Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Racial Discord in American Society

By Saeed Qureshi

The altercation between the black Harvard scholar Henry Gates and Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley brings into sharp focus the simmering racial disharmony in the American society. The issue became so much vexatious that the president of the United States had to acknowledge the flawed calibration of his words “acted stupidly” nonchalantly uttered to portray the handcuffing of Gates by a white police sergeant. In the heat of the issue being blown out of proportions by his antagonists, the president found himself in a tightened situation to debunk his earlier remarks. That was tantamount to a tacit apology.

The president himself a bi-racial offspring, came under a burgeoning burden to speedily stem the surging crescendo of racial profiling charge against him. The Cambridge police joined hands with Sergeant Crowley in chiding the president for whipping up a racial comment, which they blamed was ostensibly in favor of the black community and against the white race.

The Caucasian sergeant was appeased by the presidential explanation but subjected it to the condition of having beer with the president. Such a beer session was held and visibly the two contenders seemed to be pacified. The message was loud and clear that a white offended sergeant could be pacified by no less a person than the black president of the United States. Later, a trio of Massachusetts police unions lauded the president’s “willingness to reconsider his remarks about the Cambridge Police Department.” On this occasion, the president looked overly somber and sad. But indeed with his hasty retreat and recalibration of his previous statement, he successfully managed to contain a crisis pregnant with serious consequences.

Notwithstanding the moot point as to who was right and who was wrong, the fact that stares right in the face is that the racial tension was lying at the bottom of this ocean of societal tranquility called the United States of America. The racism invariably creeps in between the American ethnic groups in their dealings with each other. The ethnic and racial aversion has remained a constant denominator between various communities since the colonial era.

It is still present on moderate levels between the majority and minority races on one hand and between the minority factions on the other. The animus between the ethnic communities towards each other flares up in gang wars on the streets of America. It usually occurs between the white and black communities, between Latinos and Blacks and between the Viet-namese immigrants and others. The drugs, manpower trafficking, prostitution and racial discriminations are some of the major causes for such wars.

The American society can be broadly, divided into five categories. These are the Caucasian or the white settlers, the black community brought as salves in America during the colonial periods, the Mexicans usually known as Hispanics or Latinos, the native Indians and finally the rest of immigrant races put together.. All the three major races viz. black, white and Hispanic have their street gangs. By 1999, Hispanics accounted for 47% of all the gang members, Blacks 34%, Whites 13%, and Asians (mostly Viet-Namese) 7%. The Black community that was brought to USA as slaves centuries ago is nomenclatured as African Americans.

The racial profiling is a serious offense according to the constitution of the United States of America, yet human nature cannot be completely curbed by laws. While race prejudices do exist at social levels, the American constitution treats them all as equals. The racial slurs or slanders can be challenged in the courts. But such cases are seldom subjected to litigation and are mostly settled out of courts.

Customarily in the high profile jobs such as judges, the police officers, the executives of the big companies, the senior positions in the educational institutions and elsewhere, the ratio of the white community is higher. It could be due to their being a majority race. In political sphere although whites are predominant, yet by the very nature of party politics, the members of other races are also elected for various offices within the party or in the government.

The African-American community and Mexican population, each is in the vicinity of 14-16 % of the entire population of 300 million. The non Hispanic whites or Caucasians are about 66 per cent and the Afro/Asian Americans are around 5 per cent. The Hispanic immigrants and the Asian communities are relatively docile and keep low profiles. The African Americans tend to be distinctly aggressive and assertive, understandably as a reaction to their historic enslavement, discrimination and segregation in the past

The life pattern of all these major races, although is colored by the American culture, yet in varying degrees they still endeavor to look distinct. Of course the color of their skin visibly makes them different. But also by way of their talk, living in their homes, their prayers, rituals, food habits, the costumes they wear, the slangs they use in their speech and by a variety of other social behaviors, they appear to be different.

The strong semblance of cohesion that we witness in America is due to a constitutional and social sense of equality that everyone enjoys. At least there is a self satisfying hope that the system is anchored in strict accountability. The inhabitants have access to the legal recourse and a variety of other remedies, available to protect the citizens against injustice, crimes, denial or abuse of their fundamental rights. The access to social benefits and justice does not discriminate between the citizens on any count. The common jobs are open to all irrespective of their color, religion or gender. Whosoever qualifies on the basis of a check list and needed skills would get the job. The jobs are offered even on internet without going into the race, complexion or color of the applicant.

Yet the racial schism remains hidden which once given an outlet, such as the one created by the encounter between the black professor Gates and white sergeant Crowley, makes headlines. The sentiments ignite and mutual bickering and squabbles through speech and in the press start appearing. It is basically between the white and black communities that the racism has always remained an issue. The other ethnic communities seldom air their dissention or voice against the discrimination, disrespect or intemperance experienced by them.

Barring the black community, the other immigrants were subsequently assimilated into the American society by naturalization or through other means. However, the African Americans were with the white communities from the early civil war periods and the formative days of the federation. So they can claim to be as founding generations as the white settlers were. They have a stronger claim to have pioneering role in making America as compared to the other citizens who came to America as immigrants in the later times. But the color has always been a dominant and dormant factor for divisions between the white and the black races. And the other cause for a slumbering aversion towards each other is the slave and master relationship that lurks in the minds of the black races.

The immigrants of all shades and ethnic backgrounds have been, singularly undergoing agonizing tribulations after the 9/11 catastrophe. Correspondingly, with the steep fall in the in-flow of foreigners ranging from investors to the odd workers, students and visitors, the U.S. economy is also suffering setbacks no matter how marginal these might be. The inflow of the legal immigrants too has considerably declined due to enhanced procedural bottlenecks such as the background verifications that take years. The American citizens find themselves under an invisible and incessant surveillance umbrella that makes most of the aliens insecure and paranoid. It would be a miracle if someone labeled as a terror suspect gets a free and speedy clearance chit from the American courts. Such are the aberrations of a nation that remains under the perpetual trauma and specter of 9/11 terrorism blitzkrieg.

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