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Race, Religion, and Law Enforcement: A Three Part Series of Social Observation Part 1: Race. How Did We Get Here?

Updated on August 14, 2017

Racism, religion, and law enforcement are undoubtedly three of the most relevant and controversial issues circulating throughout society today. Social and religious movements such as black lives matter, all lives matter, and the worldwide threat of the Islamic state have fueled the thirst for hate, disdain, and sheer indifference. How is it that those sworn to protect us are the ones we should fear? How is it that the very people I’ve sworn to protect wish me dead? How is it that a nation founded on the principle of faith now centers its existence on hedonistic values that shun those who still hold firm to their founding principle? Dinesh D’Souza suggests that many social activist and scholars feel that racism is not a departure of American ideal, but a true expression of them. How can it be that a nation founded on the principles of a Christian- based faith system true ideals be that of racism and hate? These are questions that deserve answers. Former FBI director James B. Comey stated “We must simply find a way to see each other more clearly.” As a Christian it is our duty to reconcile God’s people back unto Him, but how do we expect to reach a person we do not understand culturally? Bronfenbrenner’s bio ecological systems theory suggests that a person can be best understood when seen within the context of their environment. If this is true how can I expect to approach the idea of reconciliation to multiple ethnic groups the same? How do I police multiple ethnic groups the same without being bias? How could one expect an individual who has known nothing but social and racial oppression to believe that America’s ideals aren’t centered on racism? As a Christian what is my responsibility in the midst of this crisis and as a helping professional how can I best serve the people?

The sting of racism and discrimination has left a deeply imbedded scar on the hearts of many individuals across the nation. It is a lingering shadow firmly attached to our identity, and no matter how hard we attempt to shake away from it, the sun shines and the silhouette reveals itself for us all to see. When metaphorically comparing racism to a shadow, one could easily deduce that I am inferring that we will never really escape racism or discrimination due to the fact that you cannot get away from your shadow. I will reserve judgment on whether or not I believe we can fully escape it or not until after we have discussed some of the major points within this article and those to follow. What I will tell you is that knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss and until we take the time to understand what makes us different we will never know that those differences are fictional limitations instituted by fear and ignorance. The famous quote “There is only one race; the human race” beautifully explains how we should really view race.

A Glance in the Mirror: Who am I, Who are You, Who are We

Some mornings when I awake I stare at myself in the mirror for no particular reason. Other times I stare as if to encourage myself for the days ventures. Then there are times when I stare as if I’m looking for my reflection to reveal something greater about myself. But every time I walk away from that mirror with the same level of understanding, encouragement, and curiosity as I had when I approached the mirror in the first place. Could it be that the reason I would walk away from the mirror the same every time is because I wasn’t actively seeking out change, but rather anticipating change to find me. Change is a method that requires intentional action, meaning I cannot expect to see change if I’m not actively seeking out ways to bring it to fruition. So coming to the mirror and just looking for change isn’t merely enough in comparison to coming to the mirror and telling your reflection the change you want to see and then actively pursuing that change. When it comes to race relations here in our nation we have to stop taking the wake up and look in the mirror approach with this topic. Otherwise we will walk away from the mirror the exact same as we were before. There needs to be more individuals who are willing to conduct the self-evaluation, draw their conclusions, discover where change is needed and then actively pursue that change. In this article my aim is to debunk the myth surrounding racial differences by peering into lives of black and white America and then closing with the summary of the origin of race. I refer to this as debunking the myth because if you have something that is passed down from generation to generation with no real concrete evidence of its existence then that subject exist as a folklore or in other words a myth.

Notes: Based on full sample, N=2,231. Blacks and whites include only non-Hispanics. Hispanics may be of any race. Source: Pew Research Center Race Survey, conducted August 1-11, 2013
Notes: Based on full sample, N=2,231. Blacks and whites include only non-Hispanics. Hispanics may be of any race. Source: Pew Research Center Race Survey, conducted August 1-11, 2013 | Source

