To Be Black in America
How does Black America endure the constant struggle to survive a society and government that has little interest in their happiness, safety, and prosperity?
by Ed Sawicki
Originally written April 30, 2015, updated June 20, 2020
When crowds of like-minded people get together to protest an injustice, violence and property damage are sometimes the result. Baltimore is one of the best examples. The 2015 death of black teenager Freddie Gray while in Baltimore police custody ignited protests and significant property destruction. The 2020 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police also sparked protests in Baltimore, but there were fewer incidents of property damage.
In those five years between the Freddie Gray and George Floyd incidents, hundreds of blacks have died at the hands of police. Hundreds more if we go further back to 1991 with the police beating of Rodney King. It's understandable why there are protests. However, conservative media focuses entirely on the property damage and fails to report the injustices.
Why do these protests result in riots? Because these injustices go much further than the institutional violence and murder that sparked the protests initially. Racism is comprehensive in the U.S.
Black Americans grow up knowing that a sizable number of their fellow citizens hate them. They know about the pressure to keep them at the bottom of the social strata. They know that they will always suffer the highest unemployment rate, the lowest wages, and the worst housing and health care. That their chances of achieving the American dream are low.
They know that even Black families with Ozzie and Harriet* marriages and well-behaved kids, like the Obama family, are disrespected by tens of millions of Americans. They know that there's nothing they can do to be at parity with their white neighbors.
You'd think that worshiping the same god might earn them points with conservatives, but that doesn't seem to lessen the penalty they pay for being Black.
In 2004, Bill Cosby's “Pound Cake” speech scolded them and called for them to stop blaming White America for their lot in life. Many accepted Cosby's call for Black societal reform but others saw it as the gaslighting of tens of millions of people disadvantaged by racism.
Now their country is run by a racist administration under which White Nationalism has flourished. Their protests have been infiltrated by white nationalists who pretend to be protesters. These provocateurs encourage the crowds to loot and destroy property so the Black Lives Matter movement is discredited.
To be Black in America must be maddening and so very disheartening.
* A cultural reference to a 1950s TV show in which the title characters were the perfect married couple with the perfect family.
Thanks to Janice Herbeck Koehler and Kathleen Williams Sisti for reviewing this article and for their suggestions.