It has been 50 years since the 1964 Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination based on a person’s race or skin color in the U.S. In this landmark year, a black youth’s death has shaken the public and brought into stark relief the reality of how deep the gap between races still is after half a century.
On Aug. 9, an unarmed teenager was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The case has become racially tense, as the teenager who was shot was black while the shooter was white. A great number of residents protested and clashed with the police force, reaching the point where even the National Guard was deployed.
The demonstration that turned into a riot has calmed down now, and the residents’ concerns have shifted to the outcome of the grand jury’s decision on whether to prosecute the police officer or not.
In 1992, however, the four police officers that assaulted Rodney King received a verdict of innocence, resulting in large-scale riots where over 50 people were killed. Depending on the results of the decision in mid-October, there is the possibility that the black population’s discontent might once again explode.
As a result of this case, attention is once again being brought to the economic gap between races. After the Civil Rights Act was passed, things like affirmative action, which allots quotas for school admissions and job employment relative to the population, were introduced. However, the amount of black people that belong to the poorest part of the population is still more than double that of whites. The unemployment rate for blacks this July surpassed 11 percent, which is also more than double that of whites.
Additionally, it could be said that the discontent of the black population burst forth all at once as a result of the white minority holding the central positions of authority, like the [role of] mayor, while two-thirds of the population of Ferguson are black.
In 1963, the black pastor Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his speech: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
However, in order to pacify the current situation, President Obama has appointed the first black attorney general, judging according to the color of a person’s skin. This is the opposite from the society Martin Luther King, Jr. strived for. The fact that even those at the top in the U.S. cannot help judging according to skin color reveals how deeply rooted racial issues are in this country.
What is important is for society as a whole to work at improving employment and the educational environment [for all], regardless of the color of one’s skin. One can even say that the importance of developing a harmonious society that goes beyond race or ethnic group is an issue that has been handed to the whole world, including Japan.