A bout of violent protests flared up in the U.S. over the shooting death of a black teenager by a white police officer. This series of events threw into stark relief how deeply etched racism is in U.S. history.
President Obama coasted to the presidency on his famous campaign slogan, “One America.” With scarcely two and a half more years to go, the people are watching to see whether he can actually overcome racial strife.
The shooting took place in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9. The sheer incongruity of an unarmed boy being shot dead by a police officer was enough to enrage the people and put them directly at loggerheads with the police. The fact that the officer in question was white and the boy black catapulted the incident into the sphere of a racial issue.
With slavery and racial segregation long gone legally, the cloven hoof of racial discrimination against blacks is still visible, if barely. In Los Angeles in 1999, the acquittal of a white police officer who had been charged for beating a black male lit the fuse of the worst uprising in U.S. history.
Blacks comprise two-thirds of the total population of Ferguson, and yet the majority of its police personnel are white. So are those at the helm of governance, including the mayor. And the black community there harbors such distrust of the local police that they are casting doubt on the neutrality of the white chief prosecutor of St. Louis County.
What’s more, out of the 12 jurors on the grand jury selected to decide whether to indict the police officer who shot the black teenager, only three are black.
Aside from this white-dominated social structure, what makes the racial conflict even more tense is the wealth gap between the two groups.
According to CNN, the wealth gap has almost tripled over the past 25 years. The median household wealth for black households is $6,446, which is less than a tenth of that of white households ($91,405).
If you turn to the Labor Department statistics from July, the unemployment rate for whites is 5.3 percent, while that for blacks is twice that, at 11.4 percent. The Census Bureau has the poverty rate of blacks at 27.2 percent (one out of four people) and that of whites at 9.7 percent (one out of ten).
In the 1950s, the U.S. witnessed a widespread civil rights movement. And this year marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Unless and until racism is tackled head-on, the enmity toward white society will only intensify, the whole of the country yet again divided against itself. It is sincerely hoped that Mr. Obama, as the first black president, may throw the full measure of his being into overcoming racism and the wealth gap, for which he should begin by drawing a concrete road map.