August 28, 2013 marked the 50th anniversary of the Great March on Washington and notably, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech. This momentous occasion calls upon deep societal reflection. There is no doubt we, as a humans and civilians, have made remarkable progress in abolishing racialized institutions, in the negative sanctions of racist ideology and in preaching a culture of equality for the individual. However, these democratic slogans blind us from the very issue we so strongly fought against.
Ideologically, North Americans and most developed nations are considered to be post-racial societies. This meaning that there lacks institutions that are fundamentally racist or discriminate certain peoples upon the foundation of race. Unfortunately, this is inherently incorrect and the perpetuating demographics of minorities in the trap of poverty are evidence of that.
Several reasons exist as to why this issue is so important. Some of these reasons are founded upon neo-liberal ideas of race that are in fact poisonous to civil progress:
Racism will disappear if we do not talk about race
Firstly, it is imperative that one clearly distinguishes the difference between racism and race. Race is a falsely contrived social institution founded in favour of colonialist agendas and still has repercussions for every identifier of a race. Racism is the act of discrimination based upon this institution. Secondly, race still needs to be talked about. There are discrepancies in government-run institutions and cultural perceptions that perpetuate racism. Moreover, these discrepancies have real consequence for those discriminated against. This is an intrinsic element of the post-racist society. However, post-racist ideas are not taught in the education system nor preached by parents. Post-racist ideas are a product of a lack of discourse, discussion and confrontation of the continuation of racism itself.
Reverse racism is the new racism
Reverse racism, defined as discrimination against the majority. This is often colloquially implied as racism against white people. This idea is fundamentally untrue as well. White people, or the majority, benefit from racist institutions due to the curtailing of rights and liberties of minorities There exists no institution that systematically infringes upon the rights of white people based on their race. However, this is not to say white people do not face discrimination; a homosexual white female faces injustice and intolerance, but this is based upon her sexuality and not the colour of her skin.
Illusion of white guilt as a signifier of social progress
Many a times, the illness of white guilt, due to remorse of benefitting from white privilege, plagues many liberal-minded Caucasians. Be that as it may, white guilt is a deterrent to progress toward racial equality, it masks the methodical discrimination that the minority faces on a daily basis and decreases it to a feeling. Consequently, this is how the majority perceives racism and deals with it. This feeling does not provide any solution to social justice and perpetuates an inconclusive and stigmatic culture surrounding racial problems. More productive terminology may be white responsibility or democratic duty; instead these inefficient terms continue to be used, reused and popularized.
Now to address the evidence surrounding the existence of racist institutions: as previously stated, to say we live in a post-racist society is fundamentally untrue. In fact, there still exists racially biased institutions. However, the racism is not as clear as a “whites only” sign and it occurs in much more obscure and systematic forms.
The racial discrepancies in the American criminal justice system are extremely prevalent. The disparities are especially evident in cases of incarceration. The NAACP reported that Whites abuse drugs 5 times as much as African Americans, whereas African Americans are sent to prison for drug offences 10 times the rate of Whites. The American public education system is also guilty of discrimination. In 2012, the Schott Foundation released the fearful statement that America’s education system neglects almost half the nation’s Black and Latino male students. According to the report, “Blacks and Latinos face disproportionate rates of out-of-school suspensions and are not consistently receiving sufficient learning time – effectively being pushed out of opportunities to succeed.” Moreover, the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) has been under scrutiny over its potential racial bias. The Harvard Educational Review published an article revealing that White and African Americans indeed respond differently to the SAT with African Americans at a disadvantage.
Discrepancies in education, handicaps in college admission and disproportionate rates of incarceration are just a few examples of institutional discrimination. Furthermore, they indisputably reflect the cyclical nature of poverty and how race continues to be an influential factor for minorities in seeking opportunities for self-betterment.
New discourses of race and racism have increased in importance in the 21st century. We are now facing situations and problems in greater depth and breadth than ever before. An increasing number of mixed race individuals bring up new issues of racial identity and multicultural parenting. Immigration reform is also increasing in momentum and it is critical that the government does not manifest new racially biased institutions in implementing new policy. The issue of globalization forces unprecedented interaction among cultures. Treatise on the subjects of cultural preservation, assimilation and extinction are all prevalent concerns of the present day.
It is clear that there is a need for significant reform, but what can we do? What can we do for the people trapped by these racial institutions? What can we do being these people oppressed by racial bias? Though there is no one clear answer to these questions, I am certain of what is not. It is not a just feeling; racialized institutions are an overlooked, bureaucratic failure of the government. Policies confronting racial issues and preventing discrimination must be implemented. The issue of race has stayed outside of the legislature for too long and has consequently become taboo.
Celebrating 50 years since the March on Washington, it is visible that there is still much work that needs to be done. Power in strength and voice must be given to civil rights issues once more. As Dr. Martin Luther King once greatly said, "our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”