A mere three miles away from our front gates, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to give a speech that would become one of the defining moments of the Civil Rights Movement.
“I have a dream…”
Isn’t that right?
But when did the dark clouds appear over that dream and turn it into the nightmare that we are living in today? Fifty-two years later and we’re still asleep on racism. The Civil Rights Movement may have ended decades ago, but why did our efforts to keep equality within our society do the same?
From within our public schools, to our prisons, to our neighborhoods, racial biases are just as prevalent at this moment as they were in the middle of the 20th century. A big difference today is that we turn a blind eye to it, taking comfort in the now-ousted ideas of the movement. We’re quick to replace everything else of that generation, so why won’t we acknowledge the need for more inclusive equality? Though I mean this in every sense of the word, this column serves to address a single facet: race.
Let’s take a look within our very own home, the District of Columbia. In 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau released results from its American Community Survey, which listed the Gini coefficients for each state. The Gini coefficient is a measure of inequality; D.C. ranked higher than all of the 50 states, far above the United States’ average as a whole.
The Urban Institute took a deeper look at this data in 2013. Its study showed that white families in D.C. earned twice as much as black and Hispanic families in 2010. Here’s the kicker, though: these white families had about six times as much wealth as the minority families. The difference, simply put, between income and wealth is a family’s ability to weather change. Wealth includes long-term assets, which often cannot be sustained by lower-income families due to the sheer necessity of having to pay bills and cover other expenses.
Recently, we have also watched stories of shootings and violence unfold across the country. The majority of us sit in the comfort of our university-owned residences, tucked away in this cozy neighborhood, and form opinions on a case-by-case basis. These individual cases are absolutely important in spurring interest and restarting a national conversation. However, if we’re going to be honest with ourselves about the state of our union, the problem lies in our ignorance of the issue at large.
This issue is also beyond political lines. Neither major party does it justice, or really much of anything at all. Their poor attempts instead embarrass their constituents and membership alike, for their claims of “championing” the subject matter are nothing but a continuation of historical subjugation. Why does it always take this much to spur us to action? Why have we not addressed these issues as they continued to occur, instead of allowing them to go unnoticed for five decades following the end of the Civil Rights Movement?
Why? Because we talk of an idealistic solution that cannot and does not exist in the reality in which we live. It would be naive for us to believe there is a catchall means of erasing the injustices that have plagued this country since its conception.
Instead, our first step must be recognition. Race relations are far more nuanced and complicated than I could ever begin to address in a single column (nor am I an expert on the history of it all). We also do not want a trite representation of what it “could be” versus what it actually is. The conversation is no longer “could, would, should” — it is now “will.”
Luckily for us, social media has helped to refuel the spark behind addressing these systemic inequalities. As an increasing number of young people, like us, take to their various platforms and continue to bring instances like Ferguson, Staten Island and Cleveland to the forefront of our minds, we begin to see a shift in the very structure of our society. What is implicit will be revealed for all to see, and change, we hope, will follow soon after.
It seems apt to end this with a call to action, by virtue of Congressman John Lewis, a leader of the Civil Rights Movement: “We will make the action of the past few months look petty. And I say to you, wake up America!”
Wake up, and use this new day to fix the problems of old.
Tithi Patel is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. Under the Veil appears every other Sunday on thehoya.com.