Following the acquittal of George Zimmerman on murder and manslaughter charges for killing Trayvon Martin, some commentators have said that the time is ripe for a conversation on race which the nation has been avoiding.
No, it is not time for a conversation on race. Rather, it is a time for negotiations. There cannot be any meaningful conversation among unequals in power. And inequality is at the heart of our race problem, a state of affairs that is rooted in our nation’s slave-owning past that has shaped all institutions of power and all that emanates therefrom. That is the fundamental issue which must be addressed and it cannot be achieved in what will inevitably be a lopsided dialogue.
What the Trayvon Martin injustice has done is catapult to the forefront of our consciousness the perpetuation of racism and the tragedy that it has created. While it is a good time to look at race again, it must not be to ponder on why racism exists. We must negotiate, rather, a reshaping of the institutions that buttress bigotry.
Let us start with getting rid of the “stand your ground” laws that have put a bull’s-eye on the backs of young black men. Then, let us tackle the reasons why we nurture a criminal justice system that many agree is designed to control Africans in America no differently than Jim Crow laws did after the abolition of slavery. We must negotiate an end to a social order that keeps blacks bottled up in “neighborhoods” and an end to the economic mechanisms and the socialization process that maintain that social order.
Next, let us acknowledge, and act on that acknowledgement, that the past has created current conditions that require us to negotiate solutions to start righting the historic wrongs done to our people, such as preventing us from accumulating collateral to enable us to move up economically and from holding jobs with living wages.
And, yes, we have something to bring to the negotiating table. We can bring our own rich history as a people who have survived some of the worst forms of human oppression and infuse into the Grand American Experiment a level of harmony that has proved so elusive.