America’s ‘Post-Racial’ Lie

White Americans have no right to judge the outpouring of black anger in Ferguson.

— by

Jill Richardson

Shortly before Michael Brown’s fateful encounter with Ferguson cop Darren Wilson, I was appointed as a teaching assistant in a class on race and ethnicity.

I’m white. I didn’t go to grad school to study race — I study agriculture. When it comes to race, I’m clueless.

I wish I could say that I was clueless — that I’ve since obtained a whirlwind education on race in the United States. But that’s not true. If anything, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of my blind spots.

I probably boast a more diverse group of friends than many of the folks I grew up with. But like the majority of white people, my social networks are still almost entirely white.

I could tell you the names of every single black kid in my grade in my childhood elementary school because there weren’t that many. At the time, I thought they were having the same social and educational experience that I was.

The Prejudicial System, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The Prejudicial System, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

I was wrong.

I recently reconnected with an African-American guy from my fourth grade class. Our teacher, he told me, was racist. “What?” I responded.

I mean, I was there. But I remember nothing. It was something I didn’t even think about as a kid.

What I do know is this: Whenever I had a run-in with a teacher — or anyone else for that matter — I never had to wonder if they treated me that way because I was white. Not so for my black classmates.

I’ve never had acquaintances come up and touch my hair as if they’re petting a dog. I’ve never had someone say something like, “You’re so cool, I don’t even consider you white!” or “You’re pretty, for a white girl.”

People of color hear statements like these all the time.

When I screw up, I don’t have to worry that I’m representing all white people and ruining things for all of us. When I get pulled over by a cop, I never wonder if it’s because I’m white.

And, what’s more, I never even have to think about this stuff. I can even claim I’m “colorblind” because we live in a “post-racial” America.

As an adult, I’m frequently shocked by how different my black friends’ experience of America is from mine. One friend told me that when she dresses in the morning, she consciously attempts to look “non-threatening” to white people.

Other friends worry about the safety of their teenage sons.

What do you do when your 13-year-old is six feet tall, and you see the police looking at him as if he might be up to something? How do you explain to your rambunctious, innocent nine-year-old that he can’t wear the hoods on his hoodies, just in case?

It’s hard to buy into the “post-racial” lie when you fear that a not-so-colorblind cop might shoot your kid.

Being white doesn’t give me a free pass in life. As a white person with a medical disability that impacts every day of my life, I struggle plenty. But my experience — any white person’s experience — of America doesn’t match what people of color experience.

If this makes you uneasy, there are a few small steps you can take to promote change.

First, admit your ignorance and withhold judgment. White folks don’t know what black folks are going through. How on earth can we judge the outpouring of anger in Ferguson right now?

True, burning down a strip mall won’t help anything. But with a legal system deeply biased against African Americans, white Americans need to understand that this anger comes from an entirely valid place — one that most whites simply don’t understand on their own.

Second, reach out. Make friends. Get to know someone who doesn’t look like you.

In fact, get to know many people who don’t look like you. Because the first step toward bridging the gap between the races in America is forging friendships.


OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It. OtherWords.org

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America the Beautiful for the 21st Century

Coca-Cola deserves praise for its inclusive Super Bowl commercial.

—by Raul A. Reyes

Raul A. Reyes

During this year’s Super Bowl, Coca-Cola debuted a 60-second commercial paying tribute to the diversity of our nation. Coke’s “It’s Beautiful” ad featured expansive scenes of the country and shots of a wide variety of real people. Some of them were enjoying a Coke.

It was set to “America the Beautiful” — as sung in seven different languages, including English, Spanish, Tagalog, and Hindi.

This commercial generated a profoundly negative response among conservative commentators. They reacted with hostility, fear, and even bigotry. To their discredit, these commentators revealed not only their ignorance — but also a willful refusal to accept the reality of America in the 21st century.

imageOn his radio show, Glenn Beck termed the ad “in your face,” and an attempt to “divide people.” This is quite ironic, considering that only weeks ago Beck admitted that his Fox News program was itself divisive.

