The American population gurgled over 300 million some time in October of 2006, and it never paused. A solid 67 percent of that population considers itself non-Hispanic white in racial makeup, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, meaning nearly 100 million Americans are responsible for the blacks and browns and reds and golds in our ethnic color wheel.
This is, as we say in American flag-adorned speeches and mushy patriotic reports, what makes the United States a melting pot, as it was put by an English playwright nearly a century ago. Though most sociologists have long since discarded the phrase, its meaning is strong to all proud Americans. Yet, anyone who has ever ridden a bus passed the abandoned row houses in North Philadelphia or been lost in the faceless lines of tract housing in Union, Kentucky must know the pot needs to be stirred.
There is no equality in division, only disparity takes root. So, give us answers, we clamor. Leaders and legislators, you must tell us what the solutions for our continued racial misgivings are. The answers haven’t come. How could they? We haven’t yet established what the problem is.
More than 15 percent of adult black American men have been imprisoned, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, a rate more than six times greater than it is for white men. Is that a black problem? Is it a white problem? According to U.S. Census Bureau press releases, 20 percent of Hispanic Americans live in poverty, nearly triple the number of non-Hispanic whites, how can that be?
Who could have answers or solutions for any of that? Without them, some of us run, others try to forget. We understand each other less today than we did yesterday in too many ways. We take shortcuts and our awareness of those with different hair and different clothes sway and sag with convenience. See, stereotypes are just a form of organization. Their insidiousness is merely a reality that they deal with people in the world, not papers in a filing cabinet.
We have to stop looking for answers to be dictated to us, stop evaluating a society with nearly a third of a billion different people, stop assuming everything is solved, stop complaining that everything has failed. We have to find our own individual understanding of what is just and hold on to it. We are a single nation of 300 million, all of whom want prosperity and security.
Revolution is a menacing and intimidating word. We don’t need a social movement of immediate and cooperative action. We need 300 million people to walk a little straighter, smile a little more often, and focus on their own ability to improve the world, rather than waiting for someone else to take on the responsibility.
It has taken us some 230 years to stand where we stand today. We can’t expect a change tomorrow. The alternatives are terrifyingly baleful. What has inaction done for anyone? Doing nothing is only a productive means of accomplishing nothing. Self-evaluation of our own record in race relations from below can do a lot more for this country than grandly sweeping change can from above. However, for some, there is nothing more troubling than being reminded that change must begin with us.
Text as it appeared in the March 2007 quarterly edition of The ISRT Review: Reflections on Race and Social Thought. See it here [PDF].