What Now? Channeling Outrage Into Activism

NickDefaultNick Wallace ’14

If you’ve never been to a Wallace family gathering, you are truly missing out. I myself am one of four kids, and have dozens of cousins ranging from the ages of 2-24. Our home phone ringtone is legitimately a circus tune; you know, the one that goes, “doo-doo-doobee-doobee-doo-doo-doooooo-ooo.” My dog aggressively greets the leg of any person who walks through the front door. And with so many outgoing Wallace’s in one place, the two most forbidden dinner conversation topics (politics and religion) are guaranteed to emerge.

Somehow, although not surprising, I always find myself gravitating to the center of these conversations. Perhaps it is because, both religiously and ideologically, I differ greatly from the rest of my family. My fellow Wallace’s just cannot wrap their heads around the fact that the little white kid from an affluent family who was raised Catholic now cries for income redistribution, supports affirmative action, and considers himself a skeptical agnostic. My family members give me some weird looks after I express my personal political opinions, in which my mother always paraphrases, “Nicky just wants everybody to be treated equally.”

Apparently that is too much to ask for. Nevertheless, too many people today make the mistake of thinking that all is well in the United States in terms of race relations. Too many people believe that the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, and the subsequent passing of the Voting Rights and Civil Rights Acts, made everything “okay” between blacks and whites. They argue that slavery no longer exists, that people are no longer getting lynched, and that blacks are getting educated at higher numbers than ever before, which has led to prominent figures like Oprah and Bill Cosby becoming successful. And for Pete’s sake, a black man was even elected President of the United States! Surely this means that racism has been ridden from this country.

Let’s make something clear: Even if we accept the premise that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ushered in true “equality” between blacks and whites in America, (clearly, if you have been keeping up with current events, this is not true… more about this later) not much could have changed in the last 50 years. Think about it: the enslavement of Africans formed a black cloud of hatred and oppression over this land for over 500 years. We have had “equality” for less than 50. Can we really expect all of the feelings of racism and prejudice that built up over half a millennium to be alleviated in just a few decades?

The truth is that there is no equality. There are simply whites and others. Now I do not mean to suggest that race relations have not gotten better over time; clearly they have. But there is still much work to do. The following facts come from Michael Dawson’s work Not in Our Lifetimes: The Future of Black Politics, and undoubtedly show how the systematic biases of the American political system continue to make blacks subordinate.

-In 2007, median black income was only 59 % of whites.

-Black poverty rates run twice that of whites.

-Median net worth of blacks is $5,446, while for whites it is $87,056 (a ratio greater than 15:1)

-In March of 2009, the black unemployment rate was over one and a half times greater than the white unemployment rate

-64% of African Americans remain confined to segregated neighborhoods. Residing in segregated neighborhoods adversely affects wealth generation and job opportunities.

-Blacks make up 13 % of the population, but held 50% of the high-cost mortgages that were so burdensome during the financial crisis.

-In 2008, one-third of blacks seeking conventional loans were denied, as opposed to just 15% of white applicants.

-In 2007, 1 out of 100 Americans was incarcerated. That same year, one out of every nine black men between the ages of 20 and 34 were in jail or prison.

-Blacks have a 600% greater chance than whites of dying from homicide and an 800% greater risk of mortality due to chronic respiratory disease.

-Blacks make up 50% of all those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, and are at a much greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease than whites.

-In 2007, 40% of black adults did not have health insurance, as opposed to just 13 % of whites.

To top it all off, blacks are disproportionately represented in the United States Congress. Of the 100 Senators only two are African American, and neither was actually elected. (Both Mo Cowan of Massachusetts and Tim Scott of South Carolina were appointed to fill vacated seats) The Supreme Court just issued two rulings, which could have major ramifications for African Americans. Last month, the Supreme Court narrowed affirmative action in college admissions, and deemed a certain provision of the Voting Rights Act invalid. The two decisions, whether they are right or wrong, will negatively affect black communities.

Last, but certainly not least, came the not-guilty verdict of the George Zimmerman trial last night. I will not claim to be an expert on the trial. I did not keep up with it as much as I should have. From my understanding, based on the evidence presented by both the prosecution and the defense to that specific jury in a local Florida court, it is not surprising that Zimmerman was acquitted. The prosecution failed to prove their case. It seems less like a defense win, and more like a prosecution loss.

But while Zimmerman may not be guilty, he is not innocent. The fact remains that he killed a seventeen-year-old boy who was unarmed. People can argue all they want about the details. Who attacked whom, the amount of time it took for Trayvon Martin to return home, and how George Zimmerman broke his nose are all irrelevant. While I may personally believe that George Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin, none of us will ever know for sure.

What I do know, however, is that a lot of white shame was felt today. The public flocked to their social media outlets to let out their disgust with the ruling. People of all different ages, races and backgrounds peacefully rallied against the decision. Whether George Zimmerman intended to kill Trayvon Martin or not, he still killed him. And thanks to the “Stand Your Ground Law,” which is the real root of the problem here, a killer was set free, and an entire race of people is left thinking, “What Now?” Even in the “Age of Obama,” the entire Trayvon Martin incident leaves blacks feeling like this young boy’s life is just disposable in the eyes of the state and white majority. It makes anybody with a black brother, husband, boyfriend, son or friend think that it could have been him instead of Trayvon Martin that was killed.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is the sense of otherness that this trial has created. It reinforces the notion that being black and walking in a white neighborhood is bad. So bad, in fact, that you could get killed for doing so. Being a minority in this country, whether it is because of race, color, or sexual orientation is synonymous with being an “other.” Trayvon Martin was killed because he was “an other.” Consequently, all of the “others” in the country should feel worried. My guess is that if the roles were reversed and a black man killed a white man out of “self-defense,” the nation would have received a very different verdict.

So where do we go from here? I, like many others, am discouraged by the continued discrimination and racism that exits in a country that proclaims itself to be founded by the principle that “all men are created equal.” But my discouragement simply lights my fire for activism. Do not be a bystander to what is happening around you. Stand up for what is right. Stand up for equality!

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