The Greatest Experiment

Photo courtesy of Jamelle Bouie via Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The United States is the one country on Earth that all of humanity looks towards. It’s a shining beacon of hope for the security, opportunity, and ability for greatness that everyone yearns for. It was the Founding Fathers’ vision—and a great unprecedented experiment—to create a country that could provide such things for everyone, but the treatment of our black neighbors has turned that into a failure. From slavery to Jim Crow, from segregation and the creation of black-only neighborhoods to systematic denial of any kind of real opportunity, the U.S. has actively oppressed an entire segment of its population. Yes, there have been extraordinary figures that have led us closer to making that founders’ vision a reality, but we are still far away. So long as black teenagers can be executed by law enforcement with impunity, so long as ordinary Americans remain complacent with the gross ineptitude of the system, and so long as outrageous stories like this can be shared, our founders’ experiment will continue to be a failure.

With the U.S. set to become a minority majority by the year 2050, this issue has become more pressing than ever. The racial injustice that black Americans have been served is directly tied to whatever justice other minorities can hope to attain. If the black members of our own society continue to be perceived with suspicion and treated  differently, the other racial groups that are projected to grow will only be viewed on a scale from black to white, from worst to best. Asians will be seen as hardworking and intelligent, but not truly white or part of the majority. Arguably, they may be seen as “honorary whites.” Hispanics will be seen as illegal border-crossers who are destroying the culture of America, even changing its unofficial language from English to Spanish. Black Caribbean and African immigrants, a group that is small now but is set to expand in the coming decades, will try to distinguish themselves from the black American community. And at the bottom of the totem pole will be black Americans themselves. Generations of social oppression and outright economic denial of opportunity has left a legacy that is one of this country’s worst records. Its shadow will leave a mark on every other group. The continued acceptance of black Americans’ status quo will only provide justification for the continued acceptance of other stereotypes.

There are many arguments counter to this, the most heard one being that such oppression of black individuals occurred decades ago and that the election of a black President indicates that our country has moved beyond race. While we may no longer have blatantly segregated public spaces, the economic ramifications of earlier oppression are still being felt by the black community. Housing, for example, is still greatly segregated. From the post-World War II GI Bill, which actively segregated black veterans from their white comrades, to the lack of loans and wealth-building opportunities, black Americans have been given the short end of the stick. To this day, black Americans are statistically less likely to be able secure a good home—and all the perks that come with it—or open a business because of the lack of inheritable wealth. Most white Americans, however, benefit from the exact inverse circumstances. Many black American children must endure poorer quality schools that can’t provide the kinds of opportunities that other schools can; many black American teenagers suffer from employment discrimination due to perceptions of their work ethic; and many black American adults carry a lifetime of being seen as different, as deviant, as the “demon” that Mike Brown apparently became before he was murdered. When black Americans report this kind of treatment, it is obvious that something is wrong.

The United States has been in a similar position before. During the second great wave of immigration, Jews, Irish, Italians, and Eastern Europeans arrived to this country and were seen in many of the same ways that modern groups of immigrants are currently being seen. That wave had many of the same issues, yet they were overcome and now such groups are seen as ordinary Americans, uniformly accepted in society. America will have to go through a similar transition if it is to come out of this era intact, strong, and ready for the challenges of globalization, but with groups of immigrants who look and vary far more differently. The way the black American community and its social and economic integrity are handled will determine this future. Either we can have a distorted system that treats its citizens with bias, or we can make our founders’ little national experiment a success.

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