A Mirror for America Essay
“I have a dream,” said Martin Luther King, Jr., “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Since prehistoric times, cultures around the world have found ways to judge and condemn others. However, as time has gone on, it has become increasing clear that what divides us is not a genetic difference, but rather our attitude towards those who seem different from us. The puerile and primitive notions of inferiority and supremacy continue to pull at our collective cooperation and prevent us from moving forward.
Racial and ethnic makeup are the most visible and readily apparent differences between us as human beings. However, our differences of appearance or country of origin should not define our levels of rights and treatment. The United States of America was founded on the principle of “liberty and justice for all”, and these protections must not be denied to any individual on the basis of race. Unfortunately, the sad reality is that racial minorities in the United States today continue to find themselves the disproportionate victims of a number of injustices, namely police brutality and ghettoization.
Minorities in the United States are the victims of police brutality at a far higher rate than white Americans. The underfunding of police training in predominantly minority communities, combined with implicit bias against these communities, leads to a system where police often shoot first and ask questions later. The sad reality of this system is that it makes it all but impossible for a person of color to see police officers as protectors instead of oppressors and threats to personal safety. It is a gross injustice that the people charged with preserving the safety and security of all Americans, regardless of skin color, are the very people whom people of color are forced to fear the most. Every time a police officer empties their gun into the body of an unarmed black individual, it sends a message to the African-American community as well as the American community as a whole that no matter what is written on paper, “liberty and justice for all” are not guaranteed.
To combat the epidemic of racially-motivated police brutality that has been plaguing our nation, public officials must dedicate themselves to enacting legislation that will actively combat racism and police brutality in our criminal justice system. Regulations must be passed to demilitarize the police, so that funding that is currently used to provide police forces with military-style weapons can be used instead to fund a brighter future for our children with higher investments in education in impoverished, predominantly minority communities. In the same vein, public officials should push for better educational support to end the school-to-prison pipeline that affects so many people of color and is a hallmark of just how broken our criminal justice system is.
This is not to say, of course, that public officials should do away with the criminal justice system altogether. Criminals must be dealt with in accordance with the law, and a strong criminal justice system is essential to that goal. However, a system built on racist assumptions which unfairly and disproportionately targets people of color, is not only antithetical to American values, but is also dangerously counterproductive in that its resources are allocated to enforcing racist policies rather than apprehending and bringing to justice actual lawbreakers. Rather than curtailing the benefits of an effective criminal justice system, public officials should instead pursue policies aimed at creating an effective but just police and criminal justice system that works for all Americans, regardless of skin color.
In addition to being the disproportionate victims of police brutality, people of color in the United States are the disproportionate victims of ghettoization. Ghettoization occurs when certain racial or ethnic groups are collected, or ghettoized, into small, concentrated communities. This may occur either through intentionally racist policies or unintentional policies where ghettoization is merely a side effect. In either scenario, however, these communities are often placed at a significant disadvantage to white communities. Predominantly minority neighborhoods have, on average, higher rates of crime and poverty, as well as higher opportunity and educational achievement gaps, than predominantly white neighborhoods. This is because after racial minorities have been ghettoized, the rest of America tends to forget about them and leaves them behind as more funding and support is provided to the most privileged communities which need these things the least.
The United States of America has long held dear the philosophy of equality for everyone, but this ideal can never be realized until our nation’s most underprivileged communities are given the same support and opportunities as their more affluent and privileged counterparts. To do so, public officials must first recognize the unpleasant truth that race and socioeconomic class in the United States are inextricably linked. In addition, public officials must recognize that the statistically higher levels of poverty among people of color are not functions of laziness or indolence on the part of minorities, but rather the direct result of decades of racist policies aimed specifically at keeping minorities in a position of social, political, and economic powerlessness and inferiority. Until this understanding has been reached, any attempt to improve race relations in the United States will inevitably be met with failure.
Having then understood the counterproductivity of attempting to tackle issues of race without simultaneously tackling issues of class, public officials in the United States should pursue policies of reducing the effects of ghettoization on communities of color. Such policies should include an increase in education funding to these communities in order to eliminate the achievement gap, investment in infrastructure to create jobs and improve living standards, and the provision of more community resources to ensure that children don’t feel the need to turn to crime. The sorely needed criminal justice reform mentioned earlier will also be crucial in combating the effects of ghettoization, as predominantly minority communities are often those most hurt by racist criminal justice policies such as the school-to-prison pipeline and police brutality.
Racial inequality is without a doubt one of the most polarizing and pressing issues facing our nation today. It is long overdue that public officials make clear once and for all their dedication to eradicating this blight on our society. Until they do, the bold dream put forth by Dr. King will remain unrealized.