August 9th, 2015
My heart goes out to the Bland family for their loss.
I grew up in Waller County, went to school across the street from Prairie View A&M University, even volunteered on campus, so Ms. Bland’s tragedy literally strikes close to home. I watched the surveillance videos of her arrest and time in prison.
I write this from the perspective of a white kid who grew up in a predominantly black area, which saw its fair share of racial tension. Some of what I’m going to say will offend people, because it really isn’t politically correct. It’s not my intention to offend anyone; Rather, I really want to see the tension end, and I’m genuinely looking for a solution.
Ms. Bland’s tragedy has gotten me thinking: Why is there so much tension between black people and white people in the USA?
The natural answer is slavery. There is no question that many white people mistreated many black people in this country’s history. I went on record apologizing for the sins of my ancestors some years ago. But the key point is: that happened in history. Slavery was abolished in 1863. The Jim Crow laws ended in 1965. Why is there still so much tension, specifically with African-Americans, 50 years later? Why does it seem to be rising instead of subsiding?
Many Latinos are impoverished like many black people, but there isn’t the same level of tension. Economics can’t be the only factor.
What about Native Americans? We stole their land, as recently as 1889 (26 years after slavery was abolished). They have reason to hate white people. Why isn’t there as much tension between white men and Natives?
What about Japanese Americans? We herded them into concentration camps her in the USA and vaporized two of their cities during WWII. They have reason to hate white people.
Why is the tension between black and white, African-American and European-American, Negro and Caucasian so much worse than between the other races white people have wronged?
Based on what I saw growing up, I believe part of the answer lies in African-American culture itself.
Let me give you an example: One day in high school, it was near the end of the school year and we really didn’t have an assignment. Kids were sitting in groups around the classroom chatting. As is often the case, the volume level kept rising, and I watched the the teacher (a white woman), tell a group of white students to quiet down.
“Oh, sorry,” they mumbled, and quieted down.
Moments later, she went to a group of black students and asked them to quiet down.
“YOU’RE ONLY SAYING THAT BECAUSE WE’RE BLACK!” The incident erupted into a shouting match between the teacher and students. Bear in mind, this was a group of well-off, neatly dressed honor students, some of whom I considered friends.
What that, and similar incidents I observed growing up, illustrated to me is that African-Americans expect to be mistreated by white authority figures. They are conditioned to see events through a lens of racism, so that even small, innocent incidents are perceived as mistreatment and erupt into a situation in which they are actually mistreated. It effectively becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Don’t misunderstand me as saying that it’s black peoples’ fault. I believe they have been conditioned, through the years of mistreatment at the hands of slave owners, then politicians through the Jim Crow laws, cults like the KKK, and the like to be on guard.
What I believe hasn’t happened in the black community is a questioning of these beliefs. The USA is a different country in 2015 than it was in 1965, but black people are still living in fear of mistreatment. They still teach their children to be constantly on guard.
Reality may not be in line with those beliefs. As one headline says, “Police kill more whites than blacks, but minority deaths generate more outrage“.
White people, on the other hand, tiptoe around the black community in fear of offending them and sparking a massive backlash, similar to what happened to my high school teacher. Notice how little has been said about the actions of the black victims in the cases of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and the many similar cases that have received national attention. Sandra Bland allegedly assaulted the officer who eventually arrested her, but that is rarely mentioned in articles on the subject. I don’t believe these attempts to placate the black community help. Black people don’t need whites to placate them; they need whites to apologize and work alongside them.
I believe many white people – not all, but many – are ready to “see no color”, do what it takes to mend fences, and put this racial division behind us. I know I am. I’m not convinced black people – as a group – are ready to forgive.
When I apologized for my ancestors’ sins, my black friends graciously forgave me. It will take that on a much larger scale – white people repenting, and black people forgiving – to put this racial division behind us. Neither race can do it alone.