Like many of you, we watched coverage of the protests and riots that erupted in Baltimore last week when a 25-year-old black man was laid to rest. Freddie Gray died of a severe spinal injury on April 19; a week earlier, he had been arrested without probable cause and ushered into a prisoner transport wagon. It was inside that vehicle that he sustained the neck injury that would ultimately cost him his life.
Like many of you, we debated with friends and strangers on social media about what was happening, why it was happening and who was to blame.
Like many of you, we recognize there is a bigger problem that needs to be addressed.
Last week, we published a poll on our website, asking readers to share their honest thoughts about race relations in America. We purposely excluded asking them to identify their own backgrounds.
Here in these pages are those responses, plus the comments of some Charlotteans we reached out to directly. We couldn't include everyone who chimed in because of our limited space, and some of the comments have been edited for clarity, spelling and grammar. But here they are, raw and honest.
We know this effort doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of figuring out how to deal with some of the racial tension in America, but our hope is that those who do take the time to really digest these varying opinions will be reminded of how different our individual experiences are, and how valuable that is. Let's take these conversations off social media and bring them into the real world, where change can happen.
America has always been a melting pot of colors, cultures and experiences; let's strive to better understand each other before the pot bubbles over.
— Kimberly Lawson, editor
Poll: What do you think is the biggest hurdle America has yet to get past in terms of race relations?
The biased left wing media that is giving the American people only one side of the story.
— Scott Carder, 30
We refuse to admit there's a problem. The news media spends days covering the straw that broke the camel's back, never bother to report on the other 999,999 straws. The time to declare a state of emergency was when courts ruled over 100 people were victims of police violence in Baltimore in the past four years. When courts said 100+ people were victims of police violence in Baltimore in past four years, where were the calls for the police to be calm? It's not hard to find the truth if you really want to: the U.S. justice system is broken and systematically targets the poor and people of color. Wealth inequality is the highest in our nation since the 1800s era of robber-barons. We spend trillions on war but refuse to fund basic universal healthcare, universal higher education, or even pay a living wage. The revolts will continue until underlying issues are addressed. Mainly, the failure of capitalism is an economic system. So essentially, forever. The bread and circuses crowd would like to kindly urge calm and ask that you return now to your regularly scheduled bread and circuses.
— Jim Charlotte, 34
America hasn't accepted any blame for racism and the economic disparity it has caused. If a white man is caught with marijuana he is given probation, rehab or a warning. Thousands of black men have been charged with felonies for the same crime, eliminating their opportunities to get-well paying jobs or get financial aid for college. It's a cycle. These same black men are unable to take care of their families and usually end up back in jail (no other options) or leaving their families because of the embarrassment of being unable to provide.
— Rashaan Peek, 40
The DENIAL: living in a society that sucks the truth out of your mouth for their comfort. The need for the perceived dominant society to erase your rage and consequently their ancestral hand in history. You can’t move past what still exists.
— Jasiatic, photographer/personal chef
... clearly stating that there is a large disparity in education and economic opportunity, between blacks and whites specifically, and actually admitting that there is a problem. The opportunities for students in more affluent neighborhoods and schools are far more reaching and easily accessed as opposed to lower income schools and neighborhoods. Granted, there are opportunities at these lower income schools, but the access to greater opportunities such as scholarships, college, jobs and further reaches of success aren’t as abundant or as readily available.
— Boris “Bluz” Rogers, poet
Right now, police officers are conditioned to stop and arrest, and not protect and serve, when it comes to most people — but especially the black community. There’s a fear that has evolved over the years that I think is beginning to reach its peak, and it’s evident in cases like Baltimore and Ferguson. As a society, we must reprogram this mentality of oppression and learn to crave empathy and fairness. Only through learning to truly respect one another will the riots and the protests and the injustices and violence dissipate. I have a 3-year-old daughter, and I can only hope that when I’m no longer here to protect her, that she’ll live in a world that understands that we’re all the same.
— Marques Nash, musician/comedian
Prejudice never disappeared; it was just hidden better. Our country is the same as it was when my grandparents marched with Dr. King. Except now there is social media to expose the hatred and bigotry more. We are still portrayed differently in the press, instead of trying to find the root of the problem we are labeled "thugs" and told to get over our struggles. "Thug" is now the new "n*****," and people throw it around so easy. The real thugs are the police who are killing our black men like it's a sport. I fear for my 5-year-old son growing up here, and it pisses me off that nothing seems to be changing no matter what we do. In order for it to change, people need to acknowledge there is an issue even though it isn't happening to them.
