Last month, the interns of Pathway Foundation discussed two very important topics circulating today’s media, “Ethnic Struggles in America,” and “Black Lives Matter.” In these discussions, two very important questions were raised. “How do ethnic portrayals in America shape our understanding of minority cultures?” and “what do the BLM movement and its effects say about us as Americans and our values?”. These two topics relate back to an overall topic of American Creed, which is the defining element of American identity, including liberty, equality, individualism, populism, and laissez-faire.
To start the discussion on Ethnic Struggles in America, the Model Minority Myth was talked over. An example of the Model Minority Myth is Asian-Americans. Asian-Americans have the highest household income, yet only 65% of Asian-Americans graduate college. The Model Minority Myth also includes colorism, in which paler skin is sought out or preferred over darker skin within certain cultures. The points discussed relate back to the Model Minority Myth because paler skin and higher household incomes are often linked to higher socioeconomic success, when talked over in the media. The Model Minority Myth encourages ignorance of other minorities, and creates many social discrepancies, which are often conditioned through the media. The Model Minority Myth tries to create a barrier between different minorities; it tends to pull people apart, rather than bring everyone together.
The next topic that was discussed was BIPOC (Black and Indigenous People of Color) struggles in America. To begin, people of color have a particularly harder time finding jobs than their white counterparts, and many of them take jobs that the non-BIPOC did not want. For example, in 2017, 55.6% of Native Americans over 16 years old were unemployed. But BIPOC struggles do not stop at jobs, they go back in history, over hundreds of years. Starting in 1831 with the Trail of Tears, which forced relocation of over 600,000 Native Americans (History.com Editors) This occurred in the southeast United States, and caused distress and discomfort to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans. The discussion continued on with the Japanese Internment Camps, which occurred after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Japanese-American citizens lost their jobs, houses, and personal belongings while attending these internment camps. Fast-forwarding to today, there are many questions circulating about BIPOC erasure, system racism, incarceration, police funding, etc. Are white people erasing BIPOC culture? Does systemic racism still exist? Why do the police garner so much responsibility? Many of the questions were talked about in the two discussions. First, many thought that white people, along with BIPOC, are erasing BIPOC culture. However, there are/were many United States laws that are unjust, and contribute to this. Going back in time, slavery, Jim Crow, and the New Deal were all racist and contributed greatly to the erasure of BIPOC and structural racism in America. Second, yes, systemic racism does still exist, and sadly thrives in our government. For example, “Right to Work” laws are laws that strip funding and bargaining power from labor unions, which puts a large effect on the financial well-being of POC (People of Color). “Right-to-work” laws undermine and stymie workers’ ability to advocate for themselves through unionization and to achieve economic parity” (Maxwell, et al.) Finally, the police have so much power because of many reasons. One being the amount of funding they get, another being the lack of laws that hold thousands of police officers around the country accountable.
To end, the discussion went on to talk about ethnic portrayal in the media. On average, a person spends about 7.5 hours a day on their phone, and a lot of that time is spent on influencing opinions of what is happening around us. Many of those opinions are about ethnic minorities. Those posts or tweets about certain ethnic cultures do not fully represent said culture, and put those cultures into very stereotypical roles. Sadly, there is also endless misinformation that circulates the media. Different ways on how to determine something as a credible source were discussed. Accuracy (information), authority (author), currency (relevancy), and news coverage are various ways to determine a credible source. Misinformation can also spark people’s emotions, rather than looking at solely the facts at hand. Another aspect of ethnic portrayal discussed was TV shows and movies, and how the casting is done for them. Individuals asked whether certain characters should only be represented by the same ethnicity. And finally, the portrayal of racism was discussed. The portrayal of racism is often glamorized by both political sides, and it is important to make sure racism is called out for what it is, and not what it isn’t.
The next discussion focused on the Black Lives Matter movement, and the various aspects that accompany it. Surrounding high school civics clubs worked together to host a discussion session to educate on BLM and its various topics, and share perspectives.
