The community of African Americans has undergone various forms of victimization due to their race-conscious environment. Persistent segregation and inequality thwarted their possibilities of decent living conditions and moreover, assisted in widening the racial gap. Nevertheless, recent years have witnessed remarkable modifications in the ethnic disparities and outlook towards the Black culture. The involvement of numerous Black role models and activists have helped in evolving the centuries-old misconceptions and stereotypes about the community.
The racial divide in the United States is evident in the practice of law enforcement forces and the judiciary system (Rosich). Owing to the studies about the incidences in the twentieth century (Rosich), the minorities were subjected to discriminatory laws and were tried and sentenced severely by white juries. The behavior of the police sparked hostility and tensions in Black localities and they were also seen as the instigators of race riots (Rosich). The increase in white leadership elevated the possibility of the unequal treatment of the historically marginalized sections (Davis and Block).
The existence of police brutality is profound in the racial profiling and over-policing (IACHR) of the Afro-descendants. A majority of the instances of police abuse, the overrepresentation of Blacks in arrests, and incarceration rates are rooted in the racial bias (IACHR). They are put through surveillance including Broken Windows which targets crimes clinging to the destitute “quality of life” (IACHR). The survival in the insecure surroundings profusely impacts their standard of living and emotional health (Davis and Block).
Racialized policing point to the escalated proportion of the African Americans’ interactions and violent encounters with the officers (Carbado and Richardson) than their white counterparts. The treatment of civilians using non-lethal forces such as slapping or pushing was hugely influenced by racial differences (Fryer). Similar are the cases where a weapon, a baton, or a handcuff is involved. The likelihood of such an occurrence is 21.3% more for a Black individual than the white (Fryer). The probability of an unarmed Black being shot was 3.5 times more than an unarmed white (Davis and Block). Even the chances of an armed Afro-American who does not pose any threat being shot were also higher in comparison to any other race.
The increase in Black deaths due to the structural discrimination in policing gave rise to the movement of Black Lives Matter (BLM). The movement gained momentum when Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown, two young Black men (Siscoe), were shot without any reason by the whites. Several other deaths, comprising Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and Terence Crutcher (IACHR), and many more in the hands of the police led to widespread outrage and protests. BLM was initiated as a social media hashtag in reaction to the acquittal of George Zimmerman in 2013 in Trayvon Martin’s murder. Founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, it drew remarkable attention to the systemic racism and police brutality (Clark et al.) prevailing in the nation through numerous events and demonstrations.
BLM, perceived as the new phase of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM), strives for the “humanization of black lives” since they are systematically and deliberately “targeted for demise” (Siscoe). The inclusive campaign is focused on fighting the racism that has penetrated the systems in society. Together with police violence, it throws light on Black poverty, inflated incarceration rates, gentrification, undocumented immigrants, and divergent communities that struggle under the power structure (Clark et al.). The radical approach urges the communities to manage the laws and regulations, comprising schools, local budgets, law enforcement departments, and land, that are designed to serve them (Clark et al.). The purpose is to encompass the perspectives and experiences of the members so that an all-inclusive framework that surpasses race and gender is in place.
BLM exhibits enormous potential in spreading its agendas for social changes in the current technology-driven world. The activists’ viewpoints on diverse topics, consisting of political organizing, conflict resolution, and hip-hop music, in its National Convening in 2015 (Jenkins-Robinson) highlight the group’s intention to boost the acceptance of the colored people’s identity. It emphasizes that the nation has not reached a post-racial era and the need to address anti-black racism (Clark et al.) in a society that ignores race and prejudice is imperative.
The significance of representation was recognized with the statement of Bernie Sanders who insisted on “a new racial justice platform” and the participation of “a Black activist… as a spokesperson” (Jenkins-Robinson). The employment of aggressive measures like street marches, blockades, and ardent publicity crusades (Jenkins-Robinson) have aided BLM to bring matters of injustice to the forefront.
The absence of centralized leadership and hierarchy demonstrates BLM’s deviation from the tradition of “organizational structure and social action” (Clark et al.) upon which the CRM was built. Since the foundation itself was one among the reasons for the decline of CRM, scholars believe that the new social movement is transparent in its attempts to promote the outlooks on culture, gender, LGBTQ, and racial identities (Tillery). The reclaiming of public space or homeplace by Blacks through protests on streets marks their right to civic space and “to exist as Black, queer, women, and men” (Clark et al.). While challenging the established notions about Black values, BLM reiterates the connection between Black life and human privileges. Their solidarity with other oppressed groups and fight against the injustice in various sectors accentuate their humanitarian side and have evoked changes in the misconceptions about the colored.
The community of African Americans was equally influenced by the figures of the popular culture. Hip hop music of the twentieth century resonated with the experiences of Blacks and issued a voice to the oppressed. The music was a reflection of their cultural identity and a mode of political expression (Best and Kellner). The musical genre of Tupac Amaru Shakur’s gangsta rap holds a distinguished mark in the rebellion of the urban underclass against the intense suppression. He was regarded as an intelligent “Black urban folk hero” (Neal) who opposed the adversities in his life.
Despite being criticized during his time, Tupac’s T.H.U.G. life (Neal) represented the collective experiences of the people of color living in the ghettos. A progeny of the civil rights generation, he critiqued racial difference and called out the multiracial society through his vibrant lyrics. Tupac’s pieces hold a prominent sway in assimilating the gender dynamics across the sexist male population. The composition Baby Don’t Cry (Keep Ya Head Up II) demonstrates his empathy towards the Black women who are degraded and disenfranchised, and his lyrical expertise succeeds in regenerating that feeling in others (Neal). Though viewed as a rebel, Tupac depicted the social realities and underlined the prevalence of Black suffering, anger, and violence (Best and Kellner).
The albums of J.Cole is another window to the journey of the African Americans in the US. His works mainly focus on the subjugation and ethnic prejudices along with other contemporary issues. Cole’s Be Free (Sisario) which was released following the demise of Michael Brown was widely acclaimed. The masterpiece echoed the rebuke of the artists’ circles towards the growing negligence and insensitivity among the authorities.
Renowned for his “reflective and honest” (Barrett) music, Cole expresses the anxiety and depression engulfing the Black youth. The display of his personal life and emotions through his songs throws light on “Black male vulnerability” (Barrett) and prompts the listeners to uncover their own conflict. In a land where Black individuals could be easily booked and tortured for criminal offenses, psychological well-being stands as an utmost priority. The tracks in KOD (Barrett) strengthens the necessity to refrain from substance abuse, a major claim that is often utilized for the detention of the Blacks. Since hip hop is a replication of the urban life, the stance of notable rappers like Cole leaves a phenomenal mark on the attitudes and habits of the followers.
Though racism in America is institutionalized through policies and laws, the involvement of several activists and figures, combined with movements like Black Lives Matter, have questioned the structural inequality in the current system. The indignation of the disenfranchised, over-victimized, dehumanized, and subjugated have gained considerable global attention in the present epoch. The contributions of entertainers such as Tupac Shakur and J.Cole remain as vital keys to Black culture. The new generation of Blacks has remodeled the discourses that were imbibed in the consciousness of the non-Blacks. Their actions have left tremendous insight into the essence of the African American’s history and affirm that Black life is no less than any other life.