The Problem With America and Race

America, “methinks thou dost protest too loudly.”

The quote, from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” has been resonating with me all week.

As the Trayvon Martin case continues to be covered, with an emphasis on the possibility of his death being a hate crime, many people have protested – loudly and vehemently – that it is nothing of the sort.

Trayvon’s shooting may or may not have been racially motivated, but as I have thought about race in America this week, the thought has recurred to me that America doesn’t understand why race IS always an issue for us.

It is because, in the most simple terms, an issue of trust. Black people, African-Americans, do not trust white America. African-Americans do not trust the actions of white America or the intentions of white America. The relationship between the two races is one of suspicion based on evidence-based actions of white America which have worked to the detriment of African-Americans.

If we take it out of racial terms for a minute, and just look at the two races as two entities in relationship, we can see that the relationship has been “broken” from the beginning, in spite of absolutely glorious documents establishing America as a democracy. From the beginning, white America made it clear – and exercised its power to enforce its clarity – that they believed African-Americans were  inferior and unworthy of receiving rights guaranteed to all Americans by this country’s Constitution.

America’s blacks and whites are like a married couple in trouble, where one has continually abused the trust of the other and the other has developed coping behaviors to deal with the constant disrespect shown. In spite of efforts, some honest and some paltry, to fix the relationship, the dishonesty in behavior and intentions on the part of the “cheating spouse” has continued, and so the relationship between the two parties has continued to disintegrate.

As in many relationships where one has been unfaithful (in this case, white America being unfaithful to the ideals of liberty and equality espoused by the Constitution), the one who has done the cheating has the burden of doing whatever he or she can to regain the trust of the partner who has been cheated on. Counselors will tell cheating partners that if he or she wants the relationship, he or she will have to be willing to do whatever is necessary to mend the bonds of broken trust.

Many partners cannot handle the process of building or rebuilding trust. The partner who has been cheated on is OK for time, but the slightest deviation in word or action on the part of the cheating partner will bring back painful memories, the process of rebuilding has to begin all over again.

Only those relationships where the cheating partner is willing to take the crying, the complaining, the fear, the anger, and the resentment at having been disrespected until  a healing takes place, survive.

When it comes to white and black America, the relationship has never healed, and in fact, white America has too often continued to abuse the relationship between the two races by practicing discrimination and enacting policies that continue to belie a sincere desire to heal the relationship.

Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the “disillusionment of Negroes” in his book Why We Can’t Wait, written in the mid 1960s. African-Americans, he wrote, struggled and fought for desegregation of public schools, because the quality of education in white schools, as opposed to black schools, was so disparate. “Separate but equal” was an unreality, and all African-Americans wanted, he explained, was a level playing field in the area of education so that African-American children would have the same possibilities for latching onto the American dream as did white children.

Much of white America, however, resented the historic Brown vs. Education ruling by the United States Supreme Court, and at the time of the writing of Why We Can’t Wait, ten years after the decision, many schools had not been integrated because white educators and legislators were still finding loopholes in the laws requiring integration. Integration was supposed to happen “with all deliberate speed,” the High Court had ruled, but its words were ignored…and no court, no legislature, did anything about it.

King wrote that “the Supreme Court retreated from its own position by giving approval to the Pupil Placement Law…which permitted the states themselves to determine where school children might be placed by virtue of family background, special ability and other subjective criteria.” (italics mine)

Though there was verbal non-support of discrimination in housing and employment during the Kennedy administration, Dr. King wrote, the fact of the matter was that government, state and local, continued to allow discrimination under the mantra of “states’ rights.” King correctly observed that though the Emancipation Proclamation had been a signed at that time 100 years before the time in which he wrote, there had been little true freedom for African-Americans.

What is there to trust in this relationship between the American government and its African-American citizens?

The pattern of the government saying one thing, yet supporting and permitting just the opposite, then, eroded the capacity of African-Americans to trust this same government. Perhaps the heart of America and its general disdain toward African-Americans can be found in the fact that the federal government never passed an anti-lynching bill. In the area of justice shown toward African-Americans, the country’s record was dismal, and continues to be. Not only black, but brown and poor people have little chance of experiencing the full majesty of America’s justice system.

And yet, white America expects African-Americans to “be happy and content.” The breach of trust is never spoken of or acknowledged, and the patterns of discrimination continue, in spite of our Constitution.

Though people like GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum carry the belief that “black people are spending other people’s money,” the fact is that the majority of African-Americans have pushed through the system, the laws and the governments which have done all they can to keep them in  second-class citizen status. In spite of discrimination in hiring, housing, lending, education and justice, African-Americans have pushed through and made their own way in a country which has tried at every step to block that way.

But it is unfortunate, the relationship between blacks and whites. The trust is not there, and no attempt is being made to build or establish the trust. Those who have been “cheated on” in a relationship supposedly built on trust can recall, I am sure, their discomfort with their partner after “the breach.” The desire to continue on has been there, but has been made all the more difficult by this breach …and if the offending partner has not only not apologized but has continued to repeat the offending behavior, repair of that relationship is almost certainly not going to happen.

Perhaps if there were a national counseling initiative, a “truth and reconciliation” effort like that done in South Africa, the lack of trust might be addressed and workable solutions found…but as things stand, the relationship between blacks and whites is toxic and volatile. There is no way, as we have heard during the debacle called the Trayvon Martin case, that black people are going to “trust the system” and  be willing to “let the system work.”

Our experience has been that “the system” does not and has not intention of, working for us, not without behemoth effort and push back from a system that seems to be filled with people who resent African-Americans even being in this nation.  African-Americans have tasted the cup of injustice, over and over again, and its bitter taste remains in our spirits.

If there is no trust, there can be no relationship, not between two individuals, not between nations…and not between two races, these two races, called black and white.

A candid observation …

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5 thoughts on “The Problem With America and Race

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  2. when I first started to read this column, last week, I got stuck at the ‘couples counseling’ section, but today and in the end, I totally see your point. thank you for the psychological spin.

  3. It’s interesting to use a marital relationship as an analogy but I think it’s pretty true. The difficulty is, a marital relationship is only between two people, and the cheater alone is responsible for rebuilding the relationship. In the case of white America versus black America, the “cheater” is a whole nation, and unless there is mass change on a national, judicial, and social level, the relationship will unfortunately never be rebuilt.

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