A Tough Week for Americans

kids hugging, american flag, national mourning, S.C. Rhyne, comforting each other

Events this week in Baton Rouge, Minnesota, and Dallas has rocked the United States and also made headlines here in Europe. In fact, my BBC News text alerts came in the early morning hours as breaking news after these incidences.

As an American living abroad, I have been asked a lot of questions surrounding our political and social issues, as Europeans can’t seem to understand why we still have this kind of violence. Is it our obsession with guns? Is it from racists like the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) etc…

This is not to say that there aren’t socioeconomic issues or problems with violence in Europe, but it is quite infrequent, even when you factor in the latest terror attacks. So while the problem of officer-involved shootings isn’t a clear cut problem, for my European counterparts– I say it is not a clear-cut solution. So here are a few of the questions that I have been asked this week, and before with the #OrlandoShooting.

The problem is guns

If America just outlaws all of its guns, the problem will go away. Realistically the United States will not repeal the second amendment (I have to phrase it this way, because not many Europeans know that owning firearms is a constitutional right as opposed to a “regular law”) as it would require 2/3 approval by Congress (both houses) or 3/4 approval from each state. I do not consider myself a gun advocate, however you define that; but we still have the problem of illegal firearms, which in some states, are easier to get than legal ones. Also, what would we do with all the current guns? When the U.K banned handguns, about .1% of the population turned in weapons, which is a much smaller percentage than America’s gun-owners.

Although enforcement of gun laws and better gun control are needed, it may help prevent some mass shootings, but not the case of officer-involved shootings. The majority of civilians killed by a police officer are White according to the Washington Post; however, a large number of them were brandishing (visibly threatening with) a weapon or had just attacked someone with a weapon. A smaller portion of the shootings are against unarmed civilians: it is this portion where Black and Latino civilians make up the pool. African Americans count for 40% killed in this pool, which is problematic when they are only 13% of the entire American population. Thus, my argument is for a change in police training and culture, some towns like Ferguson’s police force are not diverse at all, while in Baltimore where the force is mostly Black they are trained to “police” the community and not “protect” it. We have good examples where police chiefs recognized the need for reform and did so; however because our governing is not centralize as in Europe– its up for each town or state to catch on and make those changes to police training and culture (how they view the communities they work in).

Doesn’t All Lives Matter?

Of course it does!

The Black Lives Matter movement (BLM) grew as a political and social justice campaign due to officer-involved shootings of Black men who were stopped for minor (if any) infractions. Many Europeans (and Americans) have a broad understanding of the history of race relations, but not how deep or “institutionalized” it is.

Everyone knows the KKK and the kinds of people today that are a part of this White supremacist movement (usually uneducated or less educated White men from lower socioeconomic backgrounds). However, before their membership declined, pretty much any White person of standing was a part of this institution; and by standing I mean a police officer, a judge, doctor, politician, etc…Thus, for Black Americans of this time (my mother and father if they lived in the U.S– but you understand what I mean, the majority of people still alive today) the people who were part of the institutions to serve and protect us, were also a part of an institution that terrorized the Black community.

So there is a historical legacy of mistrust, tension, and the devaluing of a Black person as a human being. In short, all lives matter from every corner of the globe, but historically the deaths of Black persons have gone unnoticed or without justice. And now in 2016, very few of these unarmed deaths have seen prosecution. For the BLM movement the lack of prosecution, justice, or even attention to these cases (before cellphones or instagram) is seen as ongoing phenomena of the devalued life of a Black person (man). So as a principle, all lives are important, but the #AllLivesMatter hashtag ignores/hides the crisis of the disproportionate deaths of unarmed Black civilians.

America is so racist!

Is it more racist than the U.K or France (is the response I give)? Yes, racism is a problem, but depending who you ask you will get different answers of to what degree it is a problem. Hate groups, like the KKK, today are a small fraction of the population, maybe 10% (which translates to 30 million people). However, in recent years with right-wing populist movements across the globe, we have seen a re-awakening of divisive and racist rhetoric and the outcome of that has been the rise of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate. However, Europe does have its own ethnic/religious relations problems too. In fact, I have criticized many European countries for their lack of assimilation of immigrants, which have marginalized many European-born Muslims.

Right-wing populism is also making waves in Europe such as the UKIP party in the U.K which grabbed a large amount of seats in local councils and the European parliament in 2015 and hence led the #Brexit campaign. The Alternative for Germany party has also gained traction since 2014 and the Norwegian Progress Party is currently part of a coalition government. Also if you remember, America had the Tea Party movement. These movements advocate on an anti-immigration platform and a return to “traditional values”. Thus, hate and fringe groups may not have been our biggest problems of race relations, but the changing landscape of politics that is more demagogue than policies threatens to re-open rather than heal old wounds.

At least until I heard this from Newt Gingrich this afternoon.