“I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart,” he said. He’s right about that. His conspiracy theories, “birther” comments, and demagoguery were a far more corrosive influence on American society than any commercial ever could be.

Former Rep. Allen West also took offense at the Coke commercial.

“If we cannot be proud enough as a country to sing “American the Beautiful” [sic] in English in a commercial during the Super Bowl, by a company as American as they come — doggone we are on the road to perdition,” the Florida Republican wrote on his website.

Even though West gets the name of the song wrong, that does not stop the tea-partying politician from calling the spot “truly disturbing.” As a self-styled “Guardian of the Republic,” West might be surprised to know that our country doesn’t have an official language and that the Census Bureau reports that 381 languages are commonly spoken within our borders.

Then there’s Todd Starnes, who tweeted “Couldn’t make out that song they were singing. I only speak English.” The Fox Radio host went on to wonder, “So was Coca-Cola saying America is beautiful because new immigrants don’t learn to speak English?”

Apparently these conservatives need a decoder for this commercial. “With ‘It’s Beautiful,’ we are simply showing that America is beautiful and Coke is for everyone,” explained Katie Bayne, President of North American Brands for Coca-Cola in a statement.

By the way, new immigrants do learn English. Consider a 2012 study by the Pew Research Hispanic Trends Project that looked at language use among Latino immigrants.

While the first generation is usually only proficient in Spanish, by the second generation, the use of Spanish falls as the use of English rises. By the third generation, English is the dominant language. A separate study last year by University of Wisconsin researchers found that Latino immigrants are learning English faster than previous groups of immigrants.

It’s sad that Beck, West, Starnes and other conservative commentators don’t appreciate the richness of our multicultural society.

The fact is that our country has always been multilingual. There are 169 Native North American languages that are still spoken today, linguist Nataly Kelly notes at The Huffington Post, and several of the Founding Fathers spoke languages besides English, including John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Monroe.

Today, 60 million Americans speak a language other than English at home. This year, for the first time, the Super Bowl was also televised in Spanish. So Coke’s commercial truly reflects our nation’s past, present, and future. What’s wrong with that?

Coca-Cola deserves praise for its inclusive Super Bowl commercial. And critics of the ad ought to think about the motto on the Great Seal of the United States: E pluribus unum. It means “Out of many, one”– — and it’s in Latin.


Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

Our Star-Spangled Banner Waves for All of Us

The racist attacks on a young Mexican-American prodigy who sang the National Anthem didn’t occur in a vacuum.
By 

Raul A. ReyesBefore game three of the recent NBA Finals in San Antonio, Sebastien de la Cruz stepped up to the microphone and belted out the National Anthem. Decked out in his mariachi suit, the 11-year-old “America’s Got Talent” alum wowed the crowd with his singing.

On social media, racism reared its head. “This lil Mexican snuck into the country like 4 hours ago now he is singing the anthem,” read a tweet that formed part of an online river of hate. “This kid is Mexican why is he singing the national anthem,” tweeted another commenter, adding the hashtag #gohome.

sebastien-delacruz-reyesIt’s sad that a child should become the target of such ugly, anti-immigrant sentiment. However, these views didn’t arise in a vacuum. The fact is that Republican lawmakers have become accustomed to demonizing immigrants, to the detriment of our civil discourse and to their own party. Meanwhile, our nation continues to grow more diverse, putting the GOP out of step with a changing America.

After the 2012 presidential election, in which Latino voters overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama, the smart approach for the GOP would have been to adopt a more inclusive tone towards Latinos in particular and immigrants in general. That’s not what happened.

In May, Representative Don Young (R-AK) used the term “wetbacks” in a radio interview. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) routinely refers to undocumented people by the pejorative term “illegals.” Recently, Representative Steve King (R-IA) complained about the “illegal aliens” who “invaded” his office, in reference to the young, undocumented immigrants who organized a protest there.

The young people were protesting in King’s office because he sponsored a bill to defund the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which allows people brought to the U.S. illegally as children to adjust their status. King and his Republican colleagues in the House of Representatives passed the anti-DACA measure knowing full well it has zero chance of becoming law.