— Angela, 35
Ain't got a dang idea.
— Darren Walkers
The youth of America are out of control. Many lack respect for others and seem to have this overwhelming sense of entitlement. They don't understand work ethics and lack compassion for their community, which provide jobs and stability in that community. I don't get their laziness and lack of self-worth. I am a witness to this kind of behavior on a daily basis. Those people out in the streets need to do something more productive with their time and energy.
— Diana. 61
Whatever minority group you belong to based on gender or race we as humans continue to struggle with "privilege" or the inability to empathize and see things from outside of our own social and cultural lens. Until people can begin to understand the plight of someone else, we can only make incremental progress. Whether you are from the poorest demographic or the richest, you should be heard; your plight should be acknowledged and you should feel someone actually cares. Right now I think African-American men are not feeling like they are heard or valued.
— Tina Galloway, 39
The burden of the past, which includes slavery. It has become a subject that virtually all Americans are knowledgeable of; however, it’s one that’s not easy to discuss. Also in hand with that is ethnocentrism. We’re all at times so caught up in our own cultures that we refuse to recognize or embrace individuals who may do things a little differently than what we do in our own ethnic communities and in our own cultures. Those two are the biggest obstacles in America getting past racism.
— Jemayne King, author/English professor at Johnson C. Smith University
Difficult to understand the personal “lens” that people view and interpret situations. Sensitivity to it deepens with more listening to stories of life experiences. Accepting and understanding white privilege would be a good start to better understanding of racial issues. Less hate and more sensitivity!
— Commissioner Pat Cotham, At Large
While I love social media and technology, a condition I call Keyboard Cowardice Syndrome has developed. And this condition is quite widespread. I suffer from it myself sometimes. As you type a rage-filled reply to your pal’s Facebook post or angry-Tweet a complete stranger, stop and step back. Ask yourself: “Would I say this to his/her face if I was looking them in the eyes?” Or, in the words of Ice Cube, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.” Look at profile pics or back through the stream. As often as possible, take the discussion offline and meet in person. Taking that step is not easy or comfortable. Coffee and wine helps.
— Crystal Dempsey, communications consultant
The biggest problem we have yet to get past in race relations is that we feel we are owed something. And whatever that something is, we still haven’t gotten it. But we still complain about it. It’s time to move forward and start a new history, focus on getting back to teaching our children and not depending on schools to raise our kids.
— Shaun Corbett, owner of Da Lucky Spot Barbershop
For one, acknowledge that there IS still an issue with race. Acknowledge that African Americans ARE treated unfairly, not only being targeted by law enforcement, but in the workplace as well. African Americans are also disproportionally affected by economics shortfalls and upward mobility.
— Shannon, 39
There is a double standard when it comes to race. As long as you can have things like BET, Black History month, BlackPeopleMeet.com, black college sports tournaments, Obama speaking out only when there is a white-on-black crime, etc., you're never gonna begin to solve the race issues. There is too much reverse racism, and if you speak out about it, you're labeled a "white supremacist" and a racist. Until there is a level playing field, there will always be race issues.
— Ed, 51
Racial profiling is a big issue in this country. Instead of people judging others by character or as an individual, they choose to stereotype according to ethnic groups or religion. I am very aware that African Americans like myself can be rude and disruptive; however, I, as an individual, am not. I have two jobs, I am an author, I attend college and I do not abuse nor neglect my 5-year-old son. I hate being judged by the color of my skin, but I live my life despite what category America has placed me in. I’m actually very happy to be African American, but I don’t like being misjudged.
— Curtrina Pharr, CPCC student
Institutionalized racism. This is all connected to economics. In order for our economic system to work, there has to be a permanent underclass. It has been convenient in America to designate this underclass by race, as it plays on tribal fears of poor whites to keep them firmly on the side of their masters. This has generated a situation in which racial inequality is built into our daily lives. Personal prejudices aside, if we want to see real change we need to address systemic violence perpetrated against the lives, bodies and destinies of people of color.
