Through all of the recent police shootings of black bodies and the inconsequential legal battles that follow, there have erupted many protests, some turning riotous. While I don't condone violence for any reason, we have to be able to look back with some degree of context to understand why these occasions are becoming typical.
The first Africans were brought to the English colonies in Jamestown, Virginia in 1619. Our country laid legal foundations for the racialization of America starting in 1640: The Law of Hereditary Slavery that perpetuated the slave status to anyone born of a slave (an endless cycle), the prohibition of interracial marriages, the passing of the Fugitive Slave Law which enlisted black slaves to life-long service. These and many others were the groundwork that the first colonies adopted, becoming the moral foundation of our country.
1787, time had passed and we had not morally evolved. There continued to be the creation of laws that undermined the dignity and worth of POC, all while advantaging the white population. In the 3/5th compromise there was a dispute over whether POC should be counted as people or property. There were plenty who couldn't contend to the idea of slaves being counted as human, and the ones that did only had motivations that had nothing to do with the humanity of a POC, but of slave-owning states gaining more political power. In 1790 the first rules about citizenship were written and it basically extended to the "free white person" of good character.
After the Civil War the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were added to the Constitution to abolish slavery, to grant citizenship to anyone born on American soil, and grant African-Americans the right to vote. In response to these victories, (southern) white Americans decided to reclaim their dominance by the constructing of Jim Crow laws.
Our laws have been tainted since the beginning, and our justice system has been reinforcing discriminatory, unjust laws. People look at the Black Lives Matter movement and can't fathom a people who have such animosity when they haven't experienced slavery for themselves, but what's not being understood is that the framework of our country has been unbalanced with injustice. An injustice that is still reverberating through the socio-economic, political, prejudicial and emotional realms of POC.
We look at the rates of African-Americans in prison versus whites and conclude that black people are more criminal. If we look more closely, we see the major factor of discrimination (POC more likely to be stopped, searched, given tickets and arrested than whites) the fact that the bail system thrives on poverty, and the harsher sentencing of POC than whites it is naïve to think that POC are simply "more criminal."
Furthermore, we look at the fact that slavery was only abolished 153 years ago, when it was legal for 246 years and practiced for far longer. The constitutional equality has been written, but equality has clearly never been fully achieved. It takes time to undo the damage, to unravel wrong philosophies, and to provide restitution for those injured.
African-Americans and white Americans have different access to justice, different access to the "American Dream," experientially do not have the voice of those of European descent, the promises of freedom and justice have not been met, and instead of speaking up and being met with compassion, they are further stripped of power by being called "angry" or "terrorists." Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the environment that we are again, experiencing on a massive scale. He said this:
"I think American must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. But in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. And so, in a real sense our nation's summers of riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention."
We have to listen to the language of the riot closely. There are recurring issues that have been vocalized over and over again. The voices are getting louder and more angry simply because their appetite for justice is so big, yet their voices are repeatedly shut down. We are creating a hostile atmosphere when we invalidate someone's message because we refuse to (at times) listen through someone's anger. If we start immersing ourselves in the culture of the oppressed, our perspective will change, our empathy will blossom, and we will be able to help bring this world towards the overhaul of justice that is deeply needed. Let's become a country who listens, not an empire that exerts control. Let's listen to the language of the riots and see where it takes us.