One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all! The last line of the American’s Pledge of Allegiance, and a very powerful line amongst many others, but after all that this nation has been through, how is that liberty and justice for all holding up? How is that indivisible mentality standing? Where is God in any of our nation’s values these days? Black America would declare there is little to no change in the way Americans see and conduct life since the pre-civil rights era. In a 2013 survey pegged to the fiftieth anniversary of the March on Washington, the Pew Research Center found that less than half (45 percent) of all Americans agreed that the country had made “a lot” of progress toward racial equality during the previous half-century. Among blacks, only 32 percent shared the same view (Kennedy 2014). Some would wonder how could it be that in a time where our country appears to be the most diverse it’s ever been, with a black president and the emergence of acceptance of individuals from all walks of life, how could someone declare such a statement? If you ask many leaders in the black communities that same question they would probably respond by saying that this false sense of hope and these overly generalized views of diversity are the problem. In fact, they only enlightened the ever present face of racism in our nation.

Many in the black American community felt as if President Obama had not done enough to address the topic of racism or advocate on behalf of the black community. They maintain that he was altogether too fearful of being charged with racial favoritism and did too little to educate the public about the peculiar racial hazards that African Americans routinely face (Kennedy 2014). These individuals are what Kennedy refers to as racial pessimist, a category in which the likes of historically black figures like Henry McNeil Turner, W.E.B Dubois, and Malcolm X were all lumped into. For them, the Obama administration simply mirrored the racial diversification of an existing order in which a relatively small sector of upper-crust blacks prosper while the condition of the black masses stagnates or deteriorates—the consequence of a misbegotten theory of racial trickle-down. For them, the Obama era was littered with bitter incongruity: While a black man is commander-in-chief, Michael Brown and thousands like him are stalked, harassed, brutalized, and occasionally killed in Ferguson-like locales across America. On the other side of the spectrum you find the individuals that see the state of the nation, though presently in turmoil, taking steps in the right direction and believe that there is a possibility for all races to live beneath an umbrella shaded with true equality. Historically black figures considered to be optimist are Booker T, Washington, Thurgood Marshal, and most notably Dr. Martin Luther King.

Being a black American male, I can easily express the joys or the lamentations of the majority of black Americans for the simple fact that I am one. Now from the perspective of a white American I find to be quite a daunting task. This revelation in itself has shown me that, though we both are American, black America and white America are two totally different Americas. This statement alone will receive major backlash from my fellow brothers and sister of Anglo descent, but that response will bear enough probable cause to infer that the statement in question has some validity to it. In his book, The End of Racism, Dinsesh D’Souza (1995) explains how most white Americans acknowledge historical oppression against blacks, but some raise questions about its contemporary significance. Many white Americans are convinced that racism is flourishing today, not in America’s society but in the imaginations of black Americans.

This is a trend that I’ve encountered constantly throughout my search for information on the topic of racism from a white Americans perspective. I’ve been referring to this as the deflection method, a method in which the individuals choose to not acknowledge that there is some level of racial inequality and instead completely overlook the notion that racism is still thriving. My response to that has been a metaphoric comparison to that of the weather. You can receive a forecast of scattered showers in the area and look outside and realize that is not raining in your area. Does that mean it’s not raining two miles down the road? When we stop looking at these issues as isolated events or actions then we can begin to rectify our views on the topic. Just because you don’t display racist values doesn’t mean racism doesn’t exist as a whole.

Black is white and white is black.

Recent advances in the sequencing of the human genome and in an understanding of biological correlates of behavior have fueled racialized science, despite evidence that racial groups are not genetically discrete, reliably measured, or scientifically meaningful (Smedley & Smedley 2005 p.1). This is where the benefits of science begin to debunk the myth of racial differences from a genetic standpoint. We see the obvious differences in appearance and we see cultural differences, but can we really take those differences and say that they can only be applied to one specific genre of people? The answer is no! Culture by definition is a way of life for a group of people--the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them, and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next (Li & Karakowsky 2001). That definition of culture carries no racial implication whatsoever, but completely points to purely learned behavior.

So based on that information provided you can take a young black infant child and raise him up in a culture that fosters discrimination against black individuals and he too will bear the same sentiments as those around him, even though he himself is black. Ethnicity and culture are related phenomena and bear no intrinsic connection to human biological variations or race. Ethnicity refers to clusters of people who have common culture traits that they distinguish from those of other people. People who share a common language, geographic locale or place of origin, religion, sense of history, traditions, values, beliefs, food habits, and so forth, are perceived, and view themselves as constituting, an ethnic group (Smedley et al p2).

The emergence of racial branding is considered a recent phenomenon in the overall scheme of human civilization. Historians have now shown that between the 16th and the 18th centuries, race was a folk idea in the English language; it was a general categorizing term, similar to and interchangeable with such terms as type, kind, sort, breed, and even species. Toward the end of the 17th century, race gradually emerged as a term referring to those populations then interacting in North America—Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans/Indians (Smedley et al p4). The conceptualization of genetic racial differences has yet to be proven from a biological standpoint, in fact, scientific studies boast that humans are 99.9 percent alike and that the 0.01 percent genetic differences are so small that they doubt the biological reality of genetic identity of race appeared (Smedley et at p4). So with understanding the disparity of evidence supporting the genetic identity of race we find that the most accepted definition of race is that of human differences that fused together both physical features and behavior.

This conception, essentially a cultural invention, was and still is the original meaning of race that scholars in many fields turned their attention to in the latter part of the 20th century and the early 21st century (Smedley et al p4). In short race as we know it has really nothing to do with our genetic make-up, in fact according to science we are all the same minus the .01 percent difference. The concept of race is a culturally derived ideology that has infiltrated the hearts and minds of individuals all over the world, propelling us to classify our physical differences, behaviors and generalize our uniqueness to one set of people who just so happen to look alike.

Divided we stand and united we fall.

What I find to be true is that in order to appease the taste of both parties we often separate or classify certain things to make it exclusive to a specific party, which in my opinion further drives the divide amongst the groups. For example, Mardi Gras is highly celebrated carnival season in the south that’s fueled by fun, revelry, and the festive spirit. Originating in Mobile, Alabama and celebrated along the Gulf Coast it is deeply imbedded in the South’s tradition. With that being said the South’s traditions perpetuate a lot of racial principles so why expect anything different from the oldest celebration in the nation. During Mardi Gras the parades and daily festivities are designated by groups, some groups more exclusive than others. The level of exclusivity can be based on gender, socioeconomic status, and perceived race. What’s even worse is that the community and members of these organizations know what is transpiring, and see it as just a tradition. So to make the festival season feel more inclusive there became a separate set of groups who are predominantly black with their conditions of exclusive acceptance in rebuttal of their rejection to be included in the primary celebration. What you will now find is there is one season of celebration separated by class and race and they are fine with that!

This is just one example of the principle on a local level, but there are many examples on a national level. One that has puzzled me for an extended period of time is the Negro National Anthem. It is a beautifully written song with great significance for the black American people and a deeply imbedded spiritual emphasis for those who have a direct connection or experience with the time of the civil rights movement. Understandably the current American National Anthem wasn’t written to include the African American, so then we have the birth of the Negro National Anthem. Rather than recognize the historical implications behind the original intent of the original and create or a true culture of inclusion, we hold on to traditions that have promoted the very idea we fought against to be the “free” nation we claim to be. Now we see Americans more angry about a professional football player Colin Kaepernick’s silent protest against an anthem that he feels does not include everyone; as oppose to a large group of “White Nationalist”, aka “Neo-Nazis”, aka “The Alt-Right”, better known as racist, protesting the very thing America stands for! It is examples like these that prove, though we may have come a long way from 50 years ago, we are not living in the light of “One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”, therefore, we have a long way to go.


-Joshua Jones-

References

Comey, J. B. (2015, February 12). Hard Truths: Law Enforcement and Race. Address presented in Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

D'Souza, D. (1995). The End of Racism: Principles for a Multiracial Society; Simon & Schuster Inc.

Kennedy, R. (2014, November 10). Black america's promised pand: Why i am still a racial optimist. The American Prospect, 25(5). doi:http://prospect.org/article/black-americas-promised-land-why-i-am-still-racial-optimist

Li & Karakowsky (2001). Do we see eye-to-eye? Implications of cultural differences for cross cultural management research and practice. The Journal of Psychology, 135(5), 501-517.

Smedley, A., & Smedley, B. D. (2005). Race as biology is fiction, racism as a social problem is real: Anthropological and historical perspectives on the social construction of race.American Psychologist, 60(1), 16-26.

© 2017 JOSHUA JONES

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