— Matt Cosper, XOXO artistic director
A clear understanding of the difference between structural racism and individual interactions and between white privilege and individual white person's means. These issues are too silently written into the landscape and social fabric of modern life.
— Christina, 42
The imprisonment of young black men.
— Kim, 48
The fact that the media focuses on violence and sensationalism rather than intelligent, informed discussion on daily events. It only serves to polarize and disempower everyone.
— Liz, 31
Political correctness. No one will say what the real issues are because everyone is afraid of offending someone.
— Shannon Warren, 43
The demise of the 1950s and '60s civil rights movement has contributed to modern misinformation and general ignorance among whites about race relations and the covert/institutional racism found today across our institutions. Roughly two-thirds of whites believe we have generally solved our race issues, while roughly the same percentage of blacks claim the opposite. The sociological research generally supports the black majority perspective. This attitude disparity allows Republicans and other conservatives to whitewash race issues and "blame the victim" (black males) in much the same way that "juvenile delinquents" were blamed for our problems in the 1950s.
— Phil Rutledge, 61
I think the real issue here is mental health. People are miserable and constantly looking to blame something as the cause of their own misery. Perhaps the solution is to start practicing mental wellness in schools.
— Erin N., 33
America is overdue on a real discussion about race relations. A discussion on the impact of paying $110 a day on incarceration and ONLY $13 a day on education. A discussion on slave labor and the For-Profit Prison System and excessive incarceration and KILLINGS of African American boys and girls. The true impact of “white privilege” and blinders to the realities of being Black in America.
— LaWana Mayfield, City Councilwoman, District 3
I feel like media, both social and traditional, have continued to make it a volatile subject in America. Burning cars is “hard news,” while community outreach programs are “puff pieces.” People would rather get likes and shares, be trending, or have high ratings than make a difference. The extremes they go to just exacerbates things and causes further polarity. Unfortunately, most of the time that race relation comes to light, it is reactionary to an already tense situation. In this instance, it is difficult for either party involved to be empathetic or sympathetic to the other’s message. Then, much like the media, we don’t come back to the discussion until it hits the news cycle again.
— Jared Yerg, Country Club Heights, Construction Project Manager
White people still think that black people are not equal. Even with a black president, they still think they are superior because of skin color.
— Jackie Glanton, CPCC student
Our biggest hurdle is the simple fact that we still refer to it as race relations instead of human relations. That we still identify people as XYZ-American, instead of just American. That we still call them hate crimes, instead of just crimes. Our biggest hurdle is the double standard we set for ourselves. As long as we, as a nation, divide ourselves into these groups, we will never be clear of said hurdle.
— Philip Lung, 28
There is an incorrect perception that cops and the general population hold prejudices solely based on race alone. The truth is that a white man dressed in comically oversized clothes, with gaudy jewelry, neck tattoos will draw more negative reactions than a nicely dressed black man in a suit. I believe that we confuse cultural classifications with race classifications too often. If you dress a certain way you choose to accept the reputation that goes with that "look." Regardless of race, if you dress in a fancy suit and look well-groomed, no one will mess with you or assume you are a criminal. Cops will treat you with immediate respect; conversely, if you dress like a walking stereotype for drug culture and criminal behavior, cops and the general public will raise an eye and even lean toward prejudice. Let's go ahead and be honest about this truth and accept it for what it is and not misconstrue it for what it is not. This has absolutely nothing to do with race, but everything to do with people getting classified based on their outward appearance.
— Ike Peterson, 25
I believe that young Americans are taught that Black American history begins at slavery. Public schools never educate with the real intelligent history of blacks, whether they be African or American decent. Yes, there were Blacks in America before Columbus. History shows that from writings, paintings, culture and human skeletons ... but it is not something that is shown to young blacks. How can you achieve when you are taught you were always lesser? I did not learn this until I attended an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) and many youth won’t make it that far. How can you be proud of your own race when you don’t know anything positive about your past? White Americans know their history as we are taught European history. This may seem small and insignificant, but it plays a role in how blacks see themselves in culture. This is why so many people feel oppressed and demonized. We start out learning we were unequal,and are still treated as “thugs” by authority.
