18 Things White America Needs To Reconcile To Truly Become Colorblind
Black History Month presents the opportunity to explore African-American history: A history marked by the struggle for a fair and equitable America that treats its citizens and residents with respect and dignity, regardless of skin color. However, that struggle is often painted as “the issues of the past” that have been overcome and surpassed thanks to the Civil Right’s Movement and great leaders who sacrificed their lives and freedom in the fight for equality, like Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Rosa Parks. Sadly, in truth, racial inequality persists in the United States of America despite those sacrifices. The post-racial American image that is packaged and sold during this month is still merely a dream, yet to be realized, in the face of the ongoing Black and minority fight for access to work, educatino and healthcare, and against a discriminatory and unjust judicial/legal system.
The ultimate respect we can pay to the great Black leaders of the past is continuing their fights for freedom and equality. For that reason, we’ve put together this list of racial inequalities that continue to threaten Black and minority progress.
1. Economic inequality and the wealth gap. The wealth gap between Black and White families has been conservatively estimated at $80,000. Many argue the numbers to be closer to $150,000. Per the Census Bureau’s statistics on income by household, White households take home between $10,000 to $20,000 more per year than their Black counterparts in every age bracket. Many factors attribute to these discrepancies, including but not limited to America’s legacy of discrimination (slavery, Jim Crow), unfair banking practices, intergenerational poverty and dispossession of property. It just may be time to make good on that promise of 40 acres and a mule.
2. Still separate and unequal educational system. Black and Hispanic children are more likely to attend below-average or failing schools where the majority of their peers are non-white. Enrollment in “high poverty” schools for Black children is 41 percent, 38 percent for Hispanic children, 31 percent for American Indian/Alaska Native and mere six percent for Whites.
- Tracking: Even when Black and minority children attend mixed schools, they are more likely to be tracked into remedial or basic classes while their White counterparts take advanced, honors level courses. Some schools begin tracking students as early as kindergarten by use of IQ test that will set in place an educational trajectory for the rest of their education. Because of economic/financial limitations and a whole host of other reasons, minority students may not always begin their school career on the same level as non-minority children. However, multiple studies have shown that differences in ability even out over a short time period for most children. We cannot track any child into failure or “averageness”, especially not when data begins to reveal racial discrepancies.
- School-to-prison pipeline: PBS.org writer Carla Amurao asked: “How Bad Is the School-to-Prison Pipeline?” Here is what she reported: 70 percent of students arrested or referred to law enforcement for school related infractions were Black or Latino.. Forty percent of students expelled from US schools each year are Black and Black students are three and a half times more likely to be suspended than Whites. African American youth are also more likely to be tried in criminal court and as adults.
3. Higher education attainment discrepancies. Despite integration efforts and affirmative action, both of which have opened the doors to higher education to many minority students, disparities remain. According to the US Census, in 2010, 17.7 percent of Black males and 21.4 percent of Black females graduated college compared to 30.8 White males and 29.9 White females.
The number one reported reason why students leave an institution of higher learning, before completing their degree is “financial reasons.”
Additionally, the quality of higher education is also a factor that, if considered, would widen the higher education gap.
4. Mass incarceration: the unfair and disproportionate imprisonment of one million plus individuals of the minority community. While people of color only comprise about 30 percent of the US population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned. By now, if you have not read Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow, it is about time that you do. Black people, and more specifically Black men, now account for the majority of the prison population. Many of those imprisoned face unfair sentences as a result of the “War on Drugs”-era minimum mandatory sentencing practices that are now coming under fire. It is without question that the legal system unfairly targeted, incarcerated and imprisoned the Black community. The repercussions will be felt for generations without fast intervention.
5. The still Euro-centric school system and White educators’ racial insensitivity. America, let’s get a few things straight here: A) There is no such thing as unbiased, unpolitical education; B) human history did not begin in Europe; and C) people of color write literature and have a history that should be celebrated.
Many Black teachers who work in mostly Black districts alongside White teachers have reported that their schools do not even teach Black history during Black History Month. Racial and cultural insensitivity is exacerbated by White teachers who are disconnected from the experiences and/or history of their minority student body. An “equal education” should accurately and wholly represent and reflect the history of its students.
6. Whites created “the ghetto” and actively maintain segregated neighborhoods through unfair banking practices and discrimination. Redlining practices created road blocks to Black home ownership by denying home loans or insurance to people of color who sought to own homes in White, residential neighborhoods. Racial covenants literally forbade the sale of property to African-Americans or other minorities in White neighborhoods. Said best by Daily Beast writer Jamelle Bouie, “In short, redlining forced blacks into particular areas and then starved those areas of affordable capital. Combined with widespread job discrimination—which barred blacks from public employment and forced them into low-wage labor—you had neighborhoods that were impoverished by design.” Read his comprehensive introduction to “How We Built the Ghettos” for more information.
7. White beauty and cultural standards. Though strides have been made to diversify the media, it is still overwhelmingly White and misrepresentative of people of color. Pressures to fit into White beauty and cultural standards are the source of self-hate for many minorities and must be addressed.
8. Police brutality and racial profiling. Here is the growing list of unarmed people of color killed by Police between 1999-2014. People of color are indisputably more likely to be stopped, searched and pulled over than their White counterparts.
9. A poor healthcare system that treats Blacks and minorities unequally. All minorities, including Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americas, are more likely to be without a regular doctor than White individuals. Poor access to affordable health insurance and low income are the top cited contributing factors.
