America cannot be great when Black lives do not matter

7th December 2020

Images of violent police clashes with protestors from Los Angeles to Atlanta, and Minneapolis in between, can easily be mistaken as riots in any failed state. Yet these horrific images are from the very streets of America. Remember Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Philando Castile, and more recently, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor? Haven’t we said “enough is enough” enough times? Layer on a poorly managed pandemic and record unemployment, George Floyd is the last straw. The eruption of riots across the US is ripe in the making.

One of the freest nations in the world, America guarantees three unalienable rights – life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, except for when you are Black. African Americans had to fight for almost 100 years (87 to be exact) through blood and sacrifice for freedom and basic human rights. Through the years, from founding to present day, White Americans prospered yet the American Dream has eluded Blacks. It isn’t that African Americans didn’t get a fair start. They didn’t get a start at all. It’s hard to get anywhere when you are constantly struggling for survival and life. There is no American exceptionalism for the average Black person in America.

African Americans experience the greatest economic and health inequities from decades of systemic racism and discrimination. The Covid-19 pandemic magnifies the vulnerabilities among African Americans further – unemployment or frontline “essential” work that maximizes their exposure to the virus. African American lives are collateral damage in service to an economy that disadvantages them. Few had jobs that allowed them to work from home.

According to Yale Professor Amy Chua, America is a hyper power; the US dominates the world economically, militarily, technologically, and culturally. It follows a long list of empires -- Persia, Rome, Tang China, Mongol, Dutch, and the British Empire -- to have prospered through pluralism and strategic tolerance. The US has been able to attract the best and the brightest regardless of religion and origin and rise to global dominance. But Chua goes on to explain that intolerance and xenophobia are causes for the decline and ultimate demise of these empires.

When Reagan first uttered “…make America great again,” he intended for it to restore hope for Americans during one of its worse economic times. When Trump declared “Make America Great Again” his campaign slogan, his supporters hear it as taking back America from those (non-whites, immigrants, and refugees) who they perceive as taking away their rightful opportunities and privilege. Trump was able to feed on this sentiment to power him to electoral success. Trump supporters feel more emboldened to be racist, sexist, and xenophobic and to attack and debase those they don’t agree with or like. It is not ok to exclude or purge those who threaten their privilege. There is no liberty and justice for African Americans when their unalienable rights are brazenly dismissed. We ought to be outraged. America cannot be great when Blacks in America still have to fight for their lives.

Eddy Ng
James & Elizabeth Freeman Professor of Management, Bucknell University
Editor-in-Chief, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

 

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