The Growing Racial Divide In America

In my entry Why Ecuador? I revealed something to the reader that I was not myself aware of until the words were typed upon the screen.

“Another reason for my being here is that as a Black man who has lived for sixty plus years in America, I am 99.9% positive I will not be shot, beaten, or accosted while walking the streets of Ecuador simply for being Black. I can not say the same for any city I have resided in while living in America.”

Although this statement was not part of my initial reasons for coming to Ecuador, the truth of the statement remains. Upon further self examination, I realize part of the reason I no longer wish to live in America is due to its policies of institutionalized racism, its mistreatment of all minority groups, and its historical failure to change or improve the situation. That is not merely an injustice. It is a travesty.

As a college student during the sixties, while others were protesting the unjust war in Viet Nam and burning their bras for Women’s Liberation, I was marching for the civil rights of Black Americans as a member of the Black Student Union. The ideologies of the Black Panthers and Martin Luther King were at odds. The politicians praised one and demonized the other. In a similar manner, today’s politicians are attempting to demonize the Black Lives Matter movement which is a grassroots reaction to the numerous killing of unarmed, non-threatening Black citizens by white police officers.

Although the politicians praised the non-violent philosophy of Martin Luther King, it took the civil acts of disobedience in Newark, Watts, Detroit, Chicago and other American cities during the summers of 1965 and 1967 to open America’s eyes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 looked good on paper but it was not until the EEOC was establisher a year later to put “teeth” in the law that we begin to see change in the hiring and promotional practices of Corporate America. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was supposed to end racial discrimination in state and federal elections but we still today have states attempting to circumvent this law in every possible manner. You must of course realize all of these laws were put into effect one hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed granting equality and equal rights to Black citizens.

Why, after all of these laws were passed to provide equality to all citizens of the United States, do we still have this growing racial divide in the country? Prejudice and discrimination are inborn in the history of this country and they cannot be controlled by the passing of laws. Prejudice is a feeling. It is a psychological preference. One can be prejudiced for or against something, as with a favorite sports team, without causing or bringing harm to anyone else. Discrimination, on the other hand, entails an action. One might passively engage in racial prejudice, but one must actively engage in discrimination. The United States has a history of racial discrimination based upon skin color. Following the annexation of Texas in 1845 the U.S. and Mexico went to war. Following the defeat of Mexico in 1848, the U.S. Congress debated the annexation of Mexico as part of the nation’s Manifest Destiny policy. The Federalists who controlled congress at the time voted against the annexation of the Territory of Mexico because they did not want “to absorb those dark skinned peoples into American society.” Racial discrimination is in the blood of American society and the only possible hope is for this institutionalized racism to wane in future generations, but I have little hope based upon the events of present time.

During the last presidential primaries Donald Trump and Sarah Palin criticized Jeb Bush for speaking Spanish in response to a question he was asked in Español. They each urged him to “speak American in America.” Perhaps it was because of their own inability to speak or understand another language, but I believe it is just one more example of the racism in the country. English is the official language of the United States but with a growing segment of Spanish speakers, it might be advisable for each of them to learn Español. There is no “American” language. A citizen in Boston has a different language accent from someone in New Orleans, which has a strong Creole and French influence. People in Hawaii have a language of their own as do the indigenous peoples of Alaska.

Another reason I came to Ecuador was to learn another language and culture. I read learning another language is good for keeping the brain in shape while aging. While I am learning Español, my attempts to communicate with the citizens here have not been hampered by my lack of language skills because they make every effort to understand. No one has ever said to me, “When in Ecuador, speak Español.”

America was once the land of many cultures and languages. The quotation at the base of the Statue of Liberty welcomed those from other lands. Now, the politicians want to send undocumented people back to “where they came from.” The U.S. was very critical of the European Union for its handling of the migrant crises in Europe, but I have not read anywhere of the U.S. offering to take in some of the immigrants. In fact the U.S. has some of the strongest immigration and visa requirements of any nation in the world. The words at the base of the Statue of Liberty should be removed as we no longer live up to them.

One of the people who befriended me here in Ecuador recently traveled to Guayaquil to apply for a visa to visit relatives in America. Upon his return, he informed me his visa application had been denied.

“They made that decision in one day,” I asked.

“No,” he said. “They made it in two minutes.”

“Why?”

“They said I was a flight risk because I had no solid reason to return.”

What the people at the U.S. Embassy failed to realize was that my friend has many reasons to return. The primary one besides his family is that here in Ecuador he is at least free. In America, he would always be an illegal immigrant should he chose to remain. He would be the subject of racial discrimination even though he speaks perfect “American” because his skin is brown.