More and more lately, I'm realizing that the US is home to two societies, almost entirely separate and distinct. I grew up in the white society. People of color sometimes step into my world, briefly, but have never really been an integral part of it. I never really thought about why, and I never considered myself racist or prejudiced in any way. People are people, I figured, and I tend to like and get along with everybody.
The other society is people of color. Almost all Black people, most Latinx and Asian people and other minority groups fit in this group of "others." These are the people who grow up alongside us whites, but not "with" us. These are the people who don't believe the world is a safe place or that America is a land of opportunity. These are the people born into oppression, who fear authority figures, who spend their lives learning to be subtle and not make waves.
This society is painful and lonely. It's endlessly frustrating, knowing that the people in power, the people hiring, the people prosecuting, the people building housing, will never understand what it is to be part of a separate society. What it feels like to walk down the street and see people hold their purses tighter or grab their children's hands when they see you approaching.
Have you seen the YouTube video of a white man stealing a bike compared to a black man stealing a bike? It illustrates our subconscious prejudgments effectively (whether or not it was a valid experiment). I, who consider myself unbiased, have to admit that I'm more likely to suspect a black young adult man in a hoody than a white young adult man in a polo shirt and khakis. And it has very little to do with their clothing choices.
Here's the thing, though. The young white guy is far more likely to be a white supremacy zealot than the black man is to be anything but a regular guy trying to get through the day without pissing off any white people. Yes, he buys his clothes at discount stores and bikes to work, but his mama raised him to be honest, hardworking, loyal, and respectful. Doesn't matter. He's ten times more likely to end up in prison than the white guy.
According to the NAACP, if you happen to be born black and male, there's a one in three chance that you'll spend some time in jail. For whites, it's more like one in forty. If you're a black woman, you're twice as likely to be raped as a white woman -- nearly half of all black women in America suffer sexual assault.
Somehow the story has circulated that black men rape white women more than white men rape black women. Even though the exact opposite is true, white people choose to believe this lie.
Black men arrested for drug possession serve prison time equivalent to white men guilty of violent crimes. People of color are ten times more likely to be arrested on drug charges, even though they represent less than one quarter of the drug users in America.
We didn't abolish slavery 150 years ago. Slavery is alive and well. Instead of openly owning and abusing people of color, we just shun them, deny them access to public services, arrest them, sentence them to private prisons that practice unpaid labor.
Just yesterday, a Seattle pregnant black mother of three called the police to report a burglary in progress. She was shot and killed by the two officers. She was holding a knife, they said. She had a history of mental illness, they reported. They feared for their lives, the story says. So they shot a tiny young mother in front of her children. No tasers. No tear gas. No effort to use their joint power, authority, and strength to disarm the frightened victim who had called them for help.
Two Americas. I'm ashamed. Aren't you?
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Susie Snortum is passionate about improving society's compassion for meeting basic human needs -- food, shelter, clean water, and dignity.