The Death of a Nation

The tone of discussions regarding racism in America has devolved into divisive discord with many people anchored to one side of the polar perspectives; it’s either as real as apple pie, or imaginary as a unicorn. Even if one rejects the idea of racism in America, at a bare minimum it is difficult not to acknowledge the inherent prejudice against people of color in our society. Ingrained in the fabric of this country is an institutionalized prejudice that has trickled down through the arteries of our system and set the tone for our society while shaping our culture. This institutional trickle-down prejudice has helped form laws, customs and campaigns that permeate our society so completely and comprehensively that it has become invisible; it is the air around us and the ground on which we stand. It is so entrenched in our daily lives that we no longer notice it. This prevalent, though largely unnoticed bias, is the norm.

Because of this, there are those who can honestly look around and say, “I’m not prejudice,” and believe it. Unfortunately, we are all biased. All Americans are the products of this prejudiced system; unconscious participants in a self-perpetuating loop. We all must consciously and vigorously understand and fight our predilections and step outside of ourselves to grasp what is really going on with race. This is especially true for those anchored in the perception that racism in this country died with the signing of the Equal Rights Amendment, as well as descendants of those who established this prejudicial system and continue to set the majority of our societal rules today.

It is important not to overlook why there is a large segment of Americans who believe that racism is extinct. It seems as if having created societal rules which enslave and continue to oppress a large and vibrant section of our citizenry — people of color — has had unintended negative consequences for a large portion of the descendants of slave owners. Could “Guilt over Slavery Syndrome” really be a thing? Perhaps these descendants feel guilty for the enslavement of blacks for more than a century. They may also feel guilt for (take a deep breath) 
• Lynching;
• Jim crow laws;
• Segregation;
• Real estate redlining;
• The assassination and murder of black leaders; 
• Using black men as science projects and intentionally injecting them with syphilis; 
• Establishing voter laws that disproportionately discriminate against blacks;
• Imprisoning black men with laws created to imprison black men;
• Poisoning the waters of Flint, Michigan; and 
• Allowing its police force to use black men for target practice

There may be no end to this guilt thrust upon the descendants of those who enslaved people of color. Who’s to blame? Who’s responsible for all of this guilt? Black people, maybe? Think about it, those descendants of slave owners suffer under the weight of oppressing black people and nobody cares! No one sympathizes with D.O.S.O.G (descendant of slave owner’s guilt) and that must change. Maybe descendants of slave owners should look into reparations or compensation for the guilt created by destroying and limiting generations of black families.

For years black people have carried the burden of this guilt by constantly trying to validate our humanity while convincing others that our stories are as American as apple pie. But maybe we have it backwards; maybe the guilt of slavery and ongoing oppression is felt more strongly by the oppressors than the oppressed. WTF?!?!?!

Before going further, I want to apologize for referring to our African Ancestors as mere slaves. These were people with names, hopes, feelings, desires, and securities and fears. As African Americans, we were enslaved longer than we have been free. According to the census in 1860 there were 3,953,760 slaves in the United States, which means that 89 percent of blacks were slaves. In 1863 those enslaved human beings were emancipated, not freed. Blacks in America were not officially freed until the 13th amendment was ratified in December of 1865. Following this, Jim Crow laws perpetuated institutionalized racism until they were formally abolished in 1965. There are those who would like to diminish the plight of our shackled family members by highlighting the 50 years since our government supposedly ceased enforcement of laws that promoted systemic racism. Americans must not forget that slavery was a vicious atrocity that much of America is guilty of. An atrocity so horrific that it cannot be simply put into proper context without acknowledging, and condemning, all of those who were active participants in this vicious system. A system that continues to oppress in the form of long lines to vote. Higher incarceration rates for black men due to unequal sentencing standards. Driving While Black. Racial profiling. Celebrating people who promote racism.

A case in point is Phyllis Schlafly, who recently died at the age of 92. Her death was widely celebrated by media outlets throughout the country. Donald Trump attended her funeral and praised her for being a supporter. And what for? Ms. Schlafly is best known for her work in opposing the Equal Rights Amendment in the 70’s, and yet she was treated as an American hero. Perhaps she was. But to whom? Not to people of color or to women who wanted autonomy over their own bodies and careers.

