Diane Mufson: America’s racial prejudice is alive and well in 2019

January 18, 2019

There are some communities in our country where people of all races, religions, gender, etc. are treated equally and with respect by almost all those with whom they come in contact. Some people insist that this is true throughout our nation. It is obviously not so.

Whether we white folks want to admit it or not, black folks don’t get a fair shake in many places and situations. One recent egregious wrong, recently highlighted in the Miami Herald, involved the police chief of the small, mostly white community of Biscayne Park, located adjacent to Miami, Florida.

It seems that the ex-police chief, Raimondo Atesiano, 53, now on his way to a three-year prison sentence, perceived that his community desperately wanted a wonderful safe reputation, which would reflect well on his work. So, back in 2013-14, when he was in charge, he strived for a 100 percent burglary clearance record.

Thus, the ex-police chief of Biscayne Park, population 3,000, directed his officers to clear many crimes by charging African American people with them whether they committed them or not. For example, although evidence was lacking, a 16-year-old black suspect was arrested for four unsolved break-ins and a 31-year-old black male was charged with five unsolved vehicle burglaries at five different locations. Officers were told, “If they have burglaries that are not solved yet, if you see anybody black walking through our streets and they have somewhat of a record, arrest them so we can pin them for all the burglaries.”

The arresting officers’ defense attorney pointed out that some of those charged during this time period were not absolutely upstanding citizens or “saints.” Obviously, we cannot and should not excuse anti-social actions of people of any race or background, but sainthood is limited. Every ethnic and racial group has good and bad actors; all deserve equal and appropriate treatment.

Back in 1961, John Howard Griffin, a writer, had his skin temporarily and chemically darkened to pass as black for a six-week tour through a half-dozen southern states to experience and write about what it was like being black.

The book, “Black Like Me,” familiar to people of my generation, was made into a film in 1964 and highlighted the unpleasant and prejudicial events experienced by the author. Interestingly, Mr. Griffin found that although the only thing he had changed was the color of his skin, people who previously knew him often did not recognize him or treated him differently. Being black made him realize that to others, a change of skin pigment meant a changed person.

Now that our country has elected and re-elected an African American president, one would think that we were on our way to a reasonable place in racial acceptance and tolerance for those whose backgrounds and appearances are unlike whites’. Yet, even this year, police in various communities were called because black people were doing ordinary things such as sitting in Starbucks, eating lunch on the Smith College campus and campaigning door-to-door for election in Oregon.

Many Americans were sure that the 21st century would have so much less racism and more understanding among different ethnic, racial and religious groups than existed in the mid-20th century. It was a logical thought but only a thought.

Some white groups feel they have been unjustly penalized because minorities have been given special treatment. While this may be true in specific cases, the bottom line is that much to our chagrin, as 2019 begins, American racial prejudice is alive and well.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

Update hourly