Michael Childers

America is often referred to as the “Great Melting Pot,” but despite being the most ethnically diverse country in the world, it is a country that has struggled with race relations dating all the way back to 1776.

While equality in the standard of living has improved among all races within our country, there is still a large disparity between representation among different ethnic groups, and this lack of representation has caused many minority groups to feel like second class citizens. This is very broad issue, so for the sake of being concise, we will only be discussing the reality of black American citizens and their experiences here in the United States.

Thoughts on how to handle societal inequalities has been at the forefront of discussion for over half a century, and we have yet to find a clear solution for the issues many still face today. Discussion of race relations is a very sensitive topic for many Americans— especially those directly affected by the imbalances within our society, but it is one that we need to address if we hope to bring everyone together and progress to a more unified and equal society.

So that begs the question: what are the inequalities that black Americans face today, and how we can help combat them so that we can create an environment of equality and inclusion in a country that many believe favors predominately white American citizens?

I think a good place to start is by addressing the disproportionate incarceration rate among black citizens when compared to their white counterparts. Statistics show that black Americans currently make up 13.4% of the U.S. population, but despite making up such a small percentage of populace, black Americans make up 37.8% of the inmate population. The Federal Bureau of Investigation report for 2017 shows that out of 382,181 violent offenses, 176,967 of those were comprised of white Americans, while 168,038 of those offenses were comprised of black Americans.

Taking a first glance at the numbers, you might think there isn’t a big disparity between the two groups, but when you consider these numbers as a percent of the entire population, the disproportionate incarceration rates become very apparent. As percentages, this means that out of the entire population of black Americans, .004% of them were incarcerated for violent crimes, while only .0007% of all white Americans were incarcerated that same year for similar offenses. These data combined with the media frenzies which capitalize on these disparities cause many black citizens to walk around feeling like they will be automatically looked at as suspects rather than average, every day citizens.

This sort of reality was highlighted last year during an incident where two black men waiting at a Starbucks for a business meeting were arrested for “loitering.” While the Starbucks employees suggested that they merely enforcing their no-loitering policy, there are many who condemned this as a blatant act of racism and have gone as far as to suggest that this incident wouldn’t have happened if the customers were white. Starbucks has taken steps to correct the situation since the start of the incident, but this incident is not an isolated issue, and it is something that will take a lot more effort if we wish to put an end to this trend.

One method that could benefit minority communities, especially those of African descent, is to push towards electing officials from within those communities to help address the issues they face. Having people involved who know first-hand what issues plague their communities will allow for greater progress and understanding between the communities and their elected officials.

For example, instead of allowing police officials from other areas to patrol communities that they know little about, we should have authorities who come from similar backgrounds to police the neighborhoods. Employing officers with higher background knowledge on their respective communities will allow for a whole host of benefits that will offset many of the injustices these communities face. Having such a system in place would allow for a greater rate of de-escalation of otherwise extreme situations and decrease the number of misunderstandings between law enforcement and fellow citizens. Employing officials from within the communities will also allow for a greater sense of trust between the citizens and police officials which is a much-needed change in pace for many Americans.

Another initiative that could potentially help lower the incarceration rate and help the overall welfare of impoverished communities across the country would be greater funding and restructuring of the education systems within these impoverished communities. The more financed our schools are, the better the education will be. The more educated our citizens are, the higher our standard of living will be.

A big proponent in why violent crimes are so high, especially among impoverished communities, is the lack of financial opportunities within these communities which has caused many young Americans to get involved with “gang culture” to achieve their goals. This is especially true when you look at violent crime rates among impoverished black communities.

For the greater part of our countries’ history, black citizens were not awarded equal financial opportunities which would allow them to get ahead and create a decent standard of living for their lives. Historically speaking, this lack of opportunity was mostly due to discrimination and cultural inequalities presented to black Americans within our society over the years. As a result, many young black men and women resorted to other means to achieve the same ends. Historically we have failed our black brothers and sisters as a society, and we should work tirelessly to correct these wrongs and show that no American is a second-class citizen.

It is time to put an end to these great disparities. As a country, we should push for programs that provide this generation with tools and resources that will help them shake off the burdens of the last two centuries and give our fellow brothers and sisters a hope for the future that many black Americans have not yet had the chance to experience.

Racism may always be present in some form within society, but there are things we can do to combat these grievous inequalities that our fellow Americans face. If we push for a more educated and empowered America, it is my belief that we will one day have the chance to say we live in a fair and just society.

Michael Childers is a sophomore, studying Marketing and Business Administration. He can be reached at mchilde6@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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