— Pradigy Musicman, musician
As a member of the Chocolate Constituency, we've been trying to have this conversation with our Vanilla counterparts for several years. But every time it's brought up, they retreat out of guilt, avoidance, lack of compassion, or just plain ol' ig-nance — as a term we frequently use. Until Vanilla folks can wholeheartedly admonish and accept what they did during the nearly 500-year Chocolate Holocaust, from which we are still licking our wounds today, peace, equality, inter-flavored brother/sisterhood will only seem like a fairy tale in Mother Goose's collection.
— Shawn D. Allison, II, 29
Until the mainstream can honestly admit to benefitting from a system that gives them privilege while simultaneously oppressing marginalized communities, there can be no real healing until that narrative is addressed!
— Charles, 49
I think the president has really dropped the ball on getting a hold on this issue. People should be punished for their injustice, police officer or not. The riots should be stopped and action should be taken directly to those responsible. Innocent people and businesses are being hurt. NOT EVERY WHITE PERSON IS RACIST!
— Michelle Green, 35
One of the root problems is still our school system. My children go to a Title One school whose population is predominantly African American and Spanish speaking. Less than two miles down the road from our house, the zoned elementary school is in an upper class neighborhood and the population of the school is predominantly white. How can anything change when our children are still being separated based on socioeconomic status? Barriers can only be broken down when you see your fellow man as your equal. We have a lot to learn from each other, and that should be starting in kindergarten with the simplest thing like playing on the playground.
— Lena Estey, 32
Just a snippet of something I was thinking about the other day ... While we were on the path to a post-racial society, we never quite made it. Jim Crow still lives. Then the Internet came and bigots and racists got online and would spew their hate but hide behind avatars and screen names for fear of reprisals. Then the nature of social media changed and it became harder to hide who you are but by then it didn't matter because not only were there no real repercussions for racist behavior but they were now connected to other racists all around the world. It became OK to be racist again; safety in numbers. And of course, this permeated into politics and legislation. I'm not putting the blame solely on white men, but I will say that the best of us, black and white, don't stand up for what's right enough. We're too distracted. It will take a protracted effort by right-minded people to fix this.
— Steven Rosario, 40
In short, the big mistake is that we all thought that racism died out with the civil rights movement, and it clearly didn’t. People believe that things are fair and equal because we’ve tried to put a Band-Aid over the wounds that kept this country separated for so long, and we never did anything to truly empathize with one another. In a lot of ways everything is still very “us against them.” Until we truly attempt to understand one another and correct the mistakes that were made in the past, we are doomed to repeat them, and that is what’s happening now.
— John Hairston Jr., artist
The biggest hurdle America has yet to get past in terms of race relations is greed. Greed is the dominant virus found in the heart of America and the symptoms we as a people continue to experience are (and not limited to) issue(s) of power, control, capitalism, hate and the misguided need to dominate, suppress or oppress another person, place or culture in order to elevate ones own collective or individual agenda. Once this country can relinquish or be delivered by the spirit of greed, then and only then, will it actually be able to see beyond this unfortunate truth in our American reality.
— Hasaan Kirkland, Professor of Fine Art at Johnson C. Smith University
... the lack of being able to relate, putting yourself in one another’s shoes and realizing that your own personal perspective might be disillusioned.
— Joe Kuhlmann, Evening Muse owner
I think the biggest hurdle we have yet to climb is getting middle class white people to acknowledge that our privilege as such, is real. Admitting that there are two vastly different
American experiences being lived out right now and that we need to own our role in contributing to and perpetuating this disparity. Until white
America comes to grips with the reality that we are benefiting from a societal structure that was created by us and for us, and decide we are willing to restructure it in a way that benefits every race, I believe things will only get worse. The evidence is clear and all around us, and we have to be willing to respond to our neighbors, our friends, our fellow Americans with humility and determination to change the future for their children and ours. We can do so much better.
— Kim Thomasson, 43
The fact that someone's race even matters! Drop the race card, end of discussion.
— Andy Bolin, 24
— Barbara Welch, 55
I think the biggest hurdle is character. I don't break the law or get involved in shady stuff, therefore I don't have problems with the police.
— James Flowe, 27
I think the one hurdle is how people describe others. Words can be hurtful. But the biggest of these problems in America I believe stem from a wealth divide. Until you show compassion for how someone lives and the things they can afford and the safety net of family they have, you can't judge.
— Rob Benjamin, 27