10. Gentrification and constantly displacing people of color. Since European colonizers arrived in the United States of America, White people have been displacing people of color. When Whites moved to suburbs (White flight), Blacks were forced into cities and disallowed access to suburban housing. Now, we see the reverse pattern as Whites fight to return to the city, taking over urban communities and forcing minorities out of their homes.
11. White terrorism. Despite the widespread belief that Black or minority people “do not make it” simply because they are lazy, welfare dependent, reprobates, in truth, Black success has been hindered and even destroyed by blatant White terrorism, and accountability for such destruction remains elusive. Here’s a short list of examples:
- Black Wall Street Massacre: May 20-June 1, 1921 in Tulsa, OK
- Rosewood Massacre: January 1, 1923, in Rosewood, FL
- Harlem Riot of 1935: March 19, 1935, in Harlem, NY
- Zoot Suit Riots: June 1943, in Los Angeles, CA
- Beaumont Race Riot of 1943: June 15-16, 1943, in Beaumont, TX
- Cicero Race Riot: July 11-1, 1951, in Cicero County, IL
- Battle of Hayes Pond: January 18, 1958, in Maxton, NC
- Birmingham Bombings: May 11, 1963, in Birmingham, AL
- New York Race Riots: July 1964, in Brooklyn, Harlem and Rochester, NY
- Philadelphia Race Riot: August 28, 1964, in Philadelphia, PA
- Bloody Sunday: March 7, 1965 in Selma, A
12. The perpetuation, exploitation and commodification of stereotypes and propaganda. Images of the “black thug” and hypersexual black woman continue to be exploited in modern America. As described in Ian Haney Lopez’s book Dog Whistle Politics: How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, overt racist agendas and language have been replaced by coded language that remains omnipresent in American culture and politics. Such “coded” language and imagery also remains pervasive in American entertainment, as discussed in the pieces I wrote about Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda cover and Kim Kardashian’s recent Paper magazine photoshoot.
13. Blatant hiring discrimination, glass and bamboo ceilings. People with “Black” or “ethnic-sounding” names are less likely to get callbacks for interviews. Despite the claims that minorities do not hold the qualifications necessary for certain positions and are thus underrepresented in certain industries, USA Today did an analysis of the tech industry’s hiring practices and found that “top universities turn out black and Hispanic computer science and computer engineering graduates at twice the rate that leading technology companies hire them.”
When minorities do obtain such positions, restrictions are often imposed that impede ascension through the ranks.
14. White appropriation and commodification of minority culture and music. Though many would love to exist in a world where all cultures can be universally appreciated, the system of White supremacy makes that excruciatingly difficult. In a reality where means of production, dissemination and distribution of cultural property is mostly White-owned, we cannot expect equality or universality. The music industry is essentially a global monopoly, controlled by “the big three” corporate labels: Universal Music Group (French-owned), Sony Music Entertainment (Japanese-owned) and Warner Music Group (American-owned), none of which have ever had a Black CEO or Chairman, despite the industry’s constant popularization and commodification of Black music. These corporations literally own and profit from the world’s music.
Furthermore, between 1995 and 2012, the number of Black owned and operated radio stations fell from 146 to 68. Radio conglomerates have essentially taken over the airwaves, allowing only a small percentage of Black artists into the mainstream. Only those with “crossover appeal” (artists who appeal to White people) make the cut, which is problematic not only for the artist but for the Black consumer demographic who crave music that represents their sensibilities.
Then there are instances of appropriation that are flat out disrespectful, yet still supported by the majority (white) populous. For example, the use of the name “Redskins” and the Native American image by Washington’s football team underscores America’s need to be more sensitive about the appropriation of minority culture.
15. Unequal political representation. Despite minority overrepresentation in everything from incarceration rates to poverty, minorities are underrepresented in all key political positions. Just a few numbers:
- Of the 43 people sworn into office, only one has not been a White male (President Barack Obama).
- Of the thousands of politicians that won senate seats in American history, a mere NINE have been Black — eight Black men and 1 Black woman.
- And there have only been six Asian-American Senators, eight Hispanic-American Senators and three Native-American Senators.
16. Meritocracy is for White people. Blacks are more likely to be born into poverty and are less likely to escape it. A study done by the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2012 found that Blacks are more likely to remain at the bottom income bracket and also more likely to fall from the middle. Whites are 2-3 times more likely to make it into the middle class in their lifetimes compared to their black counterparts.
17. White social activism (feminism, gay rights, ect) marginalizes POC. Sojourner Truth complained of this inequity over a century ago, yet it remains. It is easy for any political or social platform to become dominated by the majority — it is simply a numbers game to a large extent. However, we must be careful that social movements and social activism represents the agendas of the oppressed — minority women and white women equally, gay people of color and gay white people equally, etc. — or these movements will simply recreate social inequity in a slightly different form. Teaching, learning and understanding intersectionality is paramount to putting forth solutions for this issue.
18. When we refer to the “1 percent,” we are talking about mostly White people. According to data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, Whites comprise the majority of the one percent of households by income (96.2 percent of the total). Blacks make-up 1.4 percent of America’s top one percent earners, Hispanics are 0.9 percent and “other groups” comprise 1.6 percent. There is even racial inequality in earnings among the top one percent. The median household income is $823,000 for Blacks compared to $1,059,000 for Whites.
Though it is important that we celebrate the victors and victories of the past, it is also important to be aware of the many battles that remain to be fought and won. There can be a post-racial America, but that day will only come when racial inequality is completely acknowledged and defeated.