Race Relations in the US

by gfastie on February 11, 2016 - 10:04am

It is not my place, as a privileged, white, Vermonter, to speak with any authority on race relations in the United States. Racism can be a tremendously personal issue, and I have no real personal experience with it. I can, of course, see statistics about racial disparities in arrests, in wealth, in callbacks from jobs, but I cannot speak to the experience of being black in America. Interestingly, it may have been easier for someone in my position to understand the plight of African Americans 50 years ago than it is now. Before the civil rights movements, racism was, in many parts of the country, an accepted, on the books, fact of life. It was easy to see the segregated facilities and policies, and racist ideas were generally not something to be hidden. Nowadays, codified legal racism has (all but) disappeared. The much larger issue today is racist views held by individuals, particularly when those individuals are in positions of power. I can’t, and won’t try to, speak to how it feels to be profiled as a black man, and treated with suspicion or distrust. It is clear, however, that when incarceration rates are still nearly an order of magnitude different between blacks and whites, and when the vast majority of the income and wealth in this country is held by whites, that there is a problem.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a strange and in some ways unique facet of the civil rights movement. Personally, I do not hold much respect for the movement, as I feel that their means are ineffective and at times even counterproductive, but the goals that they champion do have real merit. I find their rejection of leaders or organization to be a strange decision, given the history of great successes in the ongoing civil rights movements when organized groups, such as SNCC and the SCLC, lead by popular leaders, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., have tackled specific issues. Perhaps the entirely grassroots ‘structure’ to the movement is appropriate for a time when the issue that they’re facing is a much more individualized, less institutional, issue, but the lack of specific, detailed goals or demands has minimized the effectiveness of the movement. Additionally, they have garnered themselves significant negative press through various demonstrations, such as shutting down shopping or light rail, that seem to many unrelated to their issue. While it is said that any press is good press, this might not hold when the goal of a movement is to change underlying opinions about race. 
 

Comments

We have similar views on the prevalence of racism in America. However, I find myself strongly disagreeing with you on the effectiveness of the Black Lives movement, specifically about police brutality. I think in part this is because I live and saw the impact Freddie Gray's death had on the Baltimore community. Even though I am also a privledged, white student, I witnessed the lasting impact the Baltimore Riots had and how they gathered support nationwide. While yes, violence does not necessarily help the Black Lives Matter cause, it certainly has sparked media attention. To clarify, I do not condone violence in any way, but I believe that what's done is done, and if this is how the Black Lives Matter movement became recognized, at least that's a step in the right direction. Since we cannot see how this movement will play out, one can only hope it will help create positive change. -Marina

Growing up in Baltimore, Maryland, race relations is a topic that is brought up a lot. I am a 4th generation White Jewish Baltimorian, so my family has been here during the Civil Rights Movement, the 1968 riots, and the 2015 riots. When my parents and grandparents were younger, they weren't allowed to go swimming in certain pools and go into certain stores because they were Jewish. It was a tough time for minorities, especially African Americans. It is very interesting reading the point of view on race relations from someone outside of Baltimore. There is still lots of tension here with race relations between African Americans and Whites.

I agree with you that some of these movements made by blacks to fight for equality can be counterproductive, but at the same time even the ones that could be productive don't really go anywhere either. I appreciate the fact that you realize you may not have the best idea of what it is like to be black in America but I still think that your observations and opinions about this topic are valued. Obviously we will have many different views because as you said you are a white Vermonter and I am a black kid living in Baltimore but at the same time I think that and outside view can be good. I would like to ask more of why you cannot respect the black lives matter movement because being a black in Baltimore I think that is it mostly productive and a great step forward for the black race.

Hey there. Nice post. Your practical view on the civil rights movement and discrimination against black people is cool because you don't have many assumptions. You just speak from your point of view instead of talking from what you think others might think. I've never really thought of it this way, but I guess the Black Rights Movement is kind of vague. Lots of effective movements before them had clear cut goals they were going for like desegregation, which made it easier to solve the problems they highlighted. The BLM movement is going for a much harder thing to work with. Like you said, the problem today is dealing with people who hold racist beliefs that might harm others. It's kind of hard to change someone's beliefs, and there's no law to change or event to organize that will change this. That's why I think BLM might be less structured and going around holding seemingly random protests (that apparently are backfiring). They're trying to get into people's heads, letting everyone know they're still there and so are the problems. Personally, I don't really think some of the stuff they're doing is helping either, like that whole stopping Bernie's speech thing. I'm not sure what that accomplished besides angering a bunch of Bernie supporters, who generally agreed with their cause in the first place. Anyway, I thought it was a good article. Nice job bringing up some interesting issues.

-Eli

About the author