Those who defend slavery and oppression are not heroes and should not be celebrated whatsoever. Not with flags, not with songs, not with trite phrases meant to recall the “good ol’ days” of free labor and public lynching. There is no wiggle room. These cultural manifestations of the slave era are all wicked and deplorable celebrations of death and enslavement. I want to remind America that there is no point in American history in which all black people have come from under the cloak of oppression.

In 2014, I witnessed a Palisades Charter High School administrator drive on campus with a license plate bearing a confederate flag. He’s an administrator at a school where part of the mission statement is “To empower [the] diverse student population.” I do not see how a confederate flag promotes or celebrates the values espoused in that mission statement. I do not understand how a school employee and U.S. citizen could allow that bumper decal to be on his car. (An interesting side note — in proofing this piece the spellcheck feature kept trying to capitalize “confederate”, as if attempting to give that word more power and stature than it deserves. If ever a word deserved to be lower case it is “confederate.” Who would have thought that bias and prejudice could have crept into cyberspace?)

People of color are being killed by those sworn to uphold the laws of society. I don’t have to mention a name because there are far too many to list, which in itself is a condemnation of our current judicial system. This illustrates that words are meaningless. Words like, “innocent until proven guilty,” and “To protect and serve.” Actions are what matters. Too many of my black brothers and sisters are being killed by police shooting citizens before properly assessing the situation. In a very real way, these are sanctioned killings, approved by city councils and mayors and the voting populace all over our country. Our police officers are doing the job the klu klux klan began in 1865. Instead of trees and rope, we have officers and guns destroying our own people. And by “our people” I mean citizens of the United States. The Declaration of Independence said “All men are created equal,” but at the time it was created, over two hundred years ago, it meant white men! I think our mores and laws still believe in that unstated qualification.

Me and my little sister in 1989.

As a 6-year-old, I’ll never forget my first experience with a police officer, on 84th and Avalon in South Central; he simply pointed his gun at me and asked “What size body bag do you wear?” This was my introduction to the policemen patrolling my community and 28 years later I am still haunted by this interaction.

How did we get here? Or, more importantly, how have we stayed here for so long? Let’s start by looking at those who have proudly taken a stance against human beings. People like Georgia State Rep. Tommy Benton, a republican who claims that the kkk isn’t a racist terrorist organization, but rather nothing more than “a vigilante thing to keep law and order”.

Or Maine Governor Paul LePage, who said “You shoot at the enemy… and the enemy right now…are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.” Or former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who boasts “White police officers wouldn’t be there if you weren’t killing each other” and who postulates erroneous and misleading statistics when stating he “finds it disappointing that we’re not discussing the fact that 93 percent of blacks in America are killed by other blacks”.

I debunk this overused concept of “Black on Black crime” and believe it should be stricken from our vocabulary. This mere phrase was born in defense of those who would like to deny the mistreatment of people of color and derail the conversation about police brutality. As such, the narrative is misleading. This is unacceptable, especially from a government official. Typically, it’s a struggle to get those who are wrong to accept being wrong. It’s also extremely hard to win an argument with someone intelligent. It’s equally as difficult to win an argument with someone who is stupid.

But we must try. We must start educating people on the biased terms that are frequently used to describe people. Policing is needed in every community, to be sure, but we have to hold our elected officials accountable; they’re creating and enforcing laws and policies that affect us all, too often in negative and fatal ways.

For example, 83% of white murders are committed by white people, but the phrase “White on White crime” doesn’t exist. Why? Because our language is biased. “Black on black crime” is a phrase used to perpetuate a belief that blacks are enemies to themselves, implying that people of color are inherently, and uniquely, violent.

Hoop Hall of Famer George H. Raveling would say, “We have to unlearn to learn”. We must start educating one another. For example, Giuliani would conduct his television interviews and omit the number in reference to white people and solely focus on the 91% referencing African Americans, which he casually bumped up to 93% during his Meet the Press interview. This is racist, reckless, negligent, and when we have government officials with these types of feelings, saying these types of things, it is divisive and detrimental to our wellbeing as a society. Giuliani is perpetuating the belief that black people are inherently violent. This is an example of how cultured beliefs are reinforced.

