Image by Falon Opsahl
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in a special section on race in the Graphic.
Time and time again, I find myself being a part of, or witnessing, a conversation about race that involves people of color getting angry and the other side, the majority, becoming defensive. When that happens, the conversation ends and absolutely nothing is accomplished. People of color and White people/the majority need to get on the same page as far as what racism in America looks like and how to discuss this without feeling personally victimized so that the we can finally start to heal as a nation.
For everyone to be on even ground in the discussion of race and the unfair treatment of minorities, the conversation about privilege needs to happen. Even getting everyone on the same page as far as the definition of racism is important. There is racism that is prejudice, discrimination or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. There is also institutional racism, which is a pattern of social institutions — such as governmental organizations, schools, banks and courts of law — giving negative treatment to a group of people based on their race. Institutional racism is the form of racism that people of color deal with more often and will be discussed through recent examples later in the article.
In the United States, the majority have certain privileges that people of color do not. People of color in America are painted as criminals for the same offenses that their majority counterparts also commit. Instead of being given the benefit of the doubt or being labeled as “troubled,” people of color are deemed criminals, and every mistake they make is seen as evidence of their wrongdoing.
People of color are painted as trouble from the start who were inevitably going to be criminals, while White shooters are referred to as “mentally ill,” according to Anthea Butler in the article “Shooters of color are called ‘terrorists’ and ‘thugs.’ Why are white shooters called ‘mentally ill’?” published June 18, 2015 in The Washington Post. The article used Dylann Roof and the fatal shooting of nine African Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Throughout the case, the media portrayed this shooter, Dylann Roof, as “mentally ill.” The Washington Post noted that he was “humanized and called sick, a victim of mistreatment or inadequate mental health resources.”
The article goes on to explain that minorities don’t have that same luxury; instead, the media refers to people of color as “thugs” or “terrorists” and as committing crimes with “purely evil intent.”
Now, what usually seems to happen in the beginning of conversations dealing with race is that the minority explains his or her side of the story, including their struggles and life through their eyes. Those in the majority then feel attacked at the insinuation of being labeled “racist.” At this point, the majority tries to defend why they aren’t “racist.”
That, I believe, is where the real problem starts. One thing that I think would make these conversations go a lot smoother is if everyone started off on the same page.
There has been a lot of unfair treatment toward minorities in the United States. “While people of color make up about 30 percent of the United States’ population, they account for 60 percent of those imprisoned,” according to American Progress. It is a documented fact that incarceration rates impact African American males and Latino males more than White males because “1 in every 15 African American men and 1 in every 36 [Latino] men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 White men,” according to American Progress.
Even though the data above is open to the public, we disagree about the causes of this unfair and tragic treatment. The story of African American woman Sandra Bland has gained a lot of media attention. A Texas police officer pulled Bland over, saying Bland failed to use a turn signal, a common traffic violation.
The situation escalated when the officer asked Bland to put out her cigarette and she refused. The officer then asked Bland to leave her vehicle, and she refused. The officer then reached into the vehicle to try to forcefully remove her from the car for appearing “irritated” and for failing to signal a turn, and she refused. The officer then threatened to tase her by saying, “I will light you up.”
Bland eventually left her vehicle, and not one but two police officers forcefully arrested (she can be heard in a video yelling that her wrists were going to be broken). Days later, Bland was found dead, hanging in her jail cell, only two hours after a jailer making rounds noted she was doing fine, according to a Waller County Sheriff’s Office statement.
Protests followed Bland’s death over how she died and why she was even arrested. Some would argue that if Bland were a White woman, she would still be alive. She may not have been asked to vacate her car, and not at the threat of being tased.
Some may argue that we don’t know if she would have been treated differently if she were White. Others, however, would argue that Bland’s story happens time and time again. What many minorities would also argue is that these crimes usually go unpunished, which is what makes these crimes unfair and racially charged.
Those in the majority would argue that this is a single case and that not all police officers should be stereotyped as racist. All police officers shouldn’t be stereotyped as racists, true, but this is a defense. This isn’t understanding. Is it OK for people to have the mentality that we can go through life using stereotypes to identify minorities, but that we should not judge police officers who have a documented history of treating minorities unfairly?
Minorities do not have the privilege of being seen outside of their stereotype. The majority uses stereotypes against the minority, but disapproves of stereotyping police officers, even though there are a plethora of documented cases that prove the stereotype on a huge scale.
Next, in these conversations on race, the minority start to give other examples that include police, White civilians and the legal system as a whole, like Trayvon Martin, Walter Scott, Jordan Davis and Mike Brown. The conversation begins to devolve at this point and become more of an argument filled with anger and defense on both sides. The minority is upset because, after all the personal testimony and concrete evidence they’ve shared, the majority still seems to need proof.
The majority then starts to defend themselves, saying they personally aren’t racists, while completely missing the point: Minorities don’t get to be treated as individual cases.
When one African American is labeled “troubled” or commits a crime or rides down the street with loud music, all African Americans get that label. When one Asian is seen driving below or even at the speed limit, all Asians must drive slowly. When one Latino is undocumented, then we must have an immigration issue.
White Americans are seen differently. If a White American robs a store, that one man is seen as a criminal, not his fellow White Americans.
White Americans are privileged to be treated as individuals, whereas minorities are treated based on stereotypes. Because of that, there are various issues that ensue, like minorities being stopped while driving simply for being minorities, or minority males all being stereotyped as thugs and potential criminals.
Take a moment to think about all of the stereotypes in your mind and how often you attribute them to a group. If both sides started the conversation understanding that we aren’t all treated or seen equally, and that voicing what happens in our lives isn’t a personal attack, then we could unite and start to tackle the racial ignorance that stains America.
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