After months of deliberation, the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, decided last night to not indict officer Darren Wilson, who fatally shot Michael Brown on Aug. 9. Despite continually increasing media coverage leading up to the decision, conversation on the underlying racial issues that initially sparked the demonstrations in Ferguson seems strangely absent. Rather than explicitly discussing the widespread racial oppression causing tension between police and minorities throughout America, reports largely skirt substantial discourse on the country’s glaring racial inequality.
While the response in Ferguson following Brown’s shooting reflects decades of citywide racial tension, Gallup polls about the events in Ferguson depict a striking racial divide in the perception of inequality throughout America.
According to an August survey, 80 percent of African Americans believed the shooting and resulting protests raise important discussions about race, while only 37 percent of white people interviewed shared this stance. The statistics are not much better concerning the grand jury decision. Hours before the announcement of the verdict, a CNN/ORC poll reported 54 percent of nonwhites said Wilson should be charged with murder. Only 23 percent of white people agreed.
Unsurprisingly, these numbers serve as an indicator of the extent of inequality in a country that still defends white privilege through constructed barriers and racist practices that society largely neglects. Despite the landmark 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, black and Latino students disproportionately attend schools that offer fewer courses and services than those of their white counterparts. According to government data, the wealth gap, which depends on race, is now wider than that present in South Africa during apartheid. Statistics showing the effects of racial inequality are comprehensive — disproportionate arrest rates, average income, disparity in home ownership and the likelihood of getting pulled over at traffic stops.
For too many white people, racism no longer exists in America. Without the systemic oppression of Jim Crow laws and slavery, these people consider racism something entirely in the past — an ugly concept successfully eradicated from our society. In arguments denying inequality, misinformed Americans flip the causality presented by statistics. They do not view poor educational resources, judicial practices and, in the case of Ferguson, corrupt law enforcement as factors that create impediments for minorities attempting to obtain the same opportunities as white people. Instead, they claim the present numbers indicate an inherent laziness or inferiority of black people.
Sadly, the current response by the media and society fails to impress upon the public the depth of the race problems in America and the necessity of addressing them. When situations like the one in Ferguson arise, they demand a genuine reconsideration of the societal practices that perpetuate demonization of minorities, not a condemnation of those striving for a voice.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Nov. 25 print edition. Email Dan Moritz-Rabson at [email protected]