Everyday we are surrounded and presented with racial tensions, whether we notice them or not. Black oppression dates back to the 1800’s, yet it is still more prevalent in 2018 than ever before. After reading a portion of Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, I have become more familiar with how history intersects with our present day racial divisions. Evidently, the life experiences of blacks and whites are very different, as well as the stereotypes that surround each group. The stereotypes of black individuals dates back to the time period of slavery, which still affects how many individuals view blacks. For example, according to Michelle Alexander, blacks can be referenced as being dangerous, having a different culture, being lazy and dependant on the government, criminals, and more. Our history has worked towards keeping the black race inferior to the white race through racial caste systems like slavery and mass incarceration. The existing stereotypes allow the viewpoints on blacks to be normalized and for whites to see race as a nonexistent problem within our country.
The truth about race and history is neglected throughout the average person’s life, leaving the American population unaware about the troubling experiences blacks once faced and continue to face. The issues that surround blacks now are similar issues that were faced in centuries before whether that is in terms of law enforcement or housing restrictions. The black community has been stuck in a racialized system that works to keep them as a disadvantaged out-group. Thus, battling discrimination and stereotypes that have existed for over 200 years seems nearly impossible but can be doable if the conversation between whites and blacks began.
Despite the treatment of blacks, I also think it is important to address the viewpoints of white individuals. Throughout time, whites have been fearful of losing their power and want America to be “great again,” or whites are ignorant to the racism that is ongoing, they do not know they are prejudice, or they will feel guilty for their benefits from being white. In order to move forward from history and truly change the course of race, addressing the perspective of whites is a major step.
Based on a music video I saw last week, “I Am Not Racist”, I have found many parallels in terms of how history has affected the current livelihood of blacks (see video link below). This video aims to confront the conversation between blacks and whites by scratching the surface with problems and challenges that blacks still encounter today. Joyner Lucas’ song is depicted by two actors, one black and one white male. Each lip syncs to Lucas’ lyrics and recounts his experiences with the other race, primarily based one the many existing stereotypes. For example, both men address areas such as politics, white privilege, police brutality, and working status and how they are affected in those fields as well as how they view one another in each realm. Thus, both sides have extremely different life experiences and perspectives because of their racial status, but both sides need to be heard.
In President Obama’s Speech “A More Perfect Union” there is one line that has resonated with me in terms of understanding both sides of the story in order to work towards a common goal of equality: “And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns – this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.” We cannot move forward without acknowledging the viewpoints of every individual and understand how this change can be difficult for many. Although history cannot be rewritten, it can be learned from and changed for the future to create a fully equal society.
Understanding the impact that history has on our society makes me wonder: how can we learn to coexist with a racist past and improve our present day? If racism, stereotypes, and prejudice are all still prevalent in our society how far have we really come? Is it possible to detach the existing stereotypes from one group and illegitimate them?
Content Note: The first 3 minutes of this music video contain explicit racism, a brutal litany of racist tropes, and racial slurs including the n-word. Here is a brief article discussing Joyner Lucas’ vision for the song.