While the chasm between whites and blacks has narrowed over past decades, the changes have yet to filter down to smaller communities like Ferguson.
A couple of key phrases stick in one's memory after the turbulent nights in Ferguson. “If you're young and black, you've already got two big fat strikes against you and there's nothing you can do about it,” says Charles Brooks, truck driver, bodybuilder and father of three teenagers. In the city, Brooks is a man of authority.
What Brooks summed up is a business-as-usual day, in which four or five African-American teenagers are considered dangerous by white law enforcement officers if they get together and talk.
“The police are against us no matter what we do. Whites don't understand us; they have no idea how we live.” That's what we heard when we talked to a friend of Michael Brown, the 18-year-old shooting victim.
What results is a siege mentality. Long ignored by a world that doesn't awaken until everything is burning down around them, they give it the cold shoulder; some even face it with defiant contempt.
What these forgotten kids feel is this: Ferguson is getting its five minutes of fame in the camera lights of global media ― as strange as that may sound, considering the rubber bullets and tear gas ― and then everything will be forgotten. Unemployed and without prospects, these young adults think all the talk of the “American dream” with opportunity for all is just a bad joke.
That's one life in biotope Ferguson. In another one live Beyoncé and Barack Obama, LeBron James and Oprah Winfrey. But the big stars that can sing like Beyoncé, play basketball like James and talk like Oprah don't live here; middle class African-Americans do.
They owe their advancement to Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and the civil rights laws enacted under President Lyndon B. Johnson, as well as the racial unrest that plunged Watts into chaos in 1965. The uprising in the Los Angeles suburb marked a turning point — a point that exposed injustice and pent-up frustration. Although African-Americans didn't know it at the time, Watts was the starting point for their progress.
The social chasm between blacks and whites grew smaller: Where the income in black households stood at 57 percent that of whites in 1967, by 2000 that had grown to 66 percent. On America's more liberal coasts, interracial marriages have become as common as apple pie. But in biotope Ferguson, the new normal hasn't gained any traction.
There, only a few are successful in overcoming the invisible walls of their intellectual ghettos; only a few make it into the world of universities, steady jobs and guaranteed earnings. It's in the Fergusons of the United States, found on the outskirts of many major cities, that these statistics are what they are. Per capita, six times more black males than whites are imprisoned.
Around 4 million black children are raised in two-parent households, while 6 million grow up with only a single parent, usually a mother because so many fathers have abandoned them or are serving prison sentences. It might help if more states followed the examples set by Colorado and Washington and liberalized their drug laws.
One reason so many African-American youths are behind bars is illegal possession of marijuana. Maybe more liberal laws would speed the gradual crumbling of those ghetto barricades.