Why? Because they have no qualms about being seen as openly hostile to immigrants.  Moreover, House Republicans remain opposed to comprehensive immigration reform.

These narrow views put them outside of the political mainstream. A recent New York Times poll found that 83 percent of Americans support comprehensive reform, including a path to citizenship for the undocumented. The anti-immigrant crowd is also bringing down their party. The research firm Latino Decisions has found that when Republican politicians speak negatively about immigrants, it doesn’t only reflect poorly on them, it gives Hispanic voters a negative view of the Republican Party as well.

As Republican lawmakers continue with this rhetoric, our country is undergoing a demographic shift. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that for the first time, the number of racial and ethnic minority babies being born has passed that of white babies. The District of Columbia, Hawaii, California, New Mexico, and Texas are already “minority-majority” states, and eight other states will join this list by 2020.

If the GOP does not soon adopt a “big tent” approach, it risks marginalizing itself as a national party.

Yes, the changing face of the U.S. may seem frightening to some people. But the GOP shouldn’t play upon these fears — it should help dispel them. Consider that the Pew Hispanic Center has found that Latino immigrants assimilate and learn English just like every other group before them. Or even that the pint-sized mariachi crooner de la Cruz was born in Texas — the son of a U.S. Navy veteran.

This story has a happy ending. The San Antonio Spurs invited de la Cruz back a second time, to sing the National Anthem at game four of the NBA Finals. Everyone from President Barack Obama to “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria wished him well, and he nailed his encore performance.

With determination and confidence, young Sebastien triumphed over bigotry. What could be more American than that?

You can watch Sebastien de la Cruz singing the national anthem on YouTube.


Raul A. Reyes is an attorney and columnist in New York City.
Distributed via OtherWords (OtherWords.org)

What Post-Racial America?

It will take more than President Barack Obama’s tenure to vanquish American prejudice and racial injustice.

— by Emily Schwartz Greco and William A. Collins

image

Having an African-American president is convenient. It boosts U.S. credibility in the Global South and makes us look like we’re making progress toward wiping out racism when we’re not.

But it will take more than President Barack Obama’s tenure to vanquish American prejudice and racial injustice. Four years after he took office, it remains perilous to be black or brown. Racial profiling remains rampant. Schools are, if anything, becoming even more segregated. The Voting Rights Act, under attack at the Supreme Court, is as necessary as ever.

And our growing poverty falls most heavily, as usual, on people of color.

Obama didn’t personally cause this decline. He surely craves its reversal as much as the rest of us. But how much political capital can a black president afford to spend on trying to turn around social prejudices in an all-too-racist society? Not much, it seems.

image

New York and Chicago police officers and Southern sheriffs may dominate as iconic perpetrators of stop-and-frisk and racial profiling, but for law enforcers everywhere, this tactic remains a national pastime. Since black and Latino drivers are pulled over out of proportion to their numbers, they face much more frequent arrest, even in San Francisco and other liberal bastions.

A recent ruling by a federal judge may, however, put a stop to New York City’s overzealous stop-and-frisk practices, which can have the same impact on pedestrians of color.

The once-dominant white majority now comprises just over half the nation’s public school students, yet school segregation remains entrenched. Consider what the Civil Rights Project, a research group based at the University of California, terms “intense segregation.” It’s becoming the norm at our public schools. Today, more than one-third of Latino and African-American students attend schools where whites comprise less than 10 percent of their classmates.

This kind of extreme segregation is far more common today for Latino children than it was in 1968. And more than one in seven African-American and Latino kids attend what the Civil Rights Project calls “apartheid” schools, where fewer than 1 percent of their classmates are white.

Unfortunately, traditional integration techniques won’t fix this entrenched problem.Boston’s public school system, for example, retains only 13 percent white students. How do you integrate that?

Meanwhile, the Boston-based group United for a Fair Economy reports that the nationwide incarceration rate is six times higher for blacks than whites, that blacks and Latinos endure a median family income only 57 percent as high as whites, and that African-American unemployment is roughly double the Caucasian rate.

You can’t run a successful society with such stark inequality.


Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut. OtherWords.org