Favorite

A racist system 

Eric Garner with his family image

Eric Garner with his family image

In the wake of the killings of Eric Garner, Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Ernest Hoskins, Jordan Davis* and others at the hands of police officers, security guards and self-appointed vigilantes, I've heard people ask the following: If black men know the system is unfair to them, why do black men do things to get in trouble?

This question forgets how systemic racism is in America. At its foundation, we are a nation that was established by white men drafting rules and laws from their point of view. The mistreatment of people of color has never been an isolated incident. It's a continuum of purposeful, often legal, actions to keep people of color in a constant state of second-class citizenship. As noted by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his article "The Case for Reparations," America's history includes 250 years of legally justified slavery, followed by 90 or so years of lightly challenged Jim Crow polices, overlapped and followed by 60 or so years of separate-but-equal doctrines, and followed by almost 40 years of state-sanctioned economic policies that control where or if black people could own homes. Today, thanks to the effects of the so-called war on drugs, we're living in a new era of Jim Crow. Although rates of drug use are comparable across racial lines, police and prosecutors disproportionately target people of color for arrest and prosecution. The U.S. jails a higher percentage of its black population than did South Africa at the height of apartheid, according to Michelle Alexander in her devastating book, "The New Jim Crow."

"Once you're labeled a felon," Alexander writes, "the old forms of discrimination — employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service — are suddenly legal. As a criminal you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow."

Why are we then surprised that a system constructed and tweaked over the course of hundreds of years to ensure control over a second class would take more than a generation or two to dismantle? It's naive to think that these historical actions have not continued to evolve or that they don't currently impact social policy.

America labels black boys and black men a threat or a problem shortly after we are born. Studies from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have shown that zip code and race are strong predictors of life expectancy. For a great many of us, our life outcomes are determined, and sometimes judged erroneously, before we are born. For black boys and black men, this labeling continues from elementary school all the way through graduate school. We're branded as less than human as we acquire employment and seek loans for a mortgage. This labeling persists whether our pants are sagging below our waist, whether we are wearing lab coats or if we are impeccably dressed in a tailored Hart Schaffner Marx suit. Neither our college degrees nor our professional titles and accomplishments grant us immunity from this labeling and disrespect.

Introduction to the system does not require trouble. Introduction to the system doesn't begin with a police encounter. It does not begin with an appearance before a judge. It begins at birth. Black men are born into a larger system that doesn't recognize their full humanity. As a result, it puts limits on our future attempts at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Of course, one can purposely insert himself into the criminal justice system by committing crimes. But there are a number of black males who, by merely existing, also face arrest and adjudication in an unjust system just by fitting a description.

In front of every gateway to opportunity is a gatekeeper that likely is not black. This doesn't mean that they are evil or dislike black people. It just means that there is no frame of reference to review when someone of color seeks access to that opportunity. Their denial of opportunity is likely based on an inability to see someone of color as they see themselves. Yes, my sons will encounter greater hope and change and love and acceptance and opportunity than their grandparents and even I have seen. There has certainly been great progress. However, there are still those they will encounter who will deny them opportunity, unreasonably fear them, or, worse — all because of the color of their skin and an inability to see them as deserving of equal opportunity.

Sam O'Bryant serves as deputy director of SchoolSeed, a public education foundation in Memphis. As a former resident of Little Rock, Sam was instrumental in developing community-based programs with a focus on anti-poverty, youth development, and college access.

A previous version of this column misidentified Jordan Davis, a 17-year-old murder victim in Jacksonville, Fla., as Jordan Dunn.

Favorite

Speaking of Eric Garner, Ernest Hoskins

Comments (11)

Showing 1-11 of 11

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-11 of 11

Add a comment

People who saved…

Readers also liked…

  • Arkansas condones child abuse?

    If Harrises and Duggars go unpunished, yes.
    • Jun 4, 2015
  • Must address racial inequities

    We mourn for the families of the dead at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. As we grieve it's time to rekindle a conversation about race in America and press for the changes that the Emanuel congregation championed for centuries — changes that also made it a target.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Racism is systemic

    In a speech on Sunday at Bethel A.M.E. Church, Gov. Asa Hutchinson played directly into the narrative of respectability politics, where white people tell people of color how they should respond to a situation and condemn responses from others in the community experiencing anger, rage and other expressions of grief.
    • Jun 25, 2015

Most Shared

  • World leaders set to meet in Little Rock on resource access and sustainable development

    Little Rock will next week host a series of meetings on the use of technology to tackle global problems led by Club de Madrid — a coalition of more than 100 former democratic former presidents and prime ministers from around the world — and the P80 Group, a coalition of large public pension and sovereign wealth funds founded by Prince Charles to combat climate change.
  • Rapert compares Bill Clinton to Orval Faubus

    Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway)  was on "Capitol View" on KARK, Channel 4, this morning, and among other things that will likely inspire you to yell at your computer screen, he said he expects someone in the legislature to file a bill to do ... something about changing the name of the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

Latest in Guest Writer

  • Stay the course

    I am frustrated and angry with those who claim the only chance of future success is for the Democratic Party, especially in the South and Midwest, to abandon speaking directly to women and people of color and the LGBT community and instead focus on the economy and other "more comfortable" topics in order to win back some of the center.
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • No prison for mentally ill

    Recent research has shown that Arkansas is unique for its fast-growing prison population. The state also ranks among the lowest in the U.S. for access to mental health care. That's why Governor Hutchinson's 2017 budget allotment for the establishment of three crisis stabilization centers should be applauded.
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • Still wearing white

    On election night, after a long afternoon of poll-watching, I rushed home to change into my white pantsuit with the rhinestone "HRC" on the back and headed out to my local election party.
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

View Trumpeter Swans in Heber Springs

Magness Lake, in Heber Springs, is a magnet for swans

Event Calendar

« »

December

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3
4 5 6 7 8 9 10
11 12 13 14 15 16 17
18 19 20 21 22 23 24
25 26 27 28 29 30 31

Most Viewed

  • Reality TV prez

    There is almost nothing real about "reality TV." All but the dullest viewers understand that the dramatic twists and turns on shows like "The Bachelor" or "Celebrity Apprentice" are scripted in advance. More or less like professional wrestling, Donald Trump's previous claim to fame.
  • Fake news

    So fed up was young Edgar Welch of Salisbury, N.C., that Hillary Clinton was getting away with running a child-sex ring that he grabbed a couple of guns last Sunday, drove 360 miles to the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C., where Clinton was supposed to be holding the kids as sex slaves, and fired his AR-15 into the floor to clear the joint of pizza cravers and conduct his own investigation of the pedophilia syndicate of the former first lady, U.S. senator and secretary of state.
  • Stay the course

    I am frustrated and angry with those who claim the only chance of future success is for the Democratic Party, especially in the South and Midwest, to abandon speaking directly to women and people of color and the LGBT community and instead focus on the economy and other "more comfortable" topics in order to win back some of the center.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Worth it

    • And loyal, to a fault.

    • on December 6, 2016
  • Re: Worth it

    • Alas, Gene's memory ain't what it used to be. He wrote a column some time…

    • on December 5, 2016
  • Re: Forget identity politics

    • Hillarys 'Stronger Together' nonsense failed because she failed to make it a reality. As Gene…

    • on December 5, 2016
 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation