked if they thought the American justice system is biassed against blacks, it is no surprise that only 49% of whites agreed that it was, while 76 % of blacks said yes.
- The American justice system is biassed against blacks % of respondents who answered YES
White and Black respondent trends are moving in similar directions over time regarding their opinions on job opportunities, racism and the justice system. However, there is a 20 – 30% difference as to the severity of the situation, with white respondent opinions lagging behind that of black respondent opinions. Most telling, job equality opinion has only reduced 12% for whites and 5% for blacks in 55 years!
- Black Lives Matter is not a term of confrontation or an exclusionary demand. It has become an important rally to realize that we have a group that needs our support for justice. Columbia Law Professor, Kimberle Crenshaw explains that saying black lives matter “is simply aspirational;” it’s a rallying cry for a shift in statistical numbers that show that people who are black are twice as likely to be killed by a police officer while unarmed, compared to a white individual. According to a 2015 study, African-Americans died at the hands of police at a rate of 7.2 per million, while whites were killed at a rate of 2.9 per million. Black Lives Matter does not indicate that other lives don’t matter. It’s sort of like recognizing that your daughter needs some extra help now but that does not negate your love or concern for your son. (“Why you need to stop saying “all lives matter”. Let me be clear: stating that black lives matter doesn’t insinuate that other lives don’t” By Rachel Elizabeth Cargle. April 2019).
- Black Lives Matter points to two things:
1. As far as various major social institutions are concerned—the police, the criminal justice system, medicine—Black lives don’t matter as much as other lives.
2. Black lives should matter as much as other lives.
Here’s an example:
To make it easier. You call the fire department because your house is burning. When they show up they start shooting water at your neighbor’s house. You say “My house matters”. My house is on fire. The firemen say “no ALL houses matter”.
Do people who change #blacklivesmatter to #alllivesmatter run through a cancer fundraiser saying “there are other diseases too. All Diseases matter.”
If you are a Christian understanding the difference between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” you can find it in Luke 15. Luke 15, a summary: There are 100 sheep, but one goes missing. Jesus leaves the 99 and goes after the one. The 99: “but…what about us? Don’t we matter?” Of course, the 99 still matter, but they’re not the ones in danger. The one is.
If you say “Save the Whales” it DOES NOT mean “F@#% all the other fish”. Similarly, If you say “Black Lives Matter” it DOES NOT mean “F@#% all the other humans”
- That’s the situation of the “black lives matter” movement. Culture, laws, the arts, religion, and everyone else repeatedly suggest that all lives should matter. Clearly, that message already abounds in our society.
A majority of Americans express support for the Black Lives Matter movement and roughly half of Americans say Trump has made race relations worse.
- Race and Economic Opportunity: A study looking at race and economic opportunity in the United States across generations indicates black and American Indian children have substantially lower rates of upward mobility (moving up in the income distribution) than other racial groups. For example, black children born to parents in the bottom household income quintile have a 2.5% chance of rising to the top quintile of household income compared with 10.6% for whites. Growing up in a high-income family provides no insulation from these disparities. Black and American Indian children have a much higher rate of downward mobility, being almost as likely to fall to the bottom quintile as they are to remain in the top quintile. Further, this black-white income gap is entirely driven by differences in men’s, not women’s, outcomes, among those who grew up to earn substantially less then white men. In contrast, black women earn slightly more than white women conditional on parent income. They also found analogous gender differences in other outcomes, including high school completion, college attendance and incarceration. Differences in family characteristics – parental marriage rates, education, wealth explain very little of the black-white gap. For example, outcomes for black and white men who grew up in two-parent families with similar levels of income, wealth and education still have substantially lower incomes in adulthood in 99% of United States neighborhoods. Both black and white boys have better outcomes in low-poverty areas, but black-white gaps are bigger in such neighborhoods. For example, areas that have higher rates of upward mobility for whites tend to have higher rates of upward mobility for blacks, however, black-white gaps are larger on average for boys who grow up in such tracts because whites benefit more from living in such areas. Within low poverty areas, black-white gaps are smallest in places with low levels of racial bias among whites and high rates of father presence among blacks. These areas include census tracts with low poverty rates, high test scores, and a large fraction of college graduates.
