On Jan. 1, 1863, during the American Civil War, President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation that declared, “All persons held as slaves within the rebellious states henceforth shall be free.” While this caused a shift in the crusade against slavery, blacks were not considered citizens. They had no legal rights.
Sunday, March 7, 1965 marks the event known as Bloody Sunday. Six hundred nonviolent civil-rights protesters assembled in Selma, Alabama, en route to Montgomery, Alabama, marching for the voting rights of African-Americans. Just short of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Alabama state troopers and local police blocked their path and ordered them to turn around. When the protesters refused, officers shot tear gas into the crowd and beat the protesters.
On March 17, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson addressed a joint session in Congress calling for federal voting rights legislation for African-Americans. President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law August 6, 1965. The goal of the Act was to overcome state and local barriers that prevented African-Americans from voting. Today, many are still facing the same issue. Many states continue to bar minorities from exercising their constitutional right.
On the evening of June 17, 2015, 21-year-old Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people during prayer service at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in South Carolina. Roof, wanting to ignite a race war, was reportedly seeking retribution for the perceived wrongs he believed that African-Americans committed against white people. A few days later, photos of him along with the Confederate flag surfaced on a white supremacist website. Since the American Civil War, the Confederate flag has been viewed by many as one of the longest standing symbols of hatred and exclusion of African-Americans in the South.
America has been a systematically biased country. This bias is deeply rooted in the structural mainframe. Often times, this bias morphs itself into racism and social injustice. The above events have caused great suffering, destruction, distress and the loss of human life. Sadly, such events have always occurred to influence change within our society. Personally, this speaks to the moral failure of the nation toward its citizens and the social injustice toward a particular race.
While America is a democratic country and holds itself as a model of liberty and justice for all, it is clear that such liberty and justice is not guaranteed to all its citizens. Systematic bias is part of our educational system, banking policies, hiring practices, social behaviors and criminal justice system. These structures are the cause of great suffering, but can’t be rebuilt until every citizen sees the bias that is embedded in them.
As humans, it is our nature to believe that change can only occur in the midst of oppression, injustice, disparity and tragedy. However, tragic events like Bloody Sunday and the racial motivated shootings of Dylann Roof will continue to happen because of our failure to change our bias systems. The nation needs to understand that change can only occur and be effective if citizens are dedicated to the principle of justice and have an unwavering respect for the truth.
America, nothing will change if we continue turning a blind eye and deaf ears to a system that perpetuates inequality.
Submitted by Wiha Powell