WASHINGTON, June 21, 2015 — The shooting deaths of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman and Michael Brown by Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson should force the discussion of race relations into the spotlight.
Instead of addressing the causes of the violence, however, media quickly pivots to the character flaws of the victims, shifting the focus from what needs to change to victim blaming.
In the more recent Charleston church shootings, where the perpetrator killed nine people in an effort to start a race war, the media has focused not on race relations, but on the relatively petty debate about whether South Carolina should remove the Confederate flag from State Capitol Building.
The case of Rachel Dolezal, who claims she is black because she identifies more closely with black heritage and culture than with her own white culture, was another perfect opportunity to discuss racial divisions. The media missed that opportunity, too, instead comparing Dolezal’s race identity with Caitlyn Jenner’s sexual identity.
The country appears to be avoiding a constructive “race talk” out of discomfort and fear that it could lead to race riots.
Unless a person belongs to an ethnicity that suffers from discrimination, it is difficult to understand racial inequality. Those who belong to majority races, which tend to be less discriminated against, may not even see race relations as an issue and may not recognize the depth of racial inequality.
Yet it does exist.
One recent example is comments at a “racial roast” by New Castle, Pa., school board member Mark Kirkwood. Kirkwood, who was the honorary guest, felt it necessary and acceptable to use racist slurs in front of his friends and colleagues.
New Castle is a town defined by a by deeply entrenched, widespread poverty and a history of racial discrimination that once included the mistreatment of Italians and the other Mediterranean ethnicities at the hands of wealthy Germans.
New Castle is also a town defined by inner circles where quality jobs and positions of power are held by political cronies. For the minorities and poor of a community like New Castle, the attitude of one school board member is the rule, not the exception.
Although modern nations like the United States have done a lot to break away from their racist pasts, individuals continue to reject others based on their heredity. The effects of racial inequality and oppression still plague the nation through socioeconomic disparities.
The U.S. government has passed laws aimed at protecting minorities and ensuring that they can enjoy their constitutional rights. Laws also prevent businesses and public servants from diminishing the value of those rights. Unfortunately, lawmakers cannot legislate away the racist beliefs that feed this culture of bigotry.
The socioeconomic disparities created by generations of oppression still affect people today. Myriads of blacks and Hispanics, for example, continue to live in poor, crime-filled communities with few opportunities. Financial resources are meager, with many families scraping by on some form of public assistance. Basic education is a challenge, and higher education is out of reach for most who live in poverty. Even stable families are often lacking, with one or both parents absent from households.
The lack of an economic engine to drive minorities out of their socioeconomic status sustains racial inequality.
Meanwhile, racial inequality is also a result of self-fulfilling prophecies. Those who believe they are inferior or predestined to a substandard lifestyle will tend to sabotage themselves and live life without aspirations.
This means boys and girls will engage in risky behaviors, which often lead to issues like unintended pregnancy, STDs, addiction, low graduation rates and criminal activities.
In turn, these individuals will limit their opportunities as adults and fail to progress beyond their parents’ socioeconomic standing. When these individuals buy into stereotypes about themselves, racist views are justified, then passed onto others.
Racial inequality continues to exist in American society because the nation’s oppressive past created vicious cycles of racism and poverty. Both those who hold racist views and those who fulfill those views are responsible for continuing of racial inequality.
While cases of discrimination, which violate law, need to be punished, legislation is limited in what it can accomplish in the future.
This means people need to work toward changing how their families, friends and neighbors treat people of different races.