‘We can’t breathe’: Racism won’t go away until the system that allows oppression does

‘We can’t breathe’: Racism won’t go away until the system that allows oppression does

Editor’s note: This story was part of a group of 2020 stories that shared the 2021 Student Keystone Media Award for DIVERSITY. Reporters:

The editorial staff at The Loquitur stands with black students, faculty, staff and alumni of Cabrini University and condemns the racist murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and countless other unknown black Americans. We are shocked, horrified, angered and saddened at the racial injustice and brutality experienced by black Americans at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve. 

As the voice of the student-run newspaper we pledge to objectively report facts. We stand firmly against racism and are committed to social justice. We call upon our readers to check their biases and to educate themselves and to do better.

History of racism and oppression in the United States

Father and son protest together as they stand in the street with a sign that reads “Black Lives Matter.” The protest took place in King of Prussia. Photo by Chardanay White.

Racism has plagued our land since Africans were first kidnapped from their homes, sold to the highest bidders and brought to America in 1619. Ever since the slave trade began, African Americans have been marginalized.

Slaves were forced to change their names, traditions, religions and customs. They were counted by law as three-fifths of a person and endured whipping, lynching, rape and separation from their families for 246 years.  After the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  This freed all slaves and was followed by the ratification of the 13th amendment, which made involuntary servitude unconstitutional.

However, the positive changes of Reconstruction were undermined by Jim Crow laws and practices that imposed racial segregation were enforced and barred black people from the majority of their civil liberties. Black Americans were counted as “separate but equal.” In order to vote, poll taxes and literacy tests were required. Schools, professional sports, neighborhoods, restaurants and hotels were all segregated. Black Americans received dirty water fountains, underfunded schools and sport leagues and old and beaten down hotels and neighborhoods. “Separate but equal” quickly became understood as a lesser interpretation of black Americans’ right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed during the Civil Rights Movement, and that legislation banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. However, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were both assassinated and the movement was ultimately suppressed.

Three decades later, President Bill Clinton passed the three-strikes law, which increased prison sentences for felons who previously committed two other crimes labeled felonies. Although the bill was intended to protect communities and stop violence, many victimless drug charges were called felonies. This interpretation of the law landed many young black men in prison with disproportionate sentences for drug use. Therefore, the incarceration rate among black people skyrocketed and punished those arrested for non-violent crimes.  

In the land of the free, captivity is more present than anywhere else in the world. Since 1619, America has provided white people with life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for over 400 years. Black people have spent over 400 years on this land serving the dreams and aspirations of white people. They have been portrayed as no better than incompetent workers, uneducated criminals and innately inferior to those of a different skin.

 

Statistics and systematic oppression 

Racism has been an ongoing issue in the United State and it is one that presents itself every day in several different forms from subtle acts of microaggressions to the extremes of slanders to murder. Racism impacts every aspect of black Americans’ socio-economic status and has a negative ripple effect of repetitive injustices and the cycle just continually repeats over and over again.

People kneel in the streets, holding signs to protest against racism and police brutality. The protest took place in King of Prussia. Photo by Chardanay White.

According to the NAACP, the number of people incarcerated from 1980-2015 increased from 500,000 to 2.2 million. Black Americans are now counted as criminals kept in captivity for their non-violent actions. Black Americans are incarcerated at five times the rate of white people, and if black Americans and Hispanics were arrested at the same rate of white people, the prison population in America would decrease by 40 percent.

According to Statista, in 2017 through 2020 alone, over 755 black Americans were killed by police with 223 deaths in 2017, 209 deaths in 2018, 235 deaths in 2019 and 88 deaths as of June 4, 2020.

Sadly, the number of deadly police shootings against black Americans in the United States have risen as they make up 30 deaths for every million people according to Statista.

According to MappingPoliceViolence there were only 27 days in 2019 where police didn’t kill someone. 

 

Call to action

Cabrini University continues to uphold the Education of the Heart mission statement. As a Catholic and values-based university, Cabrini implements its mission statement to welcome “learners of all faiths, cultures, and backgrounds and prepares them to become engaged citizens of the world.” Similar to the readings found in the Bible, God created the world and all mankind equally without labels or names. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Cabrini University also demonstrates a “commitment to social justice” as also stated in the mission statement. Students are seen taking a stance in their own ways to allow their voices to be heard. Some donate, some peacefully protest, some share their experiences on social media.  However one wishes to choose to take a stand, the students of Cabrini University proudly show their “leadership and a commitment to social justice.”

Minister shelters a woman from pouring rain at a protest in Phoenixville; quilt reads “Diversity in Action.” Photo by Faith Pitsikoulis.

One of Cabrini’s core values is rooted in seeking justice for those who are marginalized and oppressed and to act in solidarity as all people are entitled to basic human rights and shall be treated with respect.

The fact of the matter is that racism will not go away until the system that allows oppression does. Everyone should uphold the value to preserve dignity and justice of all human lives and no person should be treated differently or die because of the color of their skin.