This study implies differences in rates of mobility out of and into poverty are a central driver of racial disparities in the United States today. Reducing the black-white gap will require efforts that increase upward mobility for black Americans especially for black men, and that the black-white gap in upward mobility is primarily driven by environmental factors that can be changed. Therefore, initiatives whose impacts cross neighborhoods and class lines and increase upward mobility hold the greatest promise for narrowing the black-white gap. For example, mentoring programs for black boys, efforts to reduce racial bias among whites, interventions to reduce discrimination in criminal justice and efforts to facilitate greater interactions across racial groups. We view the development and evaluation of such efforts as a valuable path forward to reducing racial gaps in upward mobility. (“Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States Executive Summary, March 2018″)
- Damaging interactions with the criminal justice system exacerbates this issue. Because of a combination of racial animus and early exposure to environments unfavorable for accumulating human capital, a disproportionate number of Black Americans interact with the criminal justice system in ways that degrade their human capital and depress lifetime earnings. The outcomes of these interactions, measured by incarceration rates, point to unequal treatment between black and white citizens: 33% of the incarcerated population is black, almost triple the black citizens’ share of the US population (13.4% of US population). Meanwhile, the white citizens’ share of inmates is half of their share of the general population (white population is 60%). It is obvious that incarceration reduces earning power, but the numbers put a sharp point on its financial and human costs. Incarceration is estimated to reduce annual wages by 40 percent—not including the lost wages during the time served—for the formerly incarcerated, reduces their economic mobility, and even increases the risk of school expulsion six times for their children. In addition, the specters of crime and incarceration weigh more heavily on Black Americans: black men without criminal records are actually less likely to receive job interviews than are white men who have criminal records. In addition to the costs of incarceration, interactions with the criminal justice system are expensive. Financial penalties and expenses related to the criminal-justice process, such as fines and cash bail, impose additional burdens on black families. In fact, cities with higher concentrations of black residents levy disproportionately high levels of monetary sanctions: $28.60 per capita for cities in the top quintile of the share of the black population and $9.10 per capita for cities in the bottom quintile. (“ The Economic impact of closing the racial wealth gap. August 13, 2019 |McKinsey & Company Report”)
A majority of black adults (64% of men and 32% of women) report having been unfairly stopped by police because of their race or ethnicity, as opposed to a small minority of white adults (11% of men and 7% of women) (“Amid protests, majorities across racial and ethnic groups express support for Black Lives Matter Movement. June 2020”)
- With history, Individual feelings, economic opportunities and systems built with bias (systemic racism) demonstrating the work yet to be done in terms of race relations, blacks and whites still have different opinions about how blacks are treated.
- The language of the unheard. Dr Martin Luther King said “I contend that the cry of ‘Black power’ is, at the bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. And I think we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard,” he told correspondent Mike Wallace. “And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the economic plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years.” Dr. Martin Luther King (King first said this in an interview with 60 Minutes in 1966, when he was addressing militant factions within the civil rights movement).
A year later, delivering a commencement speech at Stanford University, King elaborated on this idea: “But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity.”
- What is needed, and what we are calling for, is a genuine conversion of heart, a conversion that will compel change and the reform of our institutions and society. Conversion is a long road to travel for the individual. Moving our nation to a full realization of the promise of liberty, equality, and justice for all is even more challenging. In this regard, each of us should adopt the words of Pope Francis as our own: let no one “think that this invitation is not meant for him or her.” All of us are in need of personal, ongoing conversion. Our churches and our civic and social institutions are in need of ongoing reform. If racism is confronted by addressing its causes and the injustice it produces, then healing can occur. In that transformed reality, the headlines we see all too often today will become lessons from the past. (“The document Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love – A Pastoral Letter Against Racism”)
- “We Shall Overcome.” Dr. Martin Luther King. “We shall overcome because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward Justice. We shall overcome because Carlyle is right, “No lie can live forever.” We shall overcome because William Cullen Bryant is right, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.” We shall overcome because James Russell Lowell is right, “Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne — Yet that scaffold sways the future.” With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discourse of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to speed up the day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and live together as brothers and sisters, all over this great nation. That will be a great day, that will be a great tomorrow. In the words of the Scripture, to speak symbolically, that will be the day when the morning stars will sing together and the sons of God will shout for joy.” (“The other American, Dr. Martin Luther King. Copyright © Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967”)
Facts and Resources:
- Slavery in America https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/slavery
- Race Relations. In-depth: Topics A to Z Gallup poll https://news.gallup.com/poll/1687/race-relations.aspx
- Amid Protests, Majorities Across Racial and Ethnic Groups Express Support for the Black Lives Matter Movement https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/06/12/amid-protests-majorities-across-racial-and-ethnic-groups-express-support-for-the-black-lives-matter-movement/
- How Americans see the state of race relations
- MLK: A riot is the language of the unheard
- Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States Executive Summary Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie Jones, and Sonya R. Porter http://www.equality-of-opportunity.org/assets/documents/race_summary.pdf
- Why saying “all lives matter” communicates to Black people that their lives don’t. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/all-lives-matter-black-lives-matter/
- Why you need to stop saying “all lives matter”
- US Census Bureau Quick facts
- 6 Reasons “all lives matter” doesn’t work – in terms simple enough for a child. Looking for a way to explain the difference between “black lives matter” and “all lives matter”? Try one of these 6 metaphors. https://www.parents.com/kids/responsibility/racism/reasons-all-lives-matter-doesnt-work-in-terms-simple-enough-for-a-child/
- The Economic impact of closing the racial wealth gap. August 13, 2019 |McKinsey & Company Report https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/public-sector/our-insights/the-economic-impact-of-closing-the-racial-wealth-gap#
- What is Systemic Racism? A Christian Viewpoint.
- The other American, Dr. Martin Luther King. Copyright © Martin Luther King, Jr. 1967 https://www.crmvet.org/docs/otheram.htm