Monday, June 15, 2009

The New York Times on 'Driving While Black'

Today's New York Times has an interesting editorial on "post-racial America" and just how far we have to go before reaching that ideal. As Brent Staples points out
The experience of being mistaken for a criminal is almost a rite of passage for African-American men. Security guards shadow us in stores. Troopers pull us over for the crime of “driving while black.” Nighttime pedestrians cower by us on the streets.

And black men who work as undercover cops are occasionally shot to death by white colleagues, as happened to a young officer named Omar Edwards last month in New York City.
Black Americans are at an enormous disadvantage when it comes to finding work. As Princeton sociologist Devah Prager puts it: "Being black in America today is just about the same as having a felony conviction in terms of one’s chances of finding a job." (Things are even tougher for those black men who have been caught up in the criminal justice system - and let's take a look at incarceration percentages in the United States as of 2006, courtesy of prisonsucks.com):
  • Whites: 409 per 100,000
  • Latinos: 1,038 per 100,000
  • Blacks: 2,468 per 100,000
A desire to escape our racist past is understandable, even laudable. But until we recognize the disparities and prejudices which persist in our culture, we have no chance of healing history's wounds. As Brent Staples wisely says
We may yet reach that goal. But we won’t do it by pretending that centuries-old biases were magically swept away in a single election. We can do it only by exorcising poisonous preconceptions that go to the very heart of who we are.