In the wake of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial and verdict, it’s abundantly clear that many people have chosen a side in this country. Justice prevailed or it didn’t, and those opinions are based upon whether or not racism played a role in the verdict. Even if Martin and Zimmerman had never met that fateful and fatal night on Feb. 26, 2012, there could be no doubt that racism is still alive and well in this country. But what keeps it alive — people filling the stereotype or people creating the stereotype to be filled?
In a perfect world, all human beings would be neutral — no one could or would be classified by race, gender, sexuality, education, status, religion, etc., at least based on appearances alone. People would be drawn, one to another, naturally by common activities, certain preferences, etc. But what kind of beings would we be if we didn’t have all these things that bring us together and separate us at the same time? Would humankind be better off? Maybe so. Maybe not. The situation at hand, at least for the time being, isn’t going to change, so what can be done?
One possible solution is placing education as the No. 1 priority in this country. While there are those who still decry teachers and public education as leeches on taxpayers, imagining a country with no educational system for all is a scarier prospect than what we already have. But providing a basic, yet enriching education for everyone and ensuring that no child, or even young adult, falls through the cracks is the first step to blurring the lines that have created division among us. In understanding where we come from, finding common ground on subjects that affect us all, respecting one another as a species struggling for understanding and peaceful living, education is the key to clarity about ourselves and how we are all connected.
As Utopian as this all may sound, it’s not unrealistic. The daunting situation at hand, though, remains: minorities, especially black people, remain disenfranchised compared to white people.
According to a 2011 American Civil Liberties Union study, the prison inmate population has exploded 700 percent from 1970 to 2005. And while one in every 106 white men is incarcerated, one in every 36 Hispanic men is incarcerated by comparison and, worse, one in every 15 African American men. Further, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one of every three black men can expect to go to jail in his lifetime. And blacks and Hispanics are three times more likely to be searched during traffic stops than white motorists, based on a report by the Department of Justice. Unfortunately, this list of apparent racial profiling and discriminatory practices goes on and on.
So back to the original question: Have whites played a fundamental role in creating stereotypes that have placed minorities in a disadvantaged state in the first place or have they chosen to selectively look for only those characteristics? It’s a tough call, or perhaps not, depending on who you ask; but surely, as evolved creatures, we can find a way to break and dispense with stereotypes altogether, because what we have right now isn’t working. It’s inhumane. It’s despicable. If education isn’t the answer, then what?