Poverty, Discrimination, and Social Injustice: This Is About More Than Racism

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Kena Betancur / Getty

“With great power comes great responsibility…”

I came to North America when I was 14 years old, but I had been dreaming of America, “the land of freedom and equality,” ever since I was a child. To a country like mine, America represented the way life should be, where everyone was treated equally, fairly, and had the same opportunities to excel in life. It’s because of my love affair with the United States since I was a child (to this day, most of my professional and many of my personal ties lie there), that I feel the need to speak out regarding the current issue of racism and inequality  that has deeply affected many people.

I have been asking myself, “Is this going to make a difference? Will sharing my voice really change anything?” There’s an inherent helplessness and powerlessness that I, and