Racial tensions – Part 2
Although Rodney King was filmed being beaten by White police officers in 1991, before the advent of smartphones, it revealed the deep-seated maltreatment of Blacks in the hands of police. One can imagine the many injustices that could not be captured on camera before the advent of smart technology. Today, the technology in smartphones and media platforms has allowed the world to capture these injustices in a matter of seconds and sometimes even live.
In today’s America, there are stark differences in the policing of a Black community. In 2015, when a White man killed nine Blacks in a church, the world saw how the police arrested him with gentility and even bought him a burger because he said he was hungry. The young man had also posted photos of himself with the Confederate flag.
In 2014, a Black man named Eric Garner died from a police chokehold in New York. His last words were, “I can’t breathe.” He was being arrested on the suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. The police officer was White.
The police officer was not charged. Blacks are taught by their relatives to respect police officers and avoid confrontation because of fear of being accidentally shot, arrested or killed. The treatment of Blacks by police is just the micro-optics of how Blacks are generally treated. The Whites know this and play it to their advantage; Recently, Amy Cooper, A White woman, called the police on a Black man because the Black man politely reminded her to put her dog on a leash. And even when they show respect, they get killed.
In 2016, a young African American School lunch supervisor, Philando Castile was shot dead in his car while he was trying to bring out his driver’s license from his back/side pocket. His girlfriend live-streamed it. The police officer was acquitted. The police officer said he taught he was bringing out a gun. There are too many examples. Tamir Rice was a 12-year-old boy killed by a White police officer. The young boy had been brandishing a toy gun in a park. The police officer was not indicted.
In 2016, Alton Sterling was shot dead by two police officers while they were trying to arrest him. He was selling CD’s. The officers were not indicted. In 2015, Freddie Gray was stopped and arrested because he “looked” at the police. He was not properly restrained in the police van and became paralyzed from the neck and later died. The six officers were charged but none of them faced prison time. The police officers included both Whites and Blacks.
The latest in legally backed police brutality is George Floyd. George Floyd was being arrested for suspected use of a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill. While he was handcuffed, a White police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes. Two other White officers also knelt on his back as he continued to gasp and plead that he couldn’t breathe. A fourth officer stood and watched. George Floyd died shortly after.
A few days before the publication of this article, another Black man was killed by a White police officer. Rayshard Brooks was killed on the 12th of June in Atlanta, Georgia barely three days after the funeral of George Floyd. Rayshard Brooks was killed while police were trying to arrest him for sleeping in the drive-thru of a Wendy’s restaurant. The protests around the world resonate globally with people of color because the culture of oppression of the Black race is pervasive around the world. It is now beginning to resonate with some Whites. Also, the moments that George Floyd kept shouting he couldn’t breathe even calling out for his late mum will resonate with most adults, children and teenagers. It became a watershed moment for anyone with empathy. The global push might have been because the pandemic has left many people at home, unemployed and with the lockdown just being eased, many people had immense opportunity to think on the events of a helpless, dying man.
Racism against the Black race started centuries ago. It didn’t start with the current American president in power. It did not end with the Civil Rights movement but continued even after the election of the first Black president. It started hundreds of years ago and cannot end in one day but the ending must start a day at a time. Several presidents in power saw what was happening but were not willing to shift the status quo. It has to start with deliberate deterrent measures against the police officers responsible for the death of an innocent man; not just a slap on the wrist. There needs to be reformed in the police sector. The Senate and House of Representatives must make provisions in the laws that provide equal opportunities for Blacks in employment, housing, education and health care. The pandemic has exacerbated the racial inequalities.
For these opportunities to be equal, they must give the Blacks economic leverage to be able to be on the same level as their White counterparts before they can even begin to talk of equal opportunities. By economic leverage, I mean the Black man or woman is already starting off at a deficit in terms of resources and opportunities. Historically, there have been generational inequalities in the USA; the average White man’s family’s wealth through inheritance over multiple generations is $700, 000 more than that of the Black man. To counter these deficits, an equalizer or economic leverage in cash or kind must be given to him. Children must be taught about the harm of racism right from kindergarten. Policies must be developed to address social injustice against the Black race. Racisms did not start in one day or a couple of years ago. We should not expect it to stop in a year or two.
It will be gradual but the push must be sustained. Blacks also have a role to play. They must stop the neocolonial mentality that they must be like the White in appearance or look for validation from the Whites. The mentality that makes Black persons bleach their skin, texturize their hair, weave on European-looking human hair and re-shape their noses in the hopes of looking more like the White race. God has made every one of us beautiful in his or her own skin. He made us equal and we must live together not as an inferior race. Black parents must teach their children to love their own skin, their own hair and their own African features. They must also avoid internalized racism. Internalized racism unconsciously supports the ideology of White privilege and White supremacy. Blacks that have internalized racism may not know it because the structural racism in the society has been internalized as normal. Blacks must never make themselves feel inferior or act inferior to another race. They are not less intelligent or less beautiful. We must embrace our race as equal to every other race. We must not accept the oppression against the Black race. Love is real and we should make it real by not loving ourselves any less than people of other races. Let’s keep it real.
Obilade, a medical doctor and an Associate Professor of Public Health wrote from Abuja.
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