For those of us interested in social justice, it's been a rough month. Grand juries failed to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown and Eric Garner. People have used Rolling Stone's retraction of a story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia to question the widespread, well-documented phenomenon of campus sexual assault. Numerous women have accused actor Bill Cosby of drugging and raping them. And the Senate released a report on CIA torture that shocked the world.
What do these events have in common? They illustrate brutal acts of violence that dehumanize women and minorities. They reflect a power structure and culture that perpetuate "male," "white," and "American" privilege--and where such abuse of these groups would be unthinkable. Nicholas Kristof illustrates such inequities through the series "When Whites Just Don't Get It" and the article "What if Whites Were the Minority?". For the majority, we see rarer acts of violence, more sustained media and government focus for the same acts, and more frequent prosecutions for the same crimes.
Americans are refusing to consent to this reality. Twitter posts at #crimingwhilewhite, #alivewhileblack, and #blacklivesmatter show that attempts to smear individual black victims of police violence will not be allowed to whitewash a larger reality of racism. Large protests across American cities show that through lying down we can rise up, by raising our hands we show our power, and by walking out we stay engaged. The response of institutions has been slow but positive. Sustained popular action has emphasized that all individuals have basic human rights.
Looking forward, we must build on the common realities of recent events. There is a strong need for accountability and prosecution, especially for the marginalized. The broader international community recognizes this need. Additionally, we must we examine a culture that glorifies rape, torture, and murder through porn, media violence, and video games. We must start a dialogue in the schools around identity and human rights. "We the people" must find "liberty and justice for all."
In the famous poem, "Let America Be America Again", Langston Hughes wrote:
I say it plain
America was never America to me
And yet I swear on this oath
America will be."
We can and should be so much more.