White people and Black people. It’s a back and forth that’s as old as the United States. Here's the thing about racism — It’s a human construct, much like money. What that means is that these concepts only exist within our scope of existence. These are not things that can really be measured by any exact science, so no matter how many people abide by these perspectives, they will never graduate to anything more than institutions that we — the masses — choose to live by.
Despite some who argue that the introduction of these concepts into society was with the best intentions, essentially these concepts work solely as a means of separation.
There is an interesting article online entitled “How White People Got Made” by Quinn Norton (https://medium.com/message/how-white-people-got-made-6eeb076ade42) that does a much better breakdown of whiteness than I could. Norton proposes that these identities of “White” and “Black” are an invention of slavery. You don’t start seeing people being referred to in those terms in legislation until the late-1600’s in the colonial cotton fields of Virginia.
Basically the legislation put in place was designed to create an almost invisible line of legal separation between the two classes of slaves. The Whites were allotted basically no privileges, same as the Blacks. What they were given was basically a verbal contract backed by loose wording in legislation deeming white people exempt from British harrasment. This unofficial trade came at a high price for the Black slaves.
The Whites were expected to be employed as security guards, being tasked with keeping in line the slaves who broke rules and wouldn’t work. The issue the slave masters were having was that at the time the population of slaves was outnumbering them about 10-to-1. The only way to keep slave revolts under control was to pin both people in the same boat against one another. The same tactic was used in the cotton fields of the south with the advent of what one was referred to as the “house slave.”
White and Black, as I see it, are two invented identities. These aren’t countries of origins. It’s a big reason why such negative connotations will always be associated with terms like “White Pride.” It’s the history that goes with it. The irony is that while both identities have been forced upon these groups of people, the perception behind them would have some think differently. Considering how much people go through as a result of these identities, you’ll be hard-pressed to find people on board. The concept of sides has become stronger than ever. It’s becoming nearly impossible to disagree with someone who has spent their life being persecuted for something they had no say in. Good luck winning over people who have been victimized most of their lives just to tell them, “Hey man, let it go.” To quote contemporary author Ta-Nehisi Coates, “They made us into a race. We made ourselves into a People.”.
As time goes on, race relations only seem to worsen. As time goes on, it becomes stronger in its definition. NPR recently did a poll asking people who identified as white or black if they felt police were more aggressive when approaching black people. 24% of white people who took the survey said yes, which pales in comparison to the over 60% of black people who gave the same response. If that doesn’t fit as a piece of the narrative that there are two different Americas, then I must be missing something.
It's interesting when you start paying attention to the wording of things. When talking about White people being the majority in this country, the census bureau is very clear in their usage of the word “identify.” Basically, the count is just going off sheets of paper with circles that people filled in. There are plenty of reasons why someone who is mixed race might have a stronger identification to one aspect of their genealogy. That person, to their mind, has every right to fill in whichever circle they identify as. Who is anyone else to deny them that? Human beings are complicated, so I’ll tighten this tangent up; How people identify is how they consider themselves. I am not pointing this out with any tone of judgement attached to it; I’m simply offering a perspective some may not have considered.
Now we fast-forward to the present time to take a look at the outcome of the Derek Chauvin trial. The whole country held its breath hoping for a righteous verdict, praying we didn’t have a repeat of the Rodney King trial and the violence in the streets that ensued. Americans gave a collective sigh of relief upon hearing the Chauvin verdict. People continue having questions and concerns. How big of an achievement is this, really? Can this be considered a “win” for Black America? Or just a fair judgement for the family of George Floyd?
“I don't think the Chauvin verdict is a win for Black America,” offers Fairbanks emcee Starbuks in a passing conversation on the topic. “I think it's definitely a win for the Floyd family. The verdict changes nothing for people of color in America. What it does do though is put law enforcement and the police on notice that they can be convicted of crimes like this if witnessed.”
In a subsequent dialogue on Instagram with Tak Havoc, an Eagle River hip-hop extraordinaire, I got a response that rang similar.
“It feels like a win, but I'm not so sure it is. Over 1,000 civilians were murdered by cops in 2020. Where are all those trials? As a person of color, all this really proves to me is that they could have given Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, Elijah McClain and the thousands of other unarmed Black Americans who were gunned down by trigger-happy cops some justice too...but they didn't.”
What racism constantly overlooks is the simple fact that we are individuals. At some point we must be taken on an individual basis. What that means is that you cannot quote the statement of one person who happens to be black or white as being a fair representation of the group as a whole. You can’t really say the verdict is a win for Black America for the exact reasons Tak and Starbuks propose. Simply put, there are still too many injustices unaccounted for to even say we’ve scratched the surface.
“(The) key word’s ‘on notice’,” Starbuks continues, “…there will be more missing body cam footage and more ‘I don’t recall’ claims than ever before; mark my words. It's clear all across this country we need police and criminal justice reform, plain and simple.”
Tak confirms with personal witness stemming from his current post down in Salem, Oregon.
“I already been seeing officers get more militant as a result. More ‘Blue Lives Matter’ nonsense. More ill-conceived rallies. Hell, since Chauvin's trial started, I haven't been able to even keep up with the killings. They seem to carry a "last hurrah" mentality during these times. Conversations need to keep happening. People need to start voting locally. The supposed good cops need to start standing up to the crooked ones because if they just keep silent as their associates commit violent acts against the public, then they really aren't worth a damn. We need a complete reinvention of what justice and law enforcement looks like in America.”
I see slogans like “Abolish the Police” gaining more ground with the younger generation. The manner in which police are approached and dealt with in regards to situations of brutal force is nothing less than laughable. With that said, I still struggle with the idea of completely doing away with those sorts of positions. I’m not talking about the traffic ticketing, or the profiling. I mean when a woman is getting her face beaten in by an abusive lover, and none of the neighbors feel like stepping in — who is she supposed to call?
Race in America is a volatile subject, but with such things like the Chauvin trial outcome, or the current outcry over racial injustices at the Golden Globes, it's hard not to argue that the tides are making a slow turn.