RACISM: HOW IT STILL HOLDS ONTO OUR NATION AND WNC

Braden M. Schulte, first year writing UNC Asheville student

Our nation was built on an immoral practice. A practice of exploiting those of color with no education for personal monetary gain and status. These people were chained, beaten, enslaved, burned, tortured, discriminated, and oppressed. They had no voice, and no power. All they were given was the minimal nourishment received by their masters, and a bed to sleep in so they had the strength to work. This practice was the foundation of American economics from the establishment of the first colonies, up to 1865 when the south surrendered to the union in the American Civil War, and with it their practice of slavery. It wouldn’t be for another 100 years when black all over America boycotted the discrimination of their race, and the policy of separate but equal. After these such circumstances, 150 years after the practices of slavery were abolished, and 50 years after the civil rights movement, America, and its states, are still feeling the effects of its discriminatory history. The slave trade left devastating impacts on present day America, along with Western North Carolina.

Racism and Gun Control

Kerry O’ Brien dedicated a journal on racism, and how it is linked to those who oppose gun control. Most Americans can say they support the second amendment, as it provides the owner with self-protection. Ever since 2012, with the Sandy Hoke shooting being one of the first of many mass shootings, fatalities related to firearms skyrocketed along with the prevalence of mass shootings and domestic terrorism. Gun control is now a hot topic in todays politics, and there is an apparent racial divide on those who do and don’t support it. Blacks would benefit more from improvised gun control, and a majority of them support it. On the contrary, a majority of whites oppose gun control, arguing it eliminates their ability of self-protection and safety (Kerry O’Brien, Forrest, W., Lynott, D., & Daly, M. (2013)).

Black’s and white’s views on gun control have changed over the course of history, as seen in the civil rights movement. During the 1960’s, blacks wanted to exercise their right to own a loaded gun in public places to protect themselves from police brutality and radical white groups. Ironically, whites wanted stricter gun laws now that blacks were carrying loaded guns for self-defense (Kerry O’Brien, Forrest, W., Lynott, D., & Daly, M. (2013)). During this time, whites no longer had the power to control those of color. These people that were oppressed by whites now had the ability to carry around firearms. They were in fear of the newfound capabilities African Americans now had and began to demand stricter gun laws, so blacks could no longer carry loaded guns in public. Californian governor Ronald Reagan signed in the Mulford Act in 1967 which prohibited people from carrying firearms in public. Nowadays 53% of whites today want to protect their rights to own guns, whereas only 24% of blacks do too ((Kerry O’Brien, Forrest, W., Lynott, D., & Daly, M. (2013)). Why is that the case now?


It has been suggested this sudden demographic change in gun control policy is related to white’s fear of blacks. Whites still hold negative attitudes toward blacks today, as the news shows a lot of firearm related crimes are committed by those of color. Whites in the US also hold a stereotype of African Americans as being big, scary and violent. This perception has led people to see a threat in black gun-related violence. In response, whites want to hold onto their guns in fear of gun violence committed by those of color, since it is in their perception that African Americans are more likely to commit such acts than whites are ((Kerry O’Brien, Forrest, W., Lynott, D., & Daly, M. (2013)).

Racism linked to Police Brutality

Blacks are more likely to experience police violence than whites due to this stereotypical perception of them being armed and dangerous. Blacks have been experiencing increased police brutality since the rise of the civil rights movement. Due to the rise of the modern social justice movement, these issues are being brought into light more. What isn’t being exposed is the racial disparity within the issue. The deaths of those such as Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and Michael Brown sparked huge controversy about racism and policing (Police Shootings Reflect Structural Racism | SPH | Boston University. (n.d.)). The reason this sparked huge controversy was not because they were black, but because they were unarmed and opposed no obvious threat to the law enforcement officers. Michael Siegel, professor of community health sciences at Boston University, talks about the issue of increased police violence on blacks. He states, “The problem of police killings of unarmed Black victims should not be viewed merely as a problem of flawed action on the part of individual police officers, but more as a consequence of the broader problem of structural racism. Unjustified homicide by police should be added to the long list of the public health consequences of societal racism (Police Shootings Reflect Structural Racism | SPH | Boston University. (n.d.)).”


Prince George county in Maryland experiences racist police brutality and is just one example of the issue. Rodney D. Hutto and Johnathan W. Green wrote an article detailing the rampant prevalence of racist police brutality called Social Movements Against Racist Police Brutality and Department of Justice Intervention in Prince George's County, Maryland. Prince George county experience a demographic shift in the 1980’s as African Americans became the dominant population (Hutto, J. W., & Green, R. D. (2016)). As this shift occurred, police brutality became rampant as the predominantly white county slowly became more diverse. The Washington Post did a study on police violence and homicides committed by law enforcement while on duty. Between the years of 1990 and 2000, Prince George’s police department had more shot civilians per officer than any other of the 50 states (Hutto, J. W., & Green, R. D. (2016)). Of those who were shot, approximately 84% were black (Hutto, J. W., & Green, R. D. (2016)). While Prince County is moving for social reform among the response to this issue, such as the People’s Coalition of Police Accountability (PCPA) and the enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act (Hutto, J. W., & Green, R. D. (2016)), one area of the Unite States that still experiences structural racism is Asheville, North Carolina.


