"What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason!
how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how
express and admirable! in action how like an angel!
in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the
world! the paragon of animals!" - Hamlet: Act 2, Scene 2
Hamlet uttered these words with contempt in his voice, meaning the opposite of what he was saying. Yet, for most of my life I've embraced these words at face value, believing humanity is a fundamentally noble lot. Such a viewpoint is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain these days.
When she asked for a fork for her waffles, she was told it would cost a $0.50 utensil fee. She asked for an address to write a letter to complain about the charge, at which point the manager called the police. The police found it necessary to wrestle Chikesia to the ground, exposing her breasts in the process. All because she wanted a fork for her waffles.
In a similar vein, Donte Robinson and Rashon Nelson are the two African-American men who were recently arrested in a Philadelphia Starbucks for just being there. They were sitting quietly waiting for their friend to come before they ordered. The manager of the Starbucks thought they were there too long and called the police, who arrested the two men for loitering.
Hell I've done that. I spent the better part of the 1990's hanging out in coffee shops. If that's a crime I should have a record a mile long. The difference is I am white.
We watch movies such as "In the Heat of the Night," "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," and "Selma" and we pat ourselves on our collective backs for having come such a long way. We tell ourselves we no longer lynch African Americans, we no longer use "the N word, " and African Americans are allowed drink from the same water fountain as the rest of us.
How far have we actually come though? Just last year the Supreme Court undid key components of the Voting Rights Act of 1966, making it harder for African Americans to vote. We have the two cases I talked about above. Can we all agree that these people were not arrested because they wanted utensils or they wanted to hang out at Starbucks? Can we admit these people were arrested for being African-American?
We are still a nation of racists. We might not all be goose-stepping, swastika wearing, cross burning fanatics demanding that African Americans obey us white folks, but a lot of us look away when it happens. We tell ourselves we've evolved beyond racism, then we turn our backs and eat our waffles.
Ignoring racism is as bad as actively committing racist acts. If we really want to feel good about ourselves we need to make it known that such acts are 100% unacceptable. I still believe most people are basically good but the good people among us need to take an active role in shaping the laws and attitudes of our society.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." -Edmund Burke