BLANK: US Laws and Media Obscure Racist Realities
Published: Thursday, April 19, 2012
Updated: Thursday, April 19, 2012 18:04
What do the mysterious death of a soldier in Iraq, the death of a teen in Florida, the controversy surrounding a class at Georgetown last fall, the war on drugs and voter ID laws all have in common?
The answer is stealth racism.
That is, racism that is not overt, but rather subtle and insidious, and therefore harder to detect and combat. Unlike the overt racism of the past, stealth racism is manifested through policies and rhetoric that ostensibly appear benign.
In the summer of 2005, Private LaVena Johnson was found dead in Iraq. At the age of 19, she was one of the first black women to die in the war on terror. When her body was found, it was covered with bruises, scratches and bite marks. She had several shattered teeth, a broken nose and a black eye. Her hand had been covered with flammable liquid and subsequently torched and acid had been poured on her crotch. The Army declared her death a suicide, and to this day refuses to investigate the case further.
Just this past February, Trayvon Martin, a black teenager, was gunned down in Florida after a confrontation with a neighborhood watch volunteer who thought Martin was suspicious. Martin was in fact visiting his father, who lived nearby, and coming back from a convenience store with Skittles and iced tea.
This past fall, a class taught at Georgetown by noted academic Michael Eric Dyson, “The Sociology of Hip-Hop,” attracted widespread criticism for being insufficiently intellectual. Stephen Wu’s viewpoint in The Hoya criticizing the class (“Jay-Z: Not a 21st-Century Homer, A3, Nov. 1, 2011) argued that the course was “poppycock” and that it couldn’t “stand intellectual muster.”
Under the policies of the war on drugs, crack cocaine receives significantly harsher penalties than powder cocaine, despite the fact that both drugs are pharmaceutically equivalent.
Finally, in the last several months, multiple states have moved to further restrict voting rights by passing voter identification laws, which require voters to show certain approved forms of identification in order to vote in elections.
At first glance, none of these cases would appear to be instances of racism. However, closer analysis reveals the profound influence of racism on each of these cases.
The same summer of Private Johnson’s death, 18-year-old Natalee Holloway disappeared in Aruba under suspicious circumstances. Unlike Johnson’s death, Holloway’s disappearance garnered massive coverage in the American and international media. The case received the attention of the FBI, the Dutch air force and the governor of Alabama.
Both cases involved the death or disappearance of a woman under mysterious circumstances. Yet Johnson was black, and Holloway was white. Johnson’s death received limited coverage and investigation, but Holloway’s case became an international phenomenon.
In the case of Trayvon Martin, it is worth asking what role race played. If Martin were white, would he still be alive?
The same semester as Dyson’s “Sociology of Hip-Hop” class, two comparable classes, “Philosophy & Star Trek” and “Philosophy & The Wire,” were offered with no controversy at all.
In the case of drug laws, the punishment for crack cocaine (more commonly used by blacks) is far more severe than the punishments for powder cocaine (more commonly used by whites). As a result, black males account for 50 percent of the prison population, despite only accounting for about 12 percent of the overall American population. All this is despite the fact that studies repeatedly demonstrate that people of all races use and sell illegal drugs at similar rates.
Like the literacy tests and poll taxes of the past, voter ID laws appear race neutral. However, in practice, they have a disproportionate effect on poor and minority voters. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 11 percent of eligible voters lack proper identification under these laws. However, among blacks, the number is 25 percent.
Voter ID laws represent a hidden poll tax. Instead of having to pay at the voting booth, Americans are now required to pay to get the proper identification to vote.
On the surface, none of these cases appear to be instances of racism. However, through closer examination, they can all be seen as examples of stealth racism and reveal how discrimination and bias continue to have a profound effect upon our society.
Many Americans believe that racism is no longer a problem in our society. However, as each of these cases indicates, rather than eradicating racism, we have driven it underground where it has continued to fester and metastasize. Only through confronting the phenomenon of stealth racism openly and directly can we hope to move forward and form a more perfect union.
Sam Blank is a senior in the College. This is the last appearance of IMPERFECT UNION.