People are saying a lot about what happened in Baltimore on Monday. Here’s some of what people are saying.
“I hate to say this, but last night as I was writing before I went to bed, I wrote in my journal Martin Luther King is truly dead. If nothing changes, our country will suffer the same fate. Amidst the bullets, the rocks, the shattered glass, the fire, remains a glaring vacuum of leadership. As Baltimore burns, where are the voices crying out for peace, for common sense? As angry protests ferment chaos, powerful voices remain painfully silent.”
“I have hope that justice can come non-violently, but it also comes through violence. That’s the reality of America.”
“Today’s looting and acts of violence in Baltimore will not be tolerated. In response, I have put the Maryland National Guard on alert so they can be in position to deploy rapidly as needed. I strongly condemn the actions of the offenders who are engaged in direct attacks against innocent civilians, businesses and law enforcement officers. There is a significant difference between protesting and violence and those committing these acts will be prosecuted under the fullest extent of the law.”
I pulled these quotes because they match a theme that I’ve noticed in the comments made by many of my peers on Facebook. The conversation around what happened Monday is completely fixated on the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the behaviors of the protesters. Responses range from anger to bafflement to disappointment to defense of those protesters who committed acts of violence. Some people feel compelled to point out that the majority of the protesters were peaceful, that they were caring and gracious, and that they were on the side of the riot-geared police.
Why are we not talking about race? Why are we not talking about the systemic discrimination that keeps black citizens from the equal opportunities for prosperity and happiness that they deserve?
There seems to be this pervasive idea that because 50 years have passed since the Civil Rights Movement, things must have progressively gotten better and better.
“Racial prejudice has increased slightly since 2008 whether those feelings were measured using questions that explicitly asked respondents about racist attitudes, or through an experimental test that measured implicit views toward race without asking questions about that topic directly.
In all, 51% of Americans now express explicit anti-black attitudes, compared with 48% in a similar 2008 survey. When measured by an implicit racial attitudes test, the number of Americans with anti-black sentiments jumped to 56%, up from 49% during the last presidential election. In both tests, the share of Americans expressing pro-black attitudes fell.”
Life for blacks in America got better after the 1960s. But ‘better’ isn’t ‘equal’ or even ‘good.’ So what’s going on? How do we fix it?
What’s going on seems to be a complete breakdown of conversation around the topic.
“Whites think they are a better judge of racism than blacks, particularly since blacks tend to imagine racism when it is not there.
The truth is blacks imagine little. Discrimination in hiring, housing and education has been well documented. The government should take forceful action to end it as it goes against the American value of equal opportunity for all regardless of race.
Yet almost no white person talks like that. Instead they use the frames to avoid saying anything like that. At best they will admit to discrimination but then discount its effects. Or they will say they believe in equality of opportunity but then find reasons to oppose any policy with the teeth to achieve it.”
This new, insidious racism makes me furious. As a multiracial child in the late 70s / early 80s, I knew racism was very clear and easy to identify. Now, we apparently acknowledge racism as a problem that is tragic but not bad enough to warrant fixing. As a country we have built up a perception around race that is impervious to all assaults of fact.
“Median income among black Americans is roughly half that of white Americans. But a narrow majority of whites believe blacks earn as much money as whites, and just 37% believe that there’s a disparity between the two groups. Likewise, while 56% of blacks believe black Americans face significant discrimination, only 16% of whites agree,” he writes.
“Many whites — including many millennials — believe discrimination against whites is more prevalent than discrimination against blacks.”
But as Nicholas Kristof recently pointed out in The New York Times, the U.S. has a greater wealth gap between whites and blacks than South Africa had during apartheid.
We don’t have the language to talk out systemic discrimination. Inherent racial bias keeps us from seeing the truth. So we talk about the merits and demerits of violent protest. It’s the only common ground we have left to discuss.
I realized that I wanted to do something to help. For the past day and a half, I’ve been trying to think of a way to artistically present this new, post-millennial form of racism. So that maybe everybody can get a better handle on what’s going on. Charts and graphs and statistics and studies are clearly not swaying opinions.
So I decided that I am going to make a video game. Specifically, a piece of interactive fiction. The protagonist will be a black male, and you will get to experience his story by choosing his actions. The outcome of your choices will be calculated based on the data gathered in all these studies. You will have a black man’s odds of getting into college. Of being stopped by the police. Of getting hired for a job. What decisions will you make for this character, when you climb into his skin?
This blog is going to be a record of my progress. I expect that this is going to take a while and require a large amount of research and interviews to get done. I want to be transparent about the process, and document the resources I will use.
I am excited, and terrified, and determined. I don’t know if this will make a huge difference. Or any difference. But I need to try.