Today, America is 5% of the world’s population yet constitutes 25% of the world’s prisoners. African Americans make up close to 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated U.S population and are incarcerated six times the rate of whites. Felon disenfranchisement laws that targeted blacks after reconstruction are still being practiced. And while the laws have been amended we still need systemic changes.

Racism isn’t a person, it’s a pervasive concept that has transcended the test of time. It permeates our existence. So, when Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton states, “We have an under incarceration problem” that statement can only be taken as an onerous and vicious celebration of a broken judicial system that views imprisonment and state — sponsored execution as “color control.”

Eli Harold, Colin Kaepernick, Eric Reid taking a knee during National Anthem.

NFL Professional quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, has chosen to use his platform for a worthy cause by taking a knee during the national anthem. By doing so, he’s standing as tall as the Redwoods that flank the Palo Alto skyline. Kaepernick represents this country’s patriotism and courage; he’s not just standing on the shoulders of giants, he’s standing shoulder to shoulder with the giants and by doing so he’s speaking for those who have for centuries been denied justice in this country.

The challenge is for us all to verbally and electorally speak out against injustices in this country. As the grandson of two military grandfathers who served this country proudly, I thank him. Colin has inspired other athletes to find a stance and this needs to transfer into everyday people. It is one thing to share an opinion it’s another to harass and demean another citizen by bullying and threatening him. For those guilty of the latter, I would question their patriotism.

Unfortunately, we have been living in two different Americas, with the line of demarcation split between those who are descendants of slaves and those who are descendants of slave owners. Although the Union won the Civil War it is obvious that some confederate dogma and thoughts are alive and thriving. Black people have secured their rights as citizens in this country and yet whenever an injustice is protested, a knee jerk response is to tell black people to leave; I wouldn’t dare tell you how to define your happiness or move to derail your pursuit of unalienable rights. I’m simply speaking for all the nameless ancestors who suffered through the terror of slavery and oppression only to die with their story never being told. If you have been silent, my question to you is simple: Why? Silence is a consent to violence. I will not stand here in silence while our brothers and sisters are being taken. I will not turn a blind eye to these atrocities. My black folks are more than a goddamn hashtag.

Let’s work toward solutions and drown out these negative false leaders that our country continues to place on a platform, preaching confederate-style hate and division. Let’s create and mentor our future lawyers, doctors, policemen, judges and teachers! There are some great policemen in this world and they are protecting and serving. Let’s create opportunities to work with them as well. There should be more community outreach and positive interactions. We’ve got to conquer culturally bred bias together. We are those roses that grew from concrete and we refuse to die on a sidewalk or in the middle of the street.

In order for resolve there has to be a multifaceted solution. We can change laws. We cannot guarantee they will be enforced. Most of all, we cannot write any laws that will change attitudes. As a society our petals have been damaged but can be repaired with love and nurturing. We can learn to de-escalate situations to combat crime and escalate the love but this will take time. It takes a collective will, which is what our society is lacking. These issues are complex- people are noticing them only because they have been recorded on cell phones and reduced to hashtags. Social media can be an ally if used properly. Record what you see. Share what you record. Talk about it. Write about it. Vote. Vote as if your life depended on it.

Because, guess what…

About the Writer:

A recipient of multiple Coach of the Year honors and CIF Championships, Torino understands the importance of player buy-in and has a keen ability to engage athletes and produce results. He has successfully trained and developed male and female athletes of all levels by focusing on enhancing player skill and basketball IQ. As a mentee of coaching greats such as John Wooden, Gary Colson, and George Raveling, Torino has a profound understanding of not just what it means to execute offense and defense, but also how to inspire, teach and guide players towards understanding how to use their own skillset for the betterment of a team.

Even with his success, Torino continues to be a student of the game; he is a basketball enthusiast who actively shares ideas and collaborates with other coaches. Torino always welcomes new opportunities to grow and contribute his brand of player development to organizations.

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