Too many issues still linger…
I am extremely happy that Black History Month is over, for the simple reason that there is no equivalent Jewish, Chinese, or white history month.
Black History Month is mostly a time for the majority society to pander to us and appear interested in our well-being until next year. Because at the end of the day our situation is not very different from what it was 100 years ago; we are still at the bottom of the social ladder vis-à-vis social status (just ahead of aboriginal people), there is a problem with accessibility to certain jobs in spite of our education, there is racial profiling by police in public and private spaces, and racism is still alive and well. In anthropological terms, 150 years since the end of slavery is like yesterday.
According to Michelle Alexander in her 2012 book, The New Jim Crow, there are currently more Black men under correctional control (prison, parole, and probation) than there were enslaved in 1850; 1.68m.versus 872,924. Acclaimed singer/songwriter John Legend recently reminded us of that situation at the recent Oscars.
It was not long ago that a Montreal study determined that a white man with a high school education has a better chance of finding a job as opposed to a Black man with a university degree.
For sure, some of us have attained a certain degree (illusion) of status in that we now live in suburbs. We have a decent or half-decent job and we have access to credit to purchase nice homes and cars. And you could easily tell the ones who feel elevated; they do not even look in your direction when you come into contact with them on the streets. On the other hand, we also have sufficient stories to illustrate that whether you are some highly paid ball player or executive all of that does not matter when we come into contact with the police. The only thing that they see is that you are black.
Whenever I have been stopped by the police in Montreal my first instinct is to keep my hands on the steering wheel where they can be easily seen by the officer and then hand over whatever documentation they might ask for. Call me stupid or subservient if you wish.
For me, I do not think that it is the right time to have a debate about rights with a man with a gun at his side and whatever is going on inside his head, because I could very well end up ‘dead’ and the officer would never see the inside of a jail cell. (In Montreal we have had approximately 11 Black men killed by police and not one of them is doing time).
A good friend of mine in New York often counsels his Black sons that the policeman stopping you is not the judge, jury and executioner. Consequently, he suggests that they comply with the policeman’s instructions and if there is a problem they could take their chances later and get a lawyer to debate the issue in front of a judge.
Even in the case of U.S. President Barack Obama the racism is evident. His birthplace has been questioned, along with accusations that he is both a Muslim and a communist. The truth is that America is yet to get accustomed to the fact that there is a Black man in the White House when only a few years ago he would have been working in the fields or taking out Massa’s bedpan.
We might have come a long way but we still have a long way to go.