The recent shooting of Trayvon Martin in Florida led me to think more deeply about the issue of race in America today. I’m old enough to have remembered municipal buses in San Antonio, Texas having signs requiring “Colored People” to sit in the last seven rows and the “White Only” drinking fountains at the Greyhound Bus station where my abuela and I used to wait for a bus that would take us home from downton.
I am also old enough to have remembered and particpated in the Civil Rights movement that brought much of the overt racist rules, laws and traditions to an end that were artifacts of the 19th century. The election of President Barack Obama was supposed to signal an end to racist thinking in America — but it signalled just the opposite: racism never went away, it only went underground.
Now it has raised its ugly head, uglier than ever.
The shooting of Trayvon is a reflection of the fear of black men by white society. Growing up black or brown in America has always been a problem, because for the most part you are perceived by white authorities — police, school teachers and so forth — as less than your white male counterparts. The darker the young man, the greater the distrust or perceived threat. Trayvon was shot to death because in the white, walled-in enclave that he was visiting, he was perceived as a threat of some sort.
The policies of police departments are designed to control young men of color, keep them in their place, keep them on the defensive, and make them paranoid so they do not do something to threaten white society. Then there’s voter ID. One way to ensure that Hispanics do not get elected to office is to dilute their vote through election shenanigans. Voter ID laws are just a way of codifying election shenanigans, a legal way (albeit unconstitutional) to suppress the votes of people of color.
In short, the shooting of Trayvon, the police department policies of stopping and frisking young men of color, and voter ID laws are reactions against the perceived threat that people of color will change what this country is all about. That they will change the political, economic and cultural directions of this country. Personally, I hope things do change. American culture, politics, language — the entire fabric of our society — has been changing, and a lot of it has been because of the incorporation of many aspects of the cultures of people of color. Look at music, recreation, food, fashon, laws that protect the rights of individuals, all these areas and more have been dramatically changed because of the actions of people of color.
Perceived racial threats are a reflection of the deep-seated racism that still fuels much of the activity in our country. Our country will not become great until racism can be defeated. We need to get rid of all racists who are in positions of power to prevent racist laws and policies from being written and implemented. It may not be the entire answer, but it would be a good beginning.[Photo By johnlamb]