My grandmother was born April 20, 1924 into a segregated United States and lived the first 40 years of her life under the same unfair treatment. That is, until intelligent, angry and hurting African-Americans gathered to change their country.
The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that took place 50 years ago today is undoubtedly one of the most important moments in African-American history and began political reform that led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But the work is nowhere near complete.
As a young African-American male in the United States today, I cannot claim I have faced close to the racism and prejudice my parents and grandparents felt for most of their lives. But just because we have a black president and so-called equality doesn’t mean the behavior has ceased.
Racial profiling runs rampant across America, not just in the stereotyped Southern quarter of the United States. Life as a 21-year-old black man means wondering about your self-worth in today’s supposed “post-racial society.”
It means wondering about what I bring to the table in a society in which I’m usually measured by how well I can dribble a ball or how well I can rhyme to a computer-generated beat.
And if I can do neither of those things, I’m less accepted by both my black counterparts and “whitewashed,” according to both the stereotypes and many of my white friends.
Being African-American in today’s America means acquaintances of mine wondering “why it’s not OK for me to say n----r but it is for you,” as if slavery or the civil rights movement never happened.
It means second-guessing the “to protect and serve” motto on the side of police cars after hearing my brother was stopped by officers in his own neighborhood and questioned as to why he was there.
Meanwhile, a security guard follows a few paces behind me in most department stores and shopping centers in my hometown of Los Angeles. And if I look to the left, the suburban white mother walking past the shoe department avoids eye contact and clutches her purse tighter.
We’ve all had the same voting rights and the same equal opportunity for jobs for decades, at least in theory, so long as we are American citizens, but sadly we are still not equal. There has been progress, but so much more is needed before the work that was started more than 50 years ago is completed.
The last five years have taught me a very powerful and important lesson. To most, including the justice system, the life of a black man is not worth as much as that of someone of another race. Trayvon Martin, armed with only a bag of candy and a can of tea, is murdered, and yet he is drug tested and his killer is not.
More than a year later, Martin’s killer is free. But professional athlete Plaxico Burress served almost two years in a New York prison for accidentally shooting himself in the leg.
According to a recent study by the U.S. Census Bureau, African-Americans have made gains in education and graduation rates, home ownership and are a larger percentage of the population. At the same time, 43.5 percent of the total prison population in America is black and blacks have a six times higher conviction rate than our white counterparts.
Martin Luther King had a dream for total equality for all races, and despite progress, it is we who must be dreaming if we believe we have achieved his goal.