It’s been 57 years since Martin Luther King, Junior, gave his “I have a dream speech.” And, 56 years since the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Over this period, too little has changed. The United States has a persistent systemic racism problem that must be fixed.
In the most recent Gallup Poll (https://news.gallup.com/opinion/polling-matters/312875/race-relations-nation-important-problem.aspx) respondents indicated that race relations were the most pressing national problem: “Gallup’s long-standing ‘most important problem’ question provides important context for measuring the impact of the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis… Some 19% of Americans named race relations as the nation’s top problem in our May 28-June 4 survey. This is, by one point, the highest percentage since July 1968.”
I’m a privileged white man. Therefore, I broach the subject of racism with trepidation. Nonetheless, here are five suggested actions that white folks can take to improve race relations. These are actions you can take at home or in your community.
1.Inquire within. Start your personal work on racism by having a serious talk about race within your family, or circle of friends, or church. In other words, have a meaningful discussion about race with people that you care about but who, perhaps, you’ve avoided having this discussion with. (Rather than talk about race in the abstract, talk about specific situations that affect your family members.) This will take time; be prepared to go slow, listen a lot, and (possibly) have your feelings hurt when non-white family or friends tell you of their experiences with racism.
My multiracial family has started this discussion. It’s hard. What helps is that we all love each other and want to have a totally honest talk about race.
Caution: If you are a white person, GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD. Racism is best understood on a visceral level. LISTEN more than talk.
2. Provide financial support for the “Black Lives Matter” movement. To be sustainable, the movement needs money.
I’m a member of Indivisible and I trust them. Recently the leaders of Indivisible provided a list of BLM-related organizations to support (https://secure.actblue.com/donate/indivisible-blm? ): “One of many ways that we can show up is by funneling resources directly to Black-led organizations doing the work on the ground to support the uprising and developing strategies and campaigns to advance racial justice.” These organizations include: Black Lives Matter Global Network, Color of Change, Movement for Black Lives, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, National Bail Out, National Police Accountability Project, and Unicorn Riot. (To this I would add my perennial favorite, The American Civil Liberties Union.)
White folks need to do more than talk. We need to act. Start by writing a check.
3. Hold Police Departments accountable: Take a long look at your local police department. Compare how your non-white friends are treated by the police with how you are treated. Be prepared to be shocked.
Americans must “reimagine” policing; local citizens need to reassert control over their police departments and not leave control in the hands of police unions and the white elite. Reimagining policing will, not doubt, result in reducing the funds that most cities spend on their police departments.
A fair criminal justice system requires national policy changes. For example, on June 8th, the House of Representatives passed the “Justice in Policing Act:” (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/08/us/politics/democrats-police-misconduct-bill-protests.html ) Among other things, this bill outlaws chokeholds and limits police-officer immunity. All of us should support this initiative.
4. Provide Equitable Healthcare: The middle of a pandemic is a good time to be aware of how race affects the delivery of health services.
African-Americans, and other people of color, are more likely than whites to succumb to COVID-19. A recent Guardian study (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/04/coronavirus-black-minority-americans-house-subcommittee) noted: “Black and minority Americans are more likely to be infected and die from COVID-19, because structural racism has left those populations with inferior health, housing and economic conditions.”
The Public Policy Institute of California (https://www.ppic.org/blog/racial-disparities-in-covid-19-mortality/? ) found: “Even after adjusting for age, sex, comorbidity, and income, African Americans appear to be much more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19 than whites are. Most ominously, though, African Americans who contract the virus are dying at disproportionately high rates— their share of COVID-19 deaths is about 1.5 times greater than their share of the state population.”
The obvious solution is an equitable healthcare system, such as “Medicare for all.” But that’s a way off. Start by helping your family and friends get adequate healthcare.
5. Protect Voting Rights: The Civil Rights Act was intended to safeguard the votes of African-Americans, and other people of color. Nonetheless, for the last 56 years, there have been well-organized white initiatives to nullify the votes of non-whites — and women. We’ve seen this recently in Wisconsin, Georgia, and Kentucky.
No one denies this is a problem. See for example, this USA Today story: (https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/02/03/black-voting-rights-15th-amendment-still-challenged-after-150-years/4587160002/) In May the House of Representatives passed the “Heroes Act” which includes funds for voter protection (https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/heroes-act-includes-funding-election-officials-need-run-safe-secure); this bill should be passed by the Senate.
Summary: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was intended to end segregation in public places and ban employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. While it succeeded in the first objective, it failed to effectively ban employment discrimination and did not achieve the objective of ending segregation. In 2020, the United States is a segregated society.
Segregation continues to impact the life chances of African-Americans. It affects their education, healthcare, housing, employment, and access to capital. For example, a recent Time Magazine article (https://time.com/5855900/segregation-wealth-gap/ ) noted: “Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, unemployment among Black people in the U.S. was far higher than among white people (6.0% versus 3.1% in January), and median household incomes were substantially lower ($40,258 versus$68,145 as of 2017). As the COVID-19 outbreak exploded across the U.S., the unemployment disparity continued: unemployment among Black workers rose to 16.8% in May, from 16.7% in April, as white unemployment fell to 12.4% from 14.2%.”
The United States has a persistent systemic racism problem that must be fixed. It’s up to white folks to make the changes required so that the United States can actually become a functioning Democracy, “one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”