America the beautiful. America the free. But how free are all people in America? Arguably, people of color are not as free as white Americans. But that’s not even arguable. There are way too many statistic to back this up.
Over spring break, I went on a Justice Journey around the Southern United States. We stopped in Ferguson, Memphis, Birmingham, and Atlanta. We saw sites of racial violence, learned about racism in America—past and present, and spoke with two activists who are tenacious women, Alexis and Elle, who are leading protests and speaking truth.
I saw a lot of hurt. I felt a lot of guilt because I failed to recognize what was happening right in front of me. Mine eyes have seen the subtle and sometimes blatant racism in America.
Racism is a huge issue of social justice in America. Many people think that because all the laws have been change that people of color have the same access to education, jobs, housing, treatment by police, etc. in America as white Americans do. But that is simply a lie. Let’s look at some statistics.
This is statistic I learned while talking to Elle, an Atlanta activist who is responsible for planning the I-85 interstate shut down in protest.
1. Every 28 hours a black person is shot by police. For more information about police violence, click here.
2. An AP poll conducted in 2012 found that 51% of Americas harbor anti-black attitudes, compared to only 48% in 2008. 51% that is HUGE! Half of Americans have feelings of prejudice towards black people. That is a problem.
3. According to the Pew Research Center in 2013, the wealth of white households was 13 times that of the median wealth of black households.
4. Data from the 2011-2012 school year shows that black students are three times as likely to attend schools where fewer than 60% of teachers meet all state certification and licensure requirements.
And these are just four statistics. While talking to Alexis and Elle, they both shared stories about how they are afraid to go out because they fear the target of police. Alexis came to the church we were staying at in St. Louis. She wasn’t exactly sure where to go, so she was wandering around the building. Alexis was super afraid that a police officer would drive by and arrest her for trespassing, simply because she wasn’t sure where to go.
And this is just one story. Alexis and Elle both had multiple stories about times that they feared for their safety, that they would be judged for the color of their skin. Alexis and Elle are not the only ones with these stories. It is unfair for white Americans to deny their reality, in fact, it is extremely problematic. Ignoring their reality further entrenches feelings of resentment which will not help us solve the problem.
Yes, there are some laws that could be made or changed to help solve these statistic, but the real problem comes from those who are explicit express anti-black attitudes. It is a matter of perception. Ultimately, black bodies are seen as inferior to white bodies.
Street Art in Ferguson, MO
But it would be unfair to tell this story without hope. Mine eyes have seen hope. I saw it on the Justice Journey. Hope is in the two young women activists we spoke to. Hope is in the street art in Ferguson. Hope is in the ongoing protests for black life.
Think about what prejudices you harbor. You may not think you have any. But that’s a lie. Everyone holds them whether we want to or not. Stereotypes—a type of prejudice. There are tools that can help us recognize our prejudices like Project Implicit run by Harvard. On this site, you can take different test to find out what you implicit associations are. Knowing what prejudices you harbor is the first step to breaking them down.
From there, white Americans need to check their privilege. We have to look at and recognize the advantages that we have in society. We must not deny that we do have privilege. It is seen in the way white people are hired more often for jobs even if the black person has the same qualifications.
Then we need to listen. We need to listen to stories of people who are marginalized. We cannot and should not deny their experiences. To do so is to discount who they are as people. We must amplify the voices of those who are experiencing prejudice.
Often the experiences of prejudice will be denied by white people because, under the theory of analogy, those experiences do not happen to white people. We cannot wrap our minds around that idea of somehow we are making people suffer. We make excuses that they have the opportunity to succeed, but if we are to look at the date, we see that people of color do not. Once we recognize this, we can begin to change.
And we need to love. For Christianity, Jesus calls each one of us to love God with all our heart and love our neighbor as ourselves. This love calls us to put ourselves in their shoes and lift up the voices of the marginalized. To cast away our judgments and simply love.
This love also means that we work for change for our black brother and sisters. That means we have the tough conversation about race. We work to challenge the status quo through conversation.
We can change how black bodies are viewed. Yes, it is going to take work. Yes, it is going to be difficult, but it is possible. But we have to listen. We cannot project our white selves onto the black experience.
Hope is here. Hope is now. It is time to put behind the feelings that people of color are inferior to white people. It is time to recognize the black experience and work to change it for the better. Now, it is time for me to step aside and let my black brothers and sisters speak, so that I may work to amplify their voices and have the race conversation.