Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/ CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook(Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
The recent events of Charlottesville, VA that have dominated the American news cycle, which are brief, has given America a great opportunity to discuss race in America in a way that hasn’t happen in a very long time – if ever. Unfortunately, the dialogue, as usual, is very limited and focuses only on what racism looks like today, as if yesterday doesn’t matter. The current discussion is also absent of any admission of guilt and responsibility by the American government for the nearly 400 years of “real” oppression of Black people in this country – to act like this doesn’t matter is to deny the absolute truth, and is part and parcel of how wide the divide is.
For the most part, when America has any discussion on race, it usually begins and ends by asking the wrong question. Yes, America has made some progress on race relations but the progress needed is nowhere enough. In my opinion and for those who truly understand this issue, America will never begin to resolve race relations until it addresses the real and right question – not what White supremacy and racism looks like today (most White people openly reject it), but more importantly, how has White supremacy and legal and open racism impacted the Black community over several generations and how has the White community benefited and how the Black community has been disadvantage.
The question that White America must ask is how are the legacies of White supremacy integrated into American institutions, systems, culture, and what has been its impact? Even though we can conclude that racial progress has been made, any rational person must conclude that White supremacy and racism has left a serious mark on the inner workings of America. Therefore, the question that must be asked is how does the current American system work in favor of White people (privilege), and continue to wreak havoc on the Black family (status quo)? It created the economic disparities that make it nearly impossible for real economic progress for Black people, which is the only measurement for any so-called race relations gains. The challenge is that most White people outright dismiss that they enjoy any such privilege and literally discount any relevance of past practices having a bearing today.
When the White American group is matched head-to-head with Black America group, for too numerous reason to articulate now. There is just no competition to speak of – this is called White privilege. White privilege doesn’t mean that White people don’t have their share of poverty nor that successful White people don’t work hard for what they earn. Also, let’s not confuse the wealth disparity issues between White people with the Black/White issue. Not all White people are million and billionaires, but nearly all million and billionaires are White. The vast majority of the entire economy and leaders of the American infrastructure are White – all you have to do is do the math.
There are just too many studies on the Black community to deny that the Black community is in dire social and economic straits, and that hasn’t changed since being forced into slavery nearly 500 years ago. No matter how you examine it, the math doesn’t lie and the numbers are anemic for Black Americans. This is about where you start and evidence by the fact that nearly 80 percent of all wealth is inherited, and I know of no Black family that has inherited wealth. To reconcile this, requires that we have a sober look at the plight of the Black community in relations to the racism of the past.
Because of Charlottesville, public opinion has dominated the news that White supremacy and racism is on the rise in America. For many White Americans, they professed to be so-called “shocked” by the rise of White hate groups and their open display of racist beliefs. What are they shocked about when many are silent as to the racism of their parents and ancestors. It appears that many White people have bought into the myth that today we’re living in a post-racial society. Many point to the election of Barack Obama as the first Black president of United States as evidence that America has made progress regarding race dilemma – yes and no.
How can we be living in a post racial society when America hasn’t done anything truly meaningful to fix the problem that they’ve cause – they haven’t even acknowledge the crime. Where is the evidence? In addition to the election of Obama, some may point to the Civil Rights legislation of the 60’s. Most people don’t even know how these rights were achieved and at what cost they were achieved only to have most, if not all, being undermined and/or even rolled back today.
The horrors of 400 years of slavery, Jim Crow-ism, and open racism and discrimination places a permanent wound on the Black community’s psyche, in addition to never receiving any economic relief (death blow). White American leaders must wake up and sincerely embrace Black history as American history. Millions of Africans were physically and brutally kidnapped and forced into slavery under the most inhumane and atrocious conditions lasting several centuries. It is a sentence that affects not only them, but their offspring as well – their ancestry is part of the sentence representing untold millions. It is impossible to tell the American story without telling the story of Black Americans. Is this not a great human story of victory; is this not a story worth telling; is this not a story that needs to be included in American history; is this not a story that deserves honesty? The fact of the matter is White supremacy is a vicious lie that damages the Black community severely.
“We are the heirs of a past of rope, fire, and murder. I for one, am not ashamed of this past. My shame is for those who became so inhuman that they could inflict this torture upon us.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.
Granted, whenever you ignore addressing a major problem, at some point it becomes nearly impossible to resolve, this is where we are as a country (how do you even begin). Add the extreme and emotional demands on both the left and right only complicates an already very complicated issue. However, today’s climate with Donald Trump as president with all of his racial negativity presents the best opportunity to have these conversations, but we must be genuine and we must be honest – this is the starting point. The facts are undeniable and if we continue on the path of disingenuous, we will only produce a very painful confrontation in America at some point in the future.
I find that the belief that race relations has improved in America as ridiculous – silence doesn’t represent progress. That belief has been thoroughly debunked with the election of Donald Trump. No one can really judge if a person is or isn’t a racist – that person must personally state for themselves (it’s a matter of what’s in a person’s heart). While I can’t see what’s in a person’s heart, I can surely judge their actions or look at the outcomes that ultimately impact the Black community. I must conclude that many of Donald Trump’s actions, rhetoric and “dog whistles” are absolutely racist.
Donald Trump’s election as president coupled with his past and present behavior continues to inflame race relations in America which requires that we take on this issue. There are consequences for this type of leadership at the highest office in the world that has ignited the growth and legitimization of and extreme right-wing faction of the Republican Party called the Alt-Right. The growth of the alt-right will only make it more difficult to address the real question the past. Americans knew about Donald Trump and his racist beliefs for some time (this man led the birther movement for nearly five years), yet America elected Donald Trump as president anyway. The same America that elected Barack Obama also elected Donald Trump – our country is divided. This is a new test for America.
In spite of all of the negative things that are happening, I’m encouraged by the news that many White people in America are challenging Donald Trump and the alt-right (Nazi, KKK, and White Supremacist) and condemning their beliefs and attitudes with a moral authority claiming that America has grown and this behavior is no longer acceptable. I’m not as concerned with these young White men marching in the street because they feel that they have been victimized, and they are a distraction from the real issues we as a nation must confront. We must confront the long-term impact of White supremacy that has been buried within the status quo and American infrastructure.
Let’s be very clear, we will never just hide the problems of nearly 50 million Black people. Social and economic oppression is real for nearly every Black person in America and its not some “crutch” that Blacks have cooked up to not take responsibility for their own circumstances. Many White people actually believe in the American “mantra” that “America is the land of opportunity – if you’re willing to work for it.” When White America looks at the state of Black America, it blames Black’s laziness and lack of “wanting it” as the reason for their predicament – this a total falsehood. They deny the historical facts and the absolute advantage that history has afforded them. The Black man has been in an ongoing struggle in America for full citizenship and, to date, this has not been achieved.