So it has been a tough week for Americans, as we had to reflect and hopefully engage in a very difficult dialogue (as opposed to yelling at each other). As always, share your questions or thoughts with me @ReporterandGirl or on Facebook.

Happy (belated) Independence Day.

 

 

 

12 thoughts on “A Tough Week for Americans

  1. Well said! I appreciate those of us willing to have this conversation, because without acknowledgement there can be no progress.

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  2. Thats an interesting analysis, in particular for someone who like me knows the US only as a visitor. If one compares the attitudes towards minorities in the US and Europe one point seemed important to me: whereas the Afro-Americans in the US (or their ancestors) were “brought” to the country against their will (during slavery), the African or Asian people usually came to and settled in Europe following their own, free decision. And while the Afro-Americans assimilated in the US society over centuries (in terms of culture, language, religion etc), there is still a lot of segregation in Europe between the majority and the immigrated minorities.
    And if you take a third example (south america + carribean) to compare it with the US, one finds that very similar historical conditions can lead to completely different situation today (see for instance Cuba, where people still have very obviously different European or African/Carribean origin, but little tension between the ethnicities).
    My overall impression is that the impact of a historical unjustice can be easily overcome by the socio-economic status of the society today. If there is a lot of economic competition, than people misuse ethnic differences to humilate each other.
    In this sense, I believe Karl Marx is still very relevant.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Brokenradius,

      Thanks so much for commenting! You’re right, there is definitely a lot of differences. Even though the U.K participated in the slave trade, it was nothing compared to the States. However, at least for London, I feel that it is very integrated (housing). I have never seen a billboard in the U.S advertising for new apartments that would show a Black man and White woman side-by-side, like I have seen here. Not to mention, I have seen all kinds of ethnic groups (white, black, asian, other europeans) in my new modern complex. So I actually felt that London was more integrated than NYC. Now you’re right about assimilation, the U.S does a good job at getting immigrants to largely adopt our language, values, and traditions. Heck, we do a good job at getting people in other countries to adopt them; but housing segregation is still very real and common– White and Blacks (largely) do not live together. I can get on a train in NYC and tell you at what stop all the White people will get off. Now Latin America is interesting, because its so “diverse”, however, there is still colorism and some racism. A good example is Brazil, where Afro-Brazilians disproportionately live in abject poverty. In other places like the Dominican Republic, they revoked citizenship of thousands of people that came from Haiti (a Black country) as far back as 1929; and there is a lot of colorism– where the lighter you are, and straighter your hair, the better prospects you have in life–in the Latin and Caribbean Americas. I have seen this argument that racism and colorism is definitely an effective tool used by the elites to maintain the status quo.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think all “isms” are used by the elite–the basic system of Patriarchy which is the wealthy, straight, White male–to maintain the status quo and that group’s hold on all Institutionalized power.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Dear RatG,
        In fact., all my experience regarding social relationships between people of different skin colours comes from my work at the University, where I have to some course or projects with participants from European, but also from Asian and African countries. Without claiming any statistical significance, my experience over several years is this: Students from African countries (like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenia, Mocambique) are very very committed, very ambitioned (in a good sense), very logical thinkers and reliable researchers. I always expect them doing a great career, but they seem to have much less financial support as compared to Indians/Chinese/Vietnamese/Iranians etc, who either get generous grants from their home countries or support from their wealthy families. The Africans always have to earn money themself, by doing odd jobs in the evening etc. And I guess that after a few years, they are so exhausted from the double load (studying plus earning their living coasts) that their scientific career loses pace. It is a shame, I have to say, in particular since a country like Nigeria is in fact very rich, and could easily afford to financially support their students (like poorer countries such as Thailand or Pakistan are doing it).
        And the second characteristic I see (which makes African students very symphatic for me, but maybe it is a disadvantage for their career) is their absence of extensive self-promotion. They are hard and very good working, but they dont talk a lot about their talent, like for instance Indians and Arabs always do (be it substantiated or not). Therefore I am inclined to follow the prediction of many think-tanks that Africa (or say the African people) are a sleeping giant. There is huge human capital, and to turn it into economic, social and cultural progress, it “just” needs the right political reforms.
        But if the social, economic and political conditions promote struggle of one against the other, than every personal aspect that could serve to arbitrarily segregate people will be used (or misused). And skin colour is just the easiest, easier than the shape of the head as Bertold Brecht suggested in his play “Round Heads and Pointed Heads”
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Round_Heads_and_Pointed_Heads

        best wishes, Michael

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Hi BrokenRadius, thank you for sharing your experiences. I do wonder though- that in this world that uses competition, and rewards the one that brags the most, instead of seeking for real talent and intelligence, why do people have to change (to become big talkers or selfpromoters) and not the system change? Also in politics, they say that some of those countries you mentioned, are failing at democracy but not democracy failing them. Isn’t that what this is all about? Changing the system, so its fair for everyone and not just a few?

        Liked by 1 person

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