America- A Pipe Dream
As the fog clears, the world sees beyond the glamorous skyscrapers of New York and the non-conformist quirks of LA. The world begins to see cracks in the capitalist system and the disparities it enabled in an already divided society. The pandemic strangely, however, has aided the cause of the BLM movement by proving that racism in America has travelled from the minds of individuals and has entered the institutions of society. Similar to how Jim Crow grew from being a “ clumsy, dimwitted black slave”, a character played by a white man in the 1830’s to a series of draconian legislation that enforced segregation and caste system. And for the first time since Martin Luther King Jr, racism is being challenged on a nationwide scale.
Enraged by the nine-minute video of police brutality that killed George Floyd, Americans of every mould have taken to the streets to protest the systemic racism that is three times more likely to kill a black person than a white person. Peaceful protests with strong messages like defunding the police and reinvesting in the community can be found in every state of the US now. Unfortunately, violence has made headlines instead, making it the perfect excuse to disregard demands for equality. As opportunists wreak havoc by rioting and looting, conservative White America now lashes out at protestors in general. In their backlash, we see the history book on the shelf repeating itself.
In 1954, after the pathbreaking Brown v Board of Education judgement was delivered, there was an extreme reaction from the orthodox White community. In Virginia, to avoid integration of coloured students, the Prince Edward County shut down their entire public education system. Then in 1956, many Southern states made a detailed manifesto with the support of 82 Representatives and 19 Senators. They said, “...outside agitators are threatening immediate and revolutionary changes in our public school systems. If done, this is certain to destroy the system of public education in some of the states… We pledge ourselves to use all lawful means to bring about a reversal of this decision which is contrary to the Constitution and to prevent the use of force in its implementation.”
In 1968, when Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated and riots ensued, conservative America refused to look into the issues of racial inequality that led to the heroic evolution of Dr King. Instead, they voted in Richard Nixon who promised to deliver “ law and order” which meant increasing the powers of the police to extremes that allowed them to exercise authority without consequence. They avoided examining the obvious racism under the pretence of public safety. The laws passed under the Nixon administration allowed police officers in the United States to walk away without being convicted and still remains today.
In a large majority of instances of police killings, officers haven’t been jailed for abuse of power through the doctrine of qualified immunity.
In 2012, when President Obama was re-elected into office, America saw the largest black voter turnout in history. It even surpassed the turnout of White Americans. In what is very obviously not a coincidence, multiple states in the US like Texas, Kansas, Tennessee etc passed voter ID laws after the election, stripping millions of voters from their right to vote. By restricting mail-in ballots, eliminating same-day registration and enforcing early voting cutbacks, the black voter turnout fell from 67% in 2012 to 59.6% in 2016. So 765,000 less black votes were made in 2016. It was the largest decrease ever recorded.
And now, as Black Lives Matter and COVID 19 together change American history, the chances of White backlash increase, endangering the first real chance Blacks and minorities have at systematically changing things since Dr King influenced the passing of the Immigration Act of 1965. The vulnerability is both an opportunity and a challenge that can make or break the American Dream for many who want to call it home but aren’t welcome. White America needs to acknowledge and empathise with the struggles of the coloured community instead of spiralling in self-destructive whataboutery.
The idea of America is paradisiacal. The reality of America is not. The biggest win for BLM will not be in the number of coloured protestors who take to the streets. It won’t be in the number of ‘woke’ White Americans who accompany them. It will be in the number of conservative White minds they can change.
Authored by Naomi Kurian