Imagine if America’s racial experience had occurred in reverse. What if our homeland had been “discovered” and “settled” by strangers who used genocide to achieve their colonial objective? What if our children were then taken from us to have their culture, language and very defining essence erased in distant boarding schools?
How would we feel today in our unemployed impoverishment on desolate reservations like Pine Ridge?
Think about how slavery, Jim Crow segregation, Klan terrorism and dead-end lives in prisons without walls called ghettos would have shaped our present outlook. If our ancestors bore whip scars on their backs, or if they’d swung expiring on ropes from Southern trees, what would be our attitude now?
If we were always last hired and first fired—or endlessly fired upon by cops in city after city—might not rioting seem justified? After all, Martin Luther King called riots the “language of the unheard.”
When someone is unheard, somebody else isn’t listening. The ultimate onus is ours.
Before the Ferguson decision, the last outraged uprising over chronic injustice endured by U.S. blacks happened following the Oscar Grant travesty in Oakland, California, in 2009.
But several white riots have recently taken place, in wild reaction to losses by sports teams (and even to wins), or involving drunken college revelry. Some have been laughably absurd, such as the Keene, New Hampshire, Pumpkin Festival “disturbance” this past October.
Along with senseless vandalism and fires, beer bottles were thrown at the police, but the pale skin shade of the offenders guaranteed them minimal punishment. Contrast that to Michael Brown receiving fatal bullets for holding up his hands.
Blacks enraged by persistent racial profiling that claims an escalating tally of precious lives are called animals and thugs. Inebriated white kids tearing up their communities, however, are just “rowdy,” or “boys being boys.’
In addition to these inane white riots, various European-rooted ethnicities have waged malevolent mass violence against each other throughout this country’s history. Recall the awful reality portrayed in Gangs of New York.
Let’s remember, too, the wholesale attacks on African-American locales by bloodthirsty white mobs, exemplified by the 1921 Tulsa Riot, in which an estimated 10,000 blacks were left homeless, and 35 city blocks containing 1,256 residences were torched.
The Ferguson decision was issued on the same day that Civil Rights martyrs Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney, murdered 50 years ago in Mississippi, were posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Back then, as weeks passed while FBI agents sought to locate the missing men, several black bodies totally unrelated to the case were found. That raised no special concern since killings of African Americans by white racists were common in the deep South during that era.
Now, half a century later, has anything really changed?
According to data obtained by ProPublica, young black males are killed by police at a rate 21 times higher than whites. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and very many others may actually comprise a longer death list than the number of lynching victims under Jim Crow.
Twelve-year-old Tamir was playing in a snowy Cleveland park with a toy pistol, only to be gunned down by police two seconds after their squad car sped in right beside him. He had time enough for maybe a single heartbeat before being shot. As always happens with these cases, he’s being blamed for his own demise.
Had he been a white child, the cops would have likely told him, “Run along, son. It’s time you got home.”
Across America, surviving family members agonize over their terrible losses, while a distressingly large amount of myopic whites deny that racism still exists.
Meanwhile, our nation’s moral standing crumbles before dismayed observers watching around the world.
Dennis Rahkonen of Superior, Wisconsin has been writing progressive commentary with a Heartland perspective for various outlets since the ’60s.