Racism: America's Fault Line
Racism: America's Fault Line
By Mel Corry
The shocking murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week has resulted in the most violent and sustained reaction since the late 1960s.
For the black community in the states it is of course nothing new. Many commentators have talked about the point in time when every black Father has a conversation with their children when they are old enough to be independent. It is referred to as ‘the talk’. It is that point in time when black kids are told how to behave when confronted with civic authority, be respectful, say sir, do not upset a police officer, they can and will shoot you.
This talk is not necessary among white people, they are not as likely to be ‘profiled’ or stopped and searched and are not likely to scared at the prospect of a confrontation with law enforcement. It is part of the cycle, the more you stop and search black people the more the white community assumes that black people are more disposed to crime than white people. That’s without looking at the socio-economic conditions of African Americans.
I have visited the US on many occasions. On my first visit in the 1990s I was struck that in every restaurant I was served by a white server who was always very friendly and on each and every occasion, after the bill was paid, an African American came out to clean the dishes from the table. It was explained to me that a waiter’s position in America could be quite lucrative because of tips and was considered a good job. I asked the person who was doing the explaining why more black people didn’t serve customers and were only seen when it came time to clean up, she replied, ‘that’s all they’re good for’. This encounter took place in a State where you might say it would be expected. It was the first of many such encounters.
I did discover the same attitude in other states considered more liberal. The attitude to race is so pervasive that it is thrown out in in everyday casual conversation without the perpetrators even considering that it might be racist. When it is challenged its often met with ‘You don’t know, you don’t have to live with them’.
The United States is a country founded on violence, theft, murder, displacement and slavery. Since the emancipation of the slaves and the defeat of the confederacy, fear and discrimination has been the condition of black people across the nation. The emancipation act did not free the slaves, the country went through a period of reconstruction and southern states fought for the retreat of federal forces to secure votes in Washington. This paved the way for Jim Crow laws, a form of apartheid, and it took nearly 100 years for a civil rights act to emerge in America.
Black people are faced with institutionalised discrimination on every front in the USA. Let’s look at the legal system, in the normal course of criminal prosecutions police charge people with offences based on having sufficient evidence to secure a conviction, it is common place for the black community to face a whole myriad of the most serious charges and it is left up to defence attorneys to plea bargain. In the case of the police officer who attacked George Floyd, he was charged with 3rddegree murder, this was the issue that brought people on to the streets. The other cops were similarly charged with minor offences. This would mean his lawyer would secure a lesser charge and he would not see any jail time. He probably would get another job in a different police force of which there are 18,000 in America. The charge has been upgraded to second degree murder as a result of public outcry.
All the power and resources is weighted towards prosecuting lawyers which leaves defence attorneys over worked and underpaid. They are unable to secure the resources to ensure charges reflect the offence and many end up in jail without a reasonable due process. This is the reason why American prisons are bursting at the seams with Black people.
Although similar conditions exist for people of colour across the world we are focusing on America as the struggle for freedom, a notion so embedded in American society in the language of individual liberty, is determined by the colour of your skin and how much money you have in your pocket. As Angela Davis said ‘It is not enough to be non-racist, we must be anti-racist’
If white people mobilise in their numbers to show solidarity and overtly oppose racism they can make a very strong contribution and campaign for a sustained re-programming of American society and recognising that since the foundation of the country, the issue of race has formed the fault-line that runs through every aspect of American Society in every city, state and institution.
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