To begin, the discussion started with the history of civil rights. The Civil War began in 1861 and ended in 1865, and “slavery” ended with it. Racist legislation then began with the Jim Crow Laws, enforcing segregation in the Southern United States. Another aspect of racist legislation was redlining, which was the systematic denial of certain services to black neighborhoods. Redlining was made illegal in the 1970s. The civil rights movement then began in the 1950s, and led all through the 1960s. With Martin Luther King Jr., the civil rights movement broke the pattern of public facilities being separated by race. However, this intensified white flight, which was white people moving out of urban areas at large scale, and moving into more suburban cities and towns.
Moving forward into today’s discussion on civil rights, #BlackLivesMatter was created after the acquittal of the police officer that killed Trayvon Martin in 2013. Since then, it has greatly expanded. The #BlackLivesMatter movement has become global, and has developed at least 18 chapters across the United States since 2014, after the murder of Mike Brown. This year, on May 25, a man named George Floyd was brutally murdered by a Minnesota police officer. This sparked a new wave of Black Lives Matter. All 50 states and multiple countries, some going through wars, held protests for Black Lives Matter, and specifically the arrest of the three officers responsible for George Floyd’s death. As of August 2020, all three officers have been fired, arrested, and charged for Mr. Floyd’s death. The current goal of BLM is to address harm and conflict in the black communities through community-based, restorative solutions.
Another goal of BLM discussed was the defunding of the police across America. The defunding of the police would mean taking money away from the police force and reallocating that money to different various government agencies and communities, it doesn’t mean abolishing the police. For example, our local and state governments spent $115 billion on the police in 2017, and the SPD (Seattle Police Department) budget increased by 9.7% in 2019 ($363 million). Throwing more police on the street to solve a structural problem is one reason why BLM protests are happening. By lowering funding, it will reduce crime and police violence.
“All lives matter” is a very often rebuttal when someone says “Black Lives Matter.” This is problematic for many reasons. First, black people are being killed disproportionately compared to non-black individuals. #AllLivesMatter also tends to take attention away from the real issue at hand. Those who say #AllLivesMatter also believe that they are being specifically targeted, while that is very far from true. While “all lives matter” is a true statement, black lives are being targeted more than non-black lives, which is why people say “Black Lives Matter.”
The movement is gaining attention currently because of the brutality of police attacks happening across the United States. Also, many more interactions are being caught on camera, therefore more evidence is circulating the media. However, the media has many “fluff pieces,” trying to back the action of the police across America. Many of these fluff pieces are being circulated to portray protestors in a worse light, and focus on the riots rather than the movement itself.
Another topic that was discussed was the reformation, abolition, and defunding of the police. Qualified immunity protects thousands of police across America. It makes it so they do not have to explain their violent action towards certain individuals, specifically POC. Reformation of the police would include adding at least 4 years of college education to the requirements of becoming a police officer, specifically in studying law, human psychology, etc. In the past, reformation has failed. The government tried to add required body cameras, more training, etc. It did not change much in the form of decreased violence against POC, especially the black community. Defunding would look like taking money away from the police and putting it into other government institutions or less funded communities.
One of the final topics discussed was the changes in education that need to be made in order for white people and non-POC to be better allies. We should learn more about black history, black struggles and triumphs in America, and more. These curriculums should be free of sugar-coated and white-washed perspectives, like how most of our history books come. We should also eliminate idolizations of people who do not deserve it, such as Christopher Columbus. (Christopher Columbus is well known for the “Discovery of America,” when in reality, he did not even reach the mainland. He terrorized the indigenous people of various Caribbean Islands that would later become the Bahamas.) This history should also be taught by POC.
The Black Lives Matter movement has shown both the good and the bad about America’s values. It has shown that we care about equity and equality, but it also shows where we have failed as a nation. It shows many people have started to take initiative, and shows what truly happens in America in comparison to the American Dream. The reality versus the idolized image of America are two very different things, and we must work hard to bring them closer together.
Danyelle Solomon, Connor Maxwell. “Systematic Inequality and Economic Opportunity.” Center for American Progress, 7 Aug. 2019, 7:00 AM, www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2019/08/07/472910/systematic-inequality-economic-opportunity/.
History.com Editors. “Trail of Tears.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 9 Nov. 2009, www.history.com/topics/native-american-history/trail-of-tears.
By Ella Reedy