This week, a friend showed me a video she thought I would be interested in. Last summer, she worked at a camp called Literacy Through the Arts in inner-city Cleveland. On the last day of camp, each camper recited a poem they had written throughout the course of the summer. One boy, sixteen year-old Romell, presented a piece of slam poetry that related many important messages about the history and modern reality of racism. Romell opened his poem by saying “I’m in a world where color makes a difference”. This line immediately caught my attention because of the powerful truth behind it. In modern America, race still matters. Romell went on to provide an articulate description of the reasons why we cannot forget race or be color-blind.
What struck me the most about his poem was its articulate explanation of how history has embedded racism into our social structures. He points out that we have moved past segregation, but freedom is still not evenly distributed. There are still major inequalities in existence today. These include mass incarceration, the building of new jails instead of new schools, and stereotypes perpetuated by prejudice. When Romell discussed the violence in his neighborhood, I was reminded of a speech in which Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to the APA. Dr. King explained that white America is quick to blame people of color for their situation, for the violence and crime in many inner cities. However, as Dr. King and Romell point out, it is more important that we look at the bigger picture – the systemic oppression and inequality that create these environments. To change society, we need to change our racist social structures.
Romell’s poetry has reminded me that we cannot forget about racism. We cannot adopt a color-blind ideology or turn a blind eye to inequality. It is imperative that we change the social structures that, throughout history, have become tainted with racism. If we can do this, we can improve the lives of children like Romell as well as our country as a whole.
Can we change the social structures that perpetuate racism and oppression? What can we do to end systemic inequality?