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One of the best things about being White must be not needing to wonder if the things that happen to you are because of your race. But if you’re a Person of Color in this country it can be tough to know if your race is influencing how others are treating you.
Imagine almost always hearing car-alarms coincidentally chirp when walking through parking lots; and being watched distrustfully while browsing in convenience stores; and having women clutch their purses and cross the street to avoid your path; and hesitating to run or even walk with your hands in your pockets in public to pacify the suspicions of those around you. And even then, sometimes you get shot because something about you caused an armed man to panic.
You might not even want to believe it’s about race — after all, race is altogether out of your control. But if things like this kept happening to you and people who looked like you, wouldn’t you at least wonder about racial bias?
In my understanding, this isn’t a question most White people struggle with on a day-to-day basis. They disregard their race as influential to their experiences. When, in truth, they primarily benefit socially, professionally, and systemically from their race – a circumstance many White folks become so accustomed to, it can be difficult for them to perceive a different experience for anyone else.
Nonetheless, study after study after study after study has proven that race has a very strong impact on how a person is treated in this country. From instruction in the classroom, to health care, to hiring practices, to business transactions, to interactions with the criminal justice system – White people tend to benefit from their race, whereas being a Black or Brown person is very often detrimental in those same arenas.
Although, when it comes to the criminal justice system in the United States, the disparities in race are almost unbelievable:
- Black and Hispanic Americans make up approximately a 25% of the US population, but constituted nearly 60% of prisoners in 2008.
- White Americans use illicit drugs at about 5xs the rate of Black Americans; however, Black Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10xs more often.
- About 12% of drug users are Black; however, 38% of those arrested for drug offenses are Black, and 59% of those in state prisons for drug offenses are Black.
- Black Americans spend almost as much time in prison for drug offenses (58.7 months) as their White counterparts do for violent offenses (61.7 months).
- Between 2010 and 2012, young White men were killed by police at a rate of 1.47 per million; young Black men were killed by police at a rate of 31.17 per million.
But you’ve heard this all before, and I’m really not sure how much statistics like this help sway the conversation.
When faced with the realities of Black and Brown lives, many immediately insist that race does not affect how they (“personally”) interact with others – they are “colorblind.” Combine this with the fact that quite often when People of Color attempt to illuminate specific incidents of prejudice, disadvantage, or oppression in their lives, they are often accused of “complaining too much,” “asking for handouts,” or “playing the race card.” (I suspect this very article will gain some such responses).
Nevertheless, the statistics above tell us that individual incidents of bias are occurring and add up to create such huge disparities. However, the repeated invalidation of Black and Brown experiences has made many in these communities wary of speaking up about any perceived racial injustices – leaving them to silently struggle with the realities of a raced existence.
Make no mistake, this realization does not feel good to anyone, least of all the Black and Brown communities whose lives and families are most directly impacted.
What we have seen in Ferguson, Missouri and the Mike Brown case is a culmination of unmet and unsubstantiated grievances by Black and Brown communities in this country, specifically related to their interactions with law enforcement and (more broadly) the criminal justice system in general.
This is not any one person’s fault. These issues are symptomatic of the deeper, systemic economic and racial inequalities in this country that beg the demand of our quarrelsome politicians.
As noted above, it is difficult to know whether any particular incident can be attributed to race. Often, even the ones perpetrating racial bias are unaware that they are doing so. But when unarmed Black and Brown young men are repeatedly being killed in this country by armed White men, who are exonerated by (ironically) claiming to have “feared for their lives;” and when following those shootings the conversation quickly turns to “what did the dead kid do to deserve it?” and when the indignation of a community, whose people are being shot dead in broad daylight is scrutinized to a greater degree than the people and processes responsible for inciting such outrage; it becomes difficult to ignore a theme of injustice for a particular type of person in this country.
If there are protests on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri today – this is the cause.
It would be easier to believe that Ferguson’s pain is isolated – to conceptualize their outrage as arbitrary and indiscriminate. In this way, we avoid an honest conversation about the true ills of our society.
However, as a psychologist I recognize these actions as the expected manifestations of anger and sadness due to years of negligence towards this Missouri community as well as many other Black and Brown communities across the United States.
Source: Psychology Today
Author: Aqualus Gordon, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychological sciences at the University of Central Missouri