A friend of mine remarked, “As we enter March, let’s focus on Black History every day of the year. Black Lives Matter.”
As Black History Month comes to a close, we are confronted with the 30th anniversary of the beating of Rodney King on March 3. On a personal note, it was an introduction to a racial injustice deeper and deadlier than inequality. In the United States of the 20th Century, it was (and continues) a matter of life and death. We had moved to Southern California and settled into La Verne in March 1991 when we watched Los Angeles police officers kick and beat a helpless Rodney King. A year later, the city exploded with anger and violence when the perpetrators were found not guilty of assault or even using excessive force.
Since then, the killing of African Americans at the hands of police appears with regularity: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Aldon Sterling, Philando Castille, Stephon Clark.
And then in the middle of the worst pandemic this country has endured, the heartbreaking death of George Floyd, as he lay under a pile of blue beside a police car.
Instead of an explosion of anger and violence, the country responded with Black Lives Matter, a series of peaceful marches. 15 to 26 million throughout the country, participated in overwhelmingly non-violent marches. In just the three months following Floyd’s death, peaceful protests took place in more than 7,000 locations throughout the 50 states.
And still the killing continues, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Aubrey and on.
So where are we now? As we turn the page from Black History Month to Women’s History Month, are we further along? Do we understand and accept the idea of racial inequality and injustice? Are we on the road to constructive healing of the American character and solving of these problems?
The answer is mixed, according to public opinion surveys in 2020 by the Pew Research Center. Despite widespread attention being paid to racial inequality and injustice this past year, there was in early Fall 2020, skepticism that change will actually happen.
The majority of African American, Asian and Hispanic adults believe more has to be done to fix problems of racism and inequality, but there is skepticism about whether the recent attention paid to these issues will bring about the desired change. African Americans have been more focused on learning the history of inequality than White, Hispanic and Asian adults. (64% versus 44%) Among African American adults, many (89%) believe that NOT seeing inequality and injustice when it happens is the biggest problem. Understanding and acknowledging what is wrong would be a necessary first step toward change.
No majority in any group believes this increased attention will bring about changes in policies to correct inequality. Although the public is divided, there is some consensus on a few things that can be and should be done both on a broad policy level and then on a personal level. The most agreement came for suggestions that we educate ourselves about the history of racial injustice. Other suggestions are listed below in descending order of consensus in the general population surveyed:
On a policy level (and requiring civic action):
Educating Americans on the history of inequality in the US.
Redrawing school boundaries to create diversity.
Limiting the scope of the police to focus on serious and violent crimes.
Taking race into account in mortgages and loans, hiring and promotion and school admissions.
Black reparation payments.
As we march into spring, there seems to be important work still to be done. As the public’s knowledge of America’s racist past grows and movements such as Black Lives Matter continue to demonstrate widespread concern, perhaps the country will finally arrive at a turning point. There’s so much more to be done.
On a personal level:
Speak out when we see injustice.
Have conversations about race with those of a different race.
Patronize Black businesses.
Participate in protest marches and attend rallies focused on the topic.
Choose to live or work in ethnically or racially diverse communities.