Yesterday, two white teenagers were arrested and charged with a hate-crime after assaulting a black man as they all waited in line to register for classes at Westchester Community College, just north and west of New York City. The persistence of this sort of racism within educational institutions is consistent with the research evidence on this topic, such as Feagin and colleagues’ The Agony of Education (Routledge, 1996) and this newly released research by Sarah Stitzlein, Breaking Bad Habits of Race and Gender (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). That this sort of thing happened in suburban New York, once again underscores that the northeast is not immune from racism because the states in this region of the country happen to be above the Mason-Dixon line or because these white teenagers’ ancestors never owned slaves. I wonder how the story of the young black man’s educational experience might read if he were to write it down for us? The legacy of Brown v. Board of Education must sound like a hollow promise to him as he is getting called racial slurs and then pummeled as he tries to register for classes at a community college.
In another suburban community, this one to the east on Long Island, in Suffolk County, is seeing some anti-racism organizing on the part of some residents. This is a welcome change of tone from Suffolk County, as this is the same county where Ecuadorian immigrant Marcello Lucero was killed by a group of (mostly) white teenagers recently. (The fact that both these recent attacks were the actions of white male teenagers also speaks to the gendred, and specifically masculine nature of this violent form of white supremacy.) The Town of Southhampton’s Anti-Bias Task Force met on the steps of Town Hall (photo by Kelly Carroll, Hamptons.com) to voice concern over the issue of hate-crimes against immigrants and against native-born racial/ethnic minorities. Referring to the murder of Lucero, Lucius Ware, president of the Eastern Long Island NAACP said, “That was a lynching, which is injury by mob violence. There are still hoods and gowns in some of the closets around here,” a reference to Long Island’s history of KKK activity.
It seems to me that suburban New York in these two events serves as a sort of microcosm for some of the choices we have facing us with regard to racism. We may engage in overt racist attacks, we may be victims of such attacks, and we all have the option to stand together, across differences, against the legacy of racism. At the moment, there is no large, anti-racist social movement in the U.S., but there are small groups of concerned people, like these folks in Suffolk County. Perhaps if more of these small groups can sustain the collective interest in seeing an end to racism, then we could for the first time see a viable anti-racist movement in this country, and really begin to change systemic and entrenched racial inequality.