"I Can't Breathe": Reflecting on Hypocrisy in American Society
Updated: May 29
Dear Asian Youth,
If you look at the state of our country right now, you’ll notice that there seems to be an incredible amount of injustice against certain groups of people, most notably, Black people. You’ll see that there have been a lot of reported cases of police brutality against Black people, and news has been surfacing about the mistreatment of Black people in the healthcare system. Both of these are examples of systemic racism, and it’s probably not what you are thinking of when it comes to racism in the US.
So what exactly is systemic racism? How does it differ from other types of institutionalized racism? To answer these questions, let’s take a look at systematic racism. Systematic racism is the type of racism where only certain parts of the entire system is affected. For example, if only the police sector and the healthcare system were affected by institutionalized racism, then that would mean that the system is experiencing systematic racism: only certain parts of the system are affected by racism. This is different from systemic racism because this type of institutionalized racism is when the entirety of the system is affected by racism. For example, systemic racism exists when there are biased laws and regulations, as well as unquestioned social and political institutions. Essentially, in the case of systemic racism, it’s a system where racism is a key part of how it operates, whereas systematic racism is a system where there’s a set of practices that discriminate based on race. For the purpose of this article, we will be focusing on systemic racism, because that is the inherent reality of the US’s politico-socio economic systems.
While the unjust killings of African Americans like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have come as a shock to many, incidents like these aren’t new. Innocent people of colour have been murdered before, and they will continue to be until systems that uphold systemic racism in America are reformed and/or abolished.
The push for equality for minority groups, such as women and people of color didn’t truly start until the last century. This is because the systems that were put in place when America was founded only benefitted a very specific group of people: white men who were straight, cisgender, Protestant, able-bodied, and rich. Those that didn’t fit that exact description were at a disadvantage and didn’t have access to the same institutions.
When the Europeans immigrated and began to colonize America, they were met with resistance from Native Americans. These natives had less powerful weapons than that of the European colonists, and they lacked the immunity towards European diseases, which allowed the Europeans to take their land. Also, a majority of Native Americas were wiped out because of European diseases they didn’t possess any immunity toward. This established the colonists as the prime leaders and founders of the American territory and resulted in a surge of white pride, which developed into the white supremacy that haunts America today. This supremacy has endangered, tortured, and killed many racial minorities, and continues to do so.
Males were seen as the dominant gender, and there was a general belief that nothing good could come from women suffrage. After decades of fighting, women finally got the right to vote- but it was limited to white women. So what about Black women? How does their story tie into the systemic racism in the US?
Black women gained the right to vote in 1965 with the passage of the Voting Rights Act. They were one of the last groups to get the right to vote (along with the Native Americans) following white women in 1920, Black men in 1870, and white men, who had it all along. Why did Black women get this essential right so late? The suffrage movement was limited to white women because they were afraid that including Black women would result in a loss of support in the South and possibly other regions. This is a sharp contrast to the suffrage movement’s anti-slavery roots, and shows that racial divides overpowered a movement that could’ve benefitted every women all at once.
Additionally, new immigrants were seen to be “stealing” jobs, “lowering” wages, “ruining” American culture, and in general hurting the economy. When Germans and Irish immigrants came to the US from their respective countries, they were immediately disliked because they were Catholic. America was majorly Protestant and believed that the Pope could influence elections by telling the German and Irish Catholics who to vote for. Americans worked against these immigrants in an effort to keep them at the lowest level of society. For example, they did so by holding anti-Catholic riots and forming nativist political parties. This relates to systemic racism because it there was a level of prejudice and discrimination against these groups of people, and because of that, the ideas that immigrants were of a lower status than the Americans and that their cultures were potentially very harmful to America became a prevalent part of American politics and society. However, the assumptions that immigrants would “hurt” the economy or “lower” wages, etc. is incorrect, because it was proven that immigrants in fact helped the economy, didn’t lower wages, and businesses were overall benefitted by immigration because they had a larger work force to draw from. So the next time there’s backlash or complaints about new waves of immigrants, let’s think about how immigrants actually affect the country, not what the perceived effect is. After all, it’s likely that these immigrants are looking for something more.
Donald Trump stated, “Why are we having all these people from sh*thole countries come here?” According to President Trump, America should no longer welcome immigrants into the country, while America’s whole purpose was to provide a home for immigrants from all around the world, as stated under the Naturalization Clause in Article 1, Section 8, Clause 4 of the American Constitution. There is a great amount of concealed hypocrisy that sheds light on a pattern in the prejudice against minorities today. It is unfair and unjust to close off the U.S. to legal immigrants when most of its citizens have ancestors who were immigrants.
It is a burden to carry, knowing that a myriad of lives was lost due to the ancestors of so many citizens. There is nothing that we can do to fix the past; however, there are countless preventative measures that we can take for the future—for we cannot let this hate repeat.
I am from Bangladesh. Unspeakable things have been done to my relatives who have fought in the many wars of Bangladesh. Under enemy fire, they have been tortured and killed just because of their nationality. It is harsh to hear and breaks my heart everytime I think about it. How unjust can our world be that we have to resort to violence? Policeman Derek Chauvin was not put in any danger before he decided to brutally suffocate George Floyd and refused to stop, not even when Floyd said, “Please I can’t breathe. My stomach hurts. My neck hurts. Everything hurts. They’re going to kill me.”
We all know Martin Luther King Jr. as a man who had a dream. A dream that all people would be treated the same, despite their background . I am sure that MLK had some nightmares as well. And I believe that those nightmares came true. Because, right now, America is not equal. America is at the point where the people are afraid of their government, the government that swore to protect them, the government that is supposed to be a democracy. How can democracy be achieved when racism and sexism run rampant in this country?
This is why we protest. This is why we will no longer remain silent. Gross tension has been building up in America even before its birth, and to reduce the tension, we must let it out. America and her citizens have reached their boiling points - and in these complex and historical moments that we live through every day, America’s minorities will not settle for less. We are done being treated unfairly. We are done being treated as inferior because we do not serve another race. We serve ourselves—and we will fight for our natural rights. We will do it in our honor, and not initiate violence until we have run out of peace to give.
- Prerna and Ishita