About 4-years ago spurred on by all the social unrests in America on issues of race and identity, I wrote my first post with the above title. This will be the third essay in that series. My first post was related to the Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) and what it means to African Americans. In a way it was really a question about representation. It was based on a discussion with a lady that I shared a seat with on a flight from Seattle, WA. She inquired on what an ally to blacks was supposed to do. I used the history of the women’s movement in America to explain to her the evolution of social movements. What I told her is slowly evolving with BLM. I titled that post “The struggle for a new America” recognizing it was going to be long and difficult fight.
Remembering The Fallen Allies of The Black Lives Matter Movement
Today I honor the memories of some allies of the BLM movement. In August 2020, 36-year-old Joseph Rosenbaum and 26-year-old Anthony Huber, both white, were shot whilst protesting the shooting of Joseph Blake, a black man. The 17 year-old shooter had reportedly travelled over 30 miles across state lines to protect property from rioters. When I think of their deaths I ask myself this question, “why would one need an assault rifle to protect other peoples property?”. When did our possessions becomes more valuable than human lives? But, life is like a big elephant and sometimes we only see a small part on that elephant. My experience is very different from the shooter’s and as such it will be difficult to understand all his actions.
America has its roots in black slavery. In fact, in its early days, the economy of the nation was so dependent on free labor it was difficult for anyone to get any support for the abolition of slavery. What happened, over centuries, was the creation of a culture that looks at black lives differently. Though many argue against this, in America and to some extent globally, society places a lower value on black lives. In May 2021, retired black NFL footballers demanded equal treatment by calling out the NFL on the use of a system called “race norming” to determine who got payouts on the $1 billion settlement on the brain injury claims. The controversial algorithm assumed that black players start with lower cognitive skills thus automatically reducing awards to black players.
Are Black Americans Still Worth 3/5ths of a White Man?
Earlier this year I analyzed data collected by the Washington Post on police killings in the US. My analysis of the data suggested that a black person’s life mathematically was about 59% (roughly 3/5) that of a whites. This value was lower in some states. The value drops as low as 21% in Arizona, 27% in Florida and 37% in Texas. I need to say though that this is just a mathematical calculation, from aggregate data on complex police decision making. It’s close approximation to the three-fifths compromise figure is a bit concerning. Our founding fathers used that figure for the determination of taxes and congressional seats. After many centuries, it appears a black person’s life is still three fifths that of a white man.
Numbers alone do not tell the whole story on progress in US race relations. If we use only numbers one could lose hope and say no progress has been made. Not all the factors involved in this type of change can be quantified. So as we all look at race and social change in America today let us not lose heart. We have come a long way. Last week’s judgement on the killing of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber in Kenosha, WI may look like a bad blow for many. What that judgement tells us is that we need more solidarity among all peoples. The two young men were killed protesting in solidarity for blacks in America. Many preceded them, including 32-year-old Heather Heyer, in August of 2017, killed by another crazed white man who did not understand her solidarity with a black cause.
What is Driving The Change In Racial Discrimination in America Today
These young people have come to understand that there was no value in treating people differently because they look different. It appears that the social conditioning around race in America is slowly unravelling. This began when some white Americans started listening to what black Americans have been saying for centuries. In the past the blacks who complained lost their lives as did some of the whites who supported them. This is still happening today but to a lesser extent. The system of punishing whites who fail to conform to racist social norms still exists. It is failing because the non-conformist continue to increase in number.
For the struggle to progress we need to speak louder, and more often, when we see discrimination and bias. The struggle for a new America will continue. To keep the prize low we need more in the struggle. The more of us fighting, the less the consequences on everyone. Unfortunately there will still be a few who will be targeted and pay the ultimate prize of freedom, death, as happened in Kenosha, WI. So today as you read this post please say a prayer for everyone who died fighting for the causes of others.
Rest in Peace, Heather Heyer, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber, your sacrifice is not forgotten.
By Dr. Leonard Sowah an internal medicine physician in Baltimore, Maryland