As an English teacher in Bogotá I work with a lot of Americans, which, in light of recent events re: Ferguson in the United States has made for some tense conversations and mixed emotions. Today I commented to an American colleague, in a state of frustration at the escalating chaos, that I would not wish to return to an America in the state it is now. He defended by saying that, whilst the state of affairs at present will make one flinch the media and wider community is addressing the issue and that in itself was evidence of a sea change and improvement. He also pointed out the diversity in the attitudes and communities within the states and that many places, like Missouri are more prone to racial tension. The situation in the US is nothing if not complex and no reasonable person I know would deny that these events are not so much new tragedies rather that light has been shed upon them and now they are being critically debated with thanks to the large scale protest in Ferguson and around the US.
It did make me think however about endemic, systematic discrimination within the US; The US as an example, I am well aware that the UK also suffers from systematic discrimination that we don’t like to talk about. There are still many people who insist that the recent spate of killings in The USA are not related to racial tensions and that the police have been unfairly targeted. However the evidence is mounting, and as more voices call out the inherent discrimination within the system white America must face up to its demons. Systemic discrimination need not be explicitly intentional, nor racism overtly aggressive to have a profound impact on the lives of many people. It must be remembered that laws in many countries were written by a white political elite for elite white people. To then expected a portion of the community that has been explicitly and overtly handicapped by law for hundreds of years to stand up to those expectations without flinching is unreasonable and combined with heavy handed policing which seeks out those weaknesses as in the case of so called ‘broken window’ crime, the result is systematic discrimination against people who do not have the resources to defend themselves.
At this point it is essential for the white community to recognize the advantages and privilege that they have in America and to realise that as a person of colour there are inherent disadvantages living almost anywhere in the “western world.” A famous quotation attributed to Cecil Rhodes reads, “Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life.” Even he recognised the privilege and advantage of what he no doubt perceived as being born white. Cecil Rhodes, the founder of Rhodesia, one of the more remarkably racist men in history was in many ways more aware of his privilege than much of white America is today. He knew that he was born with an advantage over many people and that the system served him. Many in the US have yet to come to terms with the fact that there were born into a system designed to help them and handicap those not so fortunate. That many people of colour are relegated to the working class as a result of historical discrimination and that they are doomed to stay there unless profound changes take place in the attitudes of the state and white America. The senate and the house have always served white interest because they were created by white men, and even when a black man is in the White House they cannot be stirred to protect the lives of unarmed young men in the USA. The horror.
You can read more by James here.