The Malignancy of Racism, Twenty Years after the LA Riots

April 29, 2012

As we approach the twenty year commemoration of the Los Angeles riots, we continue to grapple with initiating a national conversation on race and its implications within the American dynamic. Failing to even start the discussion as a nation, we have allowed the proverbial elephant in the room to occupy a permanent space.

Our issues with race relations branch out into many different forms of racial biases, discrimination and inequity. Just this week, Congress held its first hearing in a decade on racial profiling and its implications on law enforcement. Some witnesses during that hearing were arguing that racial profiling can still be a legitimate tool for police work. Yes, in 2012, there are still people who think racial profiling is Constitutional. The three faces of racial profiling that were questioned during the hearing were; skewed immigration legislation against Latino Americans; discriminatory law enforcement against African Americans; and biased anti-terrorism policies targeting American Muslims. In the end, Congress must decide (on the not-so-difficult question), of whether or not to pass legislation on ending racial profiling.

Then, there is the conversation on socioeconomic injustices and the abysmal conditions some Americans find themselves in, due to institutional biases that continue to affect minority communities. According to a study done by the Los Angeles chapter of the United Way and National Urban League, conditions in south L.A. are dismal, even after twenty years since the riots. In L.A. County, the report, The State of Black L.A., found that African Americans are still more likely to have greater numbers of homelessness, higher high school drop-out rates and higher mortality rates among young people. Further, according to the American Psychological Association, discrimination and marginalization of racial and ethnic minorities are barriers to escaping a lower socioeconomic status. In fact the report asserted “Minorities are more likely to receive high-cost mortgages.” For example, 53 percent of African Americans and 43 percent Latinos pay high cost mortgages, in contrast to 18 percent of Caucasians.

We as Americans can be proud of the fact that we elected a black president and did not allow skin color to be a factor with our votes, yet we are still awaiting a national conversation on racism in the criminal justice system. Until that conversation happens, we will continue to mourn for Trayvon Martin, ridicule the police officers that arrest Harvard professors as criminals because of the color of their skin and cringe when a 68-year old veteran is killed in his home by police officers. Moreover, we will never get past these incidents and truly uncover the deep-seated issues of racism in our nation if we continue to shy away from even having the conversation at all.

Our national conscience demands that we do better. America’s strength lies in her diversity, and we are resilient enough to begin the uncomfortable dialogue in order to begin to deal with the social inequities that exist today. Twenty years later, the elephant gets older, yet still remains in the room of our national conversations. 

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