Racial violence is an important and significant issue in our present time. We have seen, heard and read in the news racially motivated violence in countries across the world, particularly in the United States. Racial violence is a grim reminder of our centuries old history of racial discrimination. The ghost of inhumane and racially insensitive practices done by our forefathers have come back to haunt us. The laws that engendered equal freedom and rights for other races in America did not mean an immediate and instant change of heart, opinions and customs when it comes to dealing with different races.
Racial violence has widened its reaches. Once limited to impoverished neighborhoods, the discrimination and the violence associated with it spread from the suburbs to cities and states where white and colored races live in the same community. The focus of racial violence isn’t limited to blacks anymore. The violence has spread across different races and ethnicities. Racial violence has extended its grasp across the oceans and into other countries.
The latest example is the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. This ethnic group is suffering one of the worst cases of racial violence at the hands of its own countries government. The government of Myanmar has shunned this particular ethnic minority, citing that they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh who settled illegally on Myanmar. They can be considered as one of the most persecuted ethnic minorities in the world: deprived of human rights, nationality and liberty. Some have left for the neighboring countries to seek refugee status, while some remain in camps for internally displaced persons. The living conditions the Rohingyas are subjected to can be considered as racial violence. Not all neighboring countries are very welcoming of them, and they are forced to endure brutality, humiliation and abuses just to get to stay in that country. For those who remained in their own country, they did not fare any better either. The government military and security forces conducted recent crackdown on several Rohingya camps and settlements based on mere accusations and circumstantial evidences of rebellion and sedition. The enforcement of the crackdown was swift and brutal – summary executions, forced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and other ill-treatments have been subjected to Rohingyas.
Back in the US soil, the tensions have escalated in the wake of police shootings of black persons and the shootings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. Now, under the new administration of Donald Trump, a renewed call for a law and order America is seriously considered. For those of us who lived in the post WWII era, it was on 1968 that the American people were given the choice of following the path of “law and order America” – a prescription that called for hyperpolicing in urban communities and mass incarcerations – or the alternative path of “truth and reconciliation” offered by the Kerner Commission of 1968. The latter offered a concrete legislative program to address racial violence and economic inequality through addressing white privilege, job creation, job training programs and affordable housing. The American people chose the former.
From our historical recollection, we could draw learning and important lessons we can use to stop racial violence today. For five decades, we have seen proof that replacing poverty programs with expensive punitive measures does not work. It is still not too late to consider the Kerner Commission’s call for national truth and reconciliation: “This deepening racial division is not inevitable. The movement apart can be reversed. Choice is still possible. … From every American it will require new attitudes, new understanding and, above all, new will.”