By Sabah Kochhar
When the Grand Jury verdict on the killing of Michael Brown was announced a couple of weeks ago, the collective upheaval that ensued was only telling of something much deeper that was only waiting to reach a boiling point.
In 2009, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder spoke on race relations in 21st century USA and remarked: “Though this nation has proudly thought of itself as an ethnic melting pot, in things racial we have always been and continue to be, in too many ways, essentially a nation of cowards”. Unsurprisingly, his remarks drew sharp responses from multiple sides, including from an angry set of people referring to a “post-racial” America.
In retrospect, this was only one of scores of similar controversies that have arisen when a prominent figure dares to openly question the utopian ideal of a ‘post-racial’ America.
When Barack Obama became the President of the United States, the event marked a change not just in the country’s political landscape, but also stirred an excited new dialogue. The country that had been founded on slavery, lynching and mass incarceration of people of color, notably African Americans, now had an African American man as the nation’s highest authority.
No doubt, the feeling of happiness was palpable so much so as to give a sense of complacency. Now that a black man was President, was that not proof that the country’s institutions had transcended race? And that here was a milestone proving America had come a long way from the horrific narratives of their past?
Much of America, even today, lives under an illusion of race as being a thing of the past. A sense of self-satisfied complacency rests in the minds of a conservative and white populace which believes that a black ‘First Family’ is somehow proof that the nation has redeemed itself. Yet, for all this rhetoric of “We are all one people”, the names of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and now, Michael Brown, still loom large. What happened in Ferguson, Missouri this August was not an isolated event. The fact that the accused police officer Darren Wilson continues to walk scot-free even today is not something to easily be ignored. Nor, to forget.
Despite a huge amount of evidence, the Grand Jury failed to indict Officer Wilson. What really reaffirms the elephant in the room is the sheer refusal to simply try him for a crime, let alone convict him. Similarly, the fact that the verdict on Eric Garner’s choking by an NYPD police officer came out barely a week after since the Mike Brown verdict, showing an instance of police brutality against a black man that was so much as even caught entirely on camera, [and yet the jury failed to indict the officer], is indeed something that makes one sit up and reflect.
Today, as I type, there is collective outrage. Protests are gathering across not just America, but in London, Tokyo and across many parts of the world. The world of Twitter and social media is now waking up to the call of #BlackLivesMatter, #Ferguson and #WeCantBreathe, as a movement against racism, anti-blackness and police brutality starts to culminate.
Slowly, but steadily, the realization is trickling. What Eric Holder said in 2009 still holds true. American institutions have been built off of racism, and at the scapegoating of minorities. That protests are reaching a fever pitch at this point is only testament to public angst and a lack of a sense of closure at this injustice meted out.
When popular culture hails Iggy Azalea’s appropriation of African American culture, of consumption of a certain kind of “blackness”, it stands as proof of the same mentality. An America that lauds [in white celebrities], what they chastise in black celebrities.
When a fund successfully raised over 400,000$ for Officer Darren Wilson, this becomes evident once again. The very Darren Wilson, who, in his testimony is quoted as referring to Michael Brown’s dead body as akin to the face of a “demon” and dehumanizing Mike Brown by calling him “It” rather than “Him/He”, the utopian ideals of a ‘post-racial’ USA are shattered.
Race is a sensitive issue in America. But, race has also been used to “build” America, if one were to go by popular parlance. That history, institutions and systematic oppression manifest themselves into the daily lives of quite a few people of colour in modern day America, be it through sheer violence, or subtle micro-aggressions.
There is truly a long, long way to go for a post-racial America. The outrage we are witness to today shouldn’t be stymied. White America, as well institutions complicit, need to sit down and hear the voices of minorities. Amplify them. Reflect upon reality. Only then will be there be greater room for change.Featured Image: Ferguson protests in Palo Alto. Featured Image Credit: Paul George, Flickr CC. License available here.