Black Asheville

Asheville holds up a veil on areas where the population is predominantly black residents. Behind that veil is the area of the city known as Black Asheville, and the state of it is both shocking and upsetting. A website was created dedicated to giving statistical data about different socioeconomic factors in Black Asheville, health care being one of them. According to the website, the likelihood of a black mother to give birth to a stillborn was tripled than that of a white mother (Urban News. MLK 2015). Other data suggests that, according to an aggregate conducted from 2007-2011, the death rate of black males with cancer was 288.6, compared to white males which was 206. Statistics from the same aggregate stated that the mortality rate of white females with cancer was 145.4, while the mortality rate of black females with cancer was 205.3 (Urban News. MLK 2015). Comparing mortality rates between blacks and whites, It can be inferred that Caucasians receive better healthcare for their illness, than African Americans. This is just one of many socio-economic problems that exists in Black Asheville.

On the issue of economics, a majority of black families can’t afford to purchase their own homes. Statistics from the Black Asheville website state that 63% of black families rent out their homes while the other 37% own their own home. According to the same website, 48% of white families rent out homes, while the other 52% own their own home. The median housing cost in Asheville is $212,000 (Urban News. MLK 2015). Some could argue that this is less of a racism problem than it is a housing market issue, because it isn't a secret that Asheville is very expensive to live in. That could be the case, but another statistic on the demographics of those in public housing was conducted in 2012. According to the Black Asheville website, 10 public housing communities exist with 3,100 residents. The dominating demographic (71.8%) living in these communities is black (Urban News. MLK 2015). Blacks in Asheville are more likely to be admitted into public housing than whites, due to their lack of economic stability. Most blacks who do own homes in Asheville live in a predominantly black community known as Burton Street.


Burton Street

Burton Street is a historical part of Asheville’s history. Burton street was founded by a black entrepreneur named Edward W. Pearson, according to a website detailing West Asheville History (A. (n.d.). West Asheville History). E. W. Pearson was a remarkable figure in the Burton Street community. The Spanish-American war vet (A. (n.d.). West Asheville History) became a leader for the black community of Burton Street. The 20th century limited what African Americans could do in America, such as participating in agricultural fairs. Wanting to break up this disparity, E. W. Pearson founded the Buncombe County district agricultural fair on Burton Street, which allowed for blacks to participate in the event (A. (n.d.). West Asheville History). E. W. Pearson was a neighborhood hero, prompting black businesses to start up in the Asheville area, and the prosperity of the growing black community on Burton Street, but the community would not stay in that such prosperity.

Burton Street became beleaguered as urban renewal destroyed hundreds of housing communities in Asheville. Followed by economic downturn and an influx in drugs caused Burton street to become trashed and dangerous. Years followed until the state initiated a plan to clean up and fix Burton Street. Qualifying as an Environmental Justice Population (Burgess, J. (2018, September 26)) residents came together to plan out ways to bring Burton Street back together as a community once again. The plan called for improvements to the community center, safer accessibility to sidewalk access for the elderly and the disabled and the building of a new park (Burgess, J. (2018, September 26)). Amongst all else, cleanup of all the trash in Burton Street took place as well. All of the trash collected was then turned into artwork that portrayed gentrification, discrimination, disparity and hatred. This artwork was then placed in an area of Burton Street known as the Peace Gardens.


The Peace Gardens is home to some of the most beautiful pieces of art, made from ironically the most disgusting materials. These art pieces hold such deep meaning and are the roots of the Burton Street community. My art piece was on “Coming to America” which showed a log that looks like a pair of legs, with a black baby doll on top of it as the body. It was also leaning on a canvas of the American flag and had laminated pictures of African American figures covering all over it. The art piece was presented on a red, metal table, like if the body was sprawled out across it. Toy guns also laid across the table pointing at the man on the table and at the laminated pictures of African American people. I looked at this piece and it was talking to me. It told me the violence experienced by those of color, and the appropriation of African Americans all over America and Asheville. They experience violence, oppression, discrimination and hatred by Americans all over. This art piece inspired me to address the importance of modern-day racial discrimination, how it still exists today half a century after the civil rights movement, and to expose Uncle Sam in the act of abusing the African American race.


References



  • Hutto, J. W., & Green, R. D. (2016). Social movements against racist police brutality and department of justice intervention in prince george's county, maryland.Journal of Urban Health, 93, 89-121. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11524-015-0013-x