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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

March 24, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Commentary: Americans need to engage in an honest racial dialogue

For far too long, America has failed to successfully confront the issue of racism within its borders. It has failed to eradicate this subjective and artificial structure, which ascribes specific value to individuals based upon the color of their skin. As a result, we live and operate in a society where one’s race matters. Race largely influences the schools people attend, the neighborhoods they live in and their ability to walk down the street with or without fear of being followed or appearing threatening.

In the gated community of The Retreat at Twin Lakes, Trayvon Martin’s race mattered. Not only was he a black teenager, but he was in a private residential area. According to George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin looked “suspicious” and “seemingly did not belong in the community.” Trayvon Martin’s position as a black male visibly posed a threat to George Zimmerman because of his race, his build and the location, a gated community, which is designed to keep some people in and others out. The role of race is therefore impossible to deny. Had Trayvon Martin been a white male, it is likely that he would not have appeared threatening or menacing. However, due to racism, black men have been socialized as aggressive agitators, violent and threatening. George Zimmerman acted upon racist stereotypes on the evening he encountered Trayvon Martin.

Trayvon Martin, however, isn’t the first African-American male to be killed by those in positions of power who display animalistic behavior. In 1999, Amadou Diallo was shot 41 times by four white NYPD officers after attempting to withdraw his wallet, showing his identification card. In 2005, Sean Bell was killed by NYPD officers after leaving a night club. On Feb. 2, 17-year-old Ramarley Graham became another victim after being shot in the chest. Narcotics officers suspected him of being armed, when at the time of his death he wasn’t. Tragedies such as these are all too common, especially in the black community. Looking at these cases individually will only result in more fatalities and deaths of black men. It is crucial that these cases as a whole be examined as part of a larger structure founded upon economics and racism.

We must address the role racism plays in our daily lives, and it is also imperative that we engage in an honest dialogue. Racism is not only a person of color’s problem; it affects every race and class. In order to have this dialogue, steps need to be taken.

The first step is to acknowledge that, as Americans, we do not live in a post-racial society. The election of President Barack Obama has not changed the role of racism in America. People of color are still discriminated against and treated unfairly because of their race. When we acknowledge this, we can better engage in the reality that while process has been made from overt racism, racism has only become passive.

Secondly, it is crucial that we acknowledge that racism affects every race, class and gender. Racism, as stated before, is not a people of color’s problem. When white people state they have no culture because they are white, this is in fact a result of racism, along with the notion of whiteness.

Lastly, we must become cognizant of how we condone and perpetuate racism. We must also hone in on our agency and ability to resist the structure, as individuals and as a collective. Once we accept this, we can be better able to have a dialogue about racism and establish ways to eradicate it.

Questen Benjamin is a senior politics major. Email her at qbenjam1@ithaca.edu.