Anyone can tell you what is legal and what is culturally accepted are two different things. Weed and alcohol are two easy examples. Both are illegal in certain places and with certain groups of people but culturally it is accepted. Some people follow the rules, others break them, some people are held accountable and charged with crimes for them, others allowed to continue with no consequence by those same institutions that are supposed to hold all accountable.
What is supposed to be an objective law, becomes a subjective practicing of the law. There is no equality in America. Society really has the control over what happens on the ground level. The laws are there to direct us but it is up to us, the people, to truly enforce what we want to see in our communities.
The Warmth of Other Suns, The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson highlights this exact experience of what the law dictates versus what society allows through 3 Black Americans throughout the 20th century. Wilkerson does an incredible job using micro examples to highlight macro problems.
In her book, we are taken through the lives of these 3 individuals and learn on a societal personal level what happened between the Civil War, the ending of slavery, and the Civil Rights Movement. We learn about these major legislative changes in American history from the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 through to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the Fair Housing Act of 1968. But as a white great grandchild of Italian immigrants this doesn’t have much meaning to me outside of making it sound like we righted some wrongs made a long time ago. You need context.
The reality is the opposite. As these laws were passed it came down to the individuals in these communities, the police, and the people to enforce what they wanted. I will not try to explain this here as it is better explained in her 600 page book. To the people who say they cannot understand the looting, cannot understand the poverty, cannot understand why defund the police is the answer, this book explains what systematic racism is and what the results from it, both intended and unintended.
What happened in the almost 100 years highlighted in this book are important to explain how we got here. From the ending of slavery to today the government may have put some laws in place but the reality of what is occurring on the streets, in these communities, and with the police is different. History can always show us how we got to where we are but you need to choose another perspective. As a white American it is our responsibility to educate ourselves whatever way we can.
With a contagious virus wreaking havoc around America you should have nothing better to do than sit at home, get off Netflix, and learn something outside of your own perspective. Here are the two books that have helped me learn this year. If you have others to recommend please comment.
I will end this with the quote Wilkerson herself ends her Epilogue with:
The past is of value only as it aids in understanding the present; and an understanding of the facts of the problem – a magnanimous understanding by both races – is the first step towards its solution.Chicago Commission on Race Relations 1922
TL;DR | Kimberly Jones video “How Can We Win”