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

From the ArkTimes store

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…

  • Schlafly's influence

    Phyllis Schlafly, mother, attorney and longtime antifeminist, died recently. What Schlafly promoted was not novel or new. Men had been saying that men and women were not equal for years. However, anti-feminism, anti-women language had much more power coming from a woman who professed to be looking out for the good of all women and families.
    • Sep 15, 2016
  • Seven

    The controversy over the Ten Commandments monument on the Capitol lawn just won't go away.
    • Feb 9, 2017
  • Why a change of leadership at the LRSD now?

    Johnny Key's abrupt, unilateral decision to not renew Baker Kurrus' contract as superintendent strikes us as shortsighted, misguided and detrimental to the education of our children and the health of our community.
    • Apr 21, 2016

Most Shared

  • So much for a school settlement in Pulaski County

    The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's Cynthia Howell got the scoop on what appears to be coming upheaval in the Pulaski County School District along with the likely end of any chance of a speedy resolution of school desegregation issues in Pulaski County.
  • Riverfest calls it quits

    The board of directors of Riverfest, Arkansas's largest and longest running music festival, announced today that the festival will no longer be held. Riverfest celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. A press release blamed competition from other festivals and the rising cost of performers fees for the decision.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.

Latest in Guest Writer

  • Pay attention

    If anyone thinks that a crisis with the Power Ultra Lounge shooting, then he hasn't been paying attention to Little Rock.
    • Jul 20, 2017
  • War reporter

    Ray Moseley: Native Texan. Naturalized Arkansan. Reporter, world traveler, confidant of Queen Elizabeth II.
    • Jun 22, 2017
  • Vote no on school tax

    I have never voted against a school tax in my life, but I will be voting against the debt service millage extension for the Little Rock School District.
    • May 4, 2017
  • More »

Event Calendar

« »

July

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

  • Another Jesus

    If you follow the logic of Jason Rapert and his supporters, God is very pleased so many have donated money to rebuild a giant stone slab with some rules on it. A few minutes on Rapert's Facebook page (if he hasn't blocked you yet) also shows his supporters believe that Jesus wants us to lock up more people in prison, close our borders to those in need and let poor Americans fend for themselves for food and health care.
  • Pay attention

    If anyone thinks that a crisis with the Power Ultra Lounge shooting, then he hasn't been paying attention to Little Rock.
  • Turn to baseball

    When the world threatens to get you down, there is always baseball — an absorbing refuge, an alternate reality entirely unto itself.
  • Football for UA Little Rock

    Andrew Rogerson, the new chancellor at UA Little Rock, has decided to study the cost of starting a major college football team on campus (plus a marching band). Technically, it would be a revival of football, dropped more than 60 years ago when the school was a junior college.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Pay attention

    • The beautiful new 12th St. Precinct is full of empty rooms: Why not create a…

    • on July 20, 2017
  • Re: Another Jesus

    • Religious charlatans have been around for centuries. They prey on the weak, sick, poorly educated…

    • on July 20, 2017
  • Re: Pay attention

    • Nicely said, Antwan.

    • on July 20, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation