Throughout history, the social, economic, and political eftects of racism gradually contributed to the structures of modern day American society. Leaders such as Alicia Garza, Robert Johnson, Ben Jealous, and Ta-Nehisi Coates provide evidence and anecdotal speeches to expose racism in modern American societies. The appearance of institutionalized racism is caused by the societal misinterpretation of racial diversity throughout the historical principles of American societies. Through his analysis of the idea of a racial divide, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores modern conflicts that affected both him and his community.
Discrimination, socioeconomics, and unstable relationships between citizens and law enforcement added to the increasing tension between white and black people in recent years, specifically in Baltimore, Maryland. As the United States economy evolved, Baltimore’s economy failed to evolve with it. Manufacturing and blue collar workers began losing their economic significance, “the city’s share of the region’s manufacturing employment had dropped from 75% to 30% from 1954-1995, while its share of the region’s retail sales fell from 50% to 18% in 1992” (Levine, 126). Along with the receding employment rate, the Charm City education system also suffered a recent decline in quality, whilst claiming the ninth highest dropout rate in the nation and a chronic case of underfunding (Levine, 133). Coates faced similar conditions as he explains to his son that he was, “unfit for the schools, and in good measure wanting to be unfit for them, and lacking the savvy I need to master the streets” (Coates, 27).
Coates saw himself as an outsider to the “street” culture prevalent throughout urban environment. The public education system shows a lack of understanding towards the students, and neglects to acknowledge poor conditions that surround the youth generation of Baltimore City. In fact, according to a recent study completed by Johns Hopkins University, teenagers living in Baltimore feel worse about their educational and social situations than the teenagers of Ibadan, Nigeria (sarahhhgray). The drastic racial divide between the income and housing markets also personifies the poor situations faced by the Baltimore residents. The financial branch of CNN ran a study on the median income of Baltimoreans with respect to racial background, and the study revealed a hefty disparity between the average incomes for Caucasians and African Americans.
According to the salary investigation, unemployment for black males residing in Baltimore rose to approximately 37%, while the white male unemployment rates hover around 10%. The annual median income for Baltimore’s black males only reaches $33,610, while Baltimore’s white males have a median income of S60,550 (Income). The editorial board of the New York Times explored the housing market and the inequality manifested throughout urban settings. The board concluded that “state and federal policymakers, all of whom worked to quarantine black residents in ghettos, making it difficult even for people of means to move into integrated areas that offered better jobs, schools, and lives for their children” (“How Racism Doomed Baltimore”). Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the foundations of the governing bodies of Baltimore and these implicit intentions to disadvantage minority populations saying, “To be black in the Baltimore of my youth was to be naked before the elements of the world.. The nakedness is the correct and intended result of policy, the predictable upshot of people forced for centuries to live under fear” (Coates, 17). The theme of ethnic split throughout “Between the World and Me” showcases the reality of the social and economic division between the impoverished, minority population and the white, governing population. Throughout Baltimore City, different racial groups face different opportunities within their options for employment, education, income, and housing.
The media’s attention to the oppression of minorities inspired many organizations and public figures to speak out in support of minority groups. Political activists created Black Lives Matter campaign in response to the “not guilty” verdict in the Trayvon Martin vs. George Zimmerman trial. Black Lives Matter “is a call to action and response to the virulent anti-Black racism that permeates our society…and protests the ways in which Black lives are deprived of our basic human rights and dignity” (“About the Black Lives Matter Network”). In an interview with Amy Goodman, an American broadcast journalist, Ta-Nehisi Coates argued that “That [political attention] is a direct result of the kind of attention that “Black Lives Matter” has brought to the issue. So they have had a literal tangible policy impact across the board” “Part 2:”). Although Coates may not directly refer to Black Lives Matter during his memoir, he elaborates upon similar theories and ideas about inequality and racial division also mentioned by the Black Lives Matter campaign.
Many political opponents, including Ben Shapiro, scrutinize the principles supported by the Black Lives Matter organization and mentioned in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ novel. Shapiro, a public adversary to the Black LIves Matter movement argues against the existence ot income inequality with: “Because [income inequality] has nothing to do with race and everything to do with culture… You explain to me why black kids aren’t graduating high school? Explain that one to me. Explain to me why black kids are shooting each other at rates significantly higher than whites are shooting each other? Explain to me why 13 percent of the population is responsible for 50 percent of the murder?” (“Flashback:”). Shapiro’s claims, in fact, are statistical proven as accurate. The high school graduation rate for white Americans is 87.26, while it is only 72.5% for black Americans (“U.S. High School Graduation”).
Intraracial crime in the African American community makes up 90.1% of the murders in the black community, while intraracial crime in the white community only accounts for 83.5% of the murders in the white community (“Expanded Homicide Data Table 6”). African Americans make up 13.3% of the United States population (“Population Estimates”), but they account for 52.5% of the murders in America (Cooper and Smith). Shapiro introduces the argument that institutional racism is just cultural differences that diverge the stereotypical pathways of various ethnicities. Shapiro directly debunks the leading arguments of Black Lives Matter pertaining to police brutality, income inequality, and social justice.
The Black Lives Matters movement claims of racial division have many active critics, one such critic being American rapper, singer, and entrepreneur Kevin Gates. Although Kevin Gates does not have formal political experience, he uses his presence on social media to influence his fans through his music and his political commentary towards police violence. In the context of the protests lead by Black Lives Matter due to the deaths of Freddie Gray, Trayvon Martin, and Alton Sterling, Gates responded in an interview with 106 KMEL radio station, “We kill each other, but as soon as a white boy kills one of us, everybody goes to hoopin’ and hollerin'” (Kevin Gates Agrees”). Gates blasts the anti-police movement for its lack of similar outrage and hypocrisy towards black-on-black crime, “When you stand for something, you’ve got the stand for it all the way, not half way… We kill each other. I’m talking about we lay up under each other’s cars, lay behind each other’s houses then whip by- BOOM BOOM – kill everybody in the car” (Kevin Gates Agrees”).
Gates views intraracial crime as a diagnostic tool to measure true social justice. In short, he says that African Americans don’t have the right to be unsettled with police brutality and interracial crime, when intraracial crime and violence is too prevalent to ignore. He raises the question: How can African Americans be mad with law enforcement when the same African American killed by the police killed, be killed by another African American if let free? Kevin Gates believes that Black Lives Matter is a hypocritical organization with principles that are detrimental to the focus on the inner issues among the African American community. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ beliefs rival those of Kevin Gates and Ben Shapiro when it comes to the view on murder in crime within the same ethnicities, as Mr. Coates claims “To yell “black-on-black” crime is to shoot a man and then shame him for bleeding” (Coates, 111). Coates uses this metaphor to highlight the inevitability of intraracial crime.
Bleeding from being shot is a guaranteed outcome and is out of the victim’s control. Coates uses this imagery to illuminate the fact that the increased rate of intraracial crime is inevitable when considering factors such as income and housing. Coates argues that a high density of impoverished people that are oppressed in a hopeless environment will lead to crime. The foundations of the governing body that regulate and control Baltimore force the lower class and minority groups to turn to crime and insubordination. This insubordination comes in the form of riots, crime, and defiance to superiority. Coates reassesses the blame placing it on the governing branches, “The same hands that drew red lines around the life of Prince Jones [Coates’ friend from Howard University who was killed by law enforcement due to excessive force in an unnecessary situation] drew red lines around the ghetto” (Coates, 111). The same entities that caused an unjust and untimely death in the life of an innocent college student, restrict the opportunities given to the minority groups of Baltimore.
Racism is a mainstream problem that stems from issues in the fundamental basis of human interaction and society as a whole. Racism and discrimination stem from labels and characterizations that we use to describe people. The racial divide fundamentally based on differing skin tones and societal labels would be barred if these characterizations were no longer used as a deciding factor. Morgan Freeman described this issues in a 60 minutes interview saying, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history… [ To get rid of racism] Stop talking about it. I’m going to stop calling you a white man, and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man” (“Morgan Freeman Destroys”). Ta-Nehisi Coates elaborates on the issue of labels in an interview where he said, “We should seek not a world where the black race and white race live in harmony, but in a world in which the terms black and white have no meaning” (“Morgan Freeman Destroys”). Labels are a core element of racism and discriminatory mindsets which widen the racial gap and worsen the issues concerning race such as income inequality and police brutality.
Throughout Ta-Nehisi Coates’ memoir, “Between the World and Me”, he draws out wamings to his son about racism and the effects of discrimination on society and the lives of minority citizens. Through a cultural approach, his audience can identify a common thematic foundation of a racial divide in Coates’ memoir that can apply to modern day Baltimore City as well as Coates’s memoir. Coates analyzes the differences between culture and institutional racism are analyzed throughout the novel. He showcases the effects of racism are showcased through the New York Times’ conclusion that minorities are set up to fail by the governing system and the use of labels to characterize people. The idea of the effects of culture, excluding race, are evident in graduation rates, black-on-black crime, and the opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement. Culture is African Americans performing sizably worse in school. Culture is the increased violence inside of the African American community.
The main problem with the discussion of racism is that hardly anyone proposes solutions. It is not beneficial to call actions racist without suggesting a solution. This leads to an entire race growing up believing that the system is against them and people are out to get them. The idea of institutional racism distances African Americans trom the American society. Racism itselt is not as prevalent of an issue, the true problem is the current culture. Nothing will be fixed until this realization that problems with culture are the main issue and not institutional racism. In his elongated letter to his son, Coates uses the theory of institutional racism caused by the misinterpretation of ethnic groups that creates a racial rift. He uses this racial rift to illuminate his philosophies on the effects of institutional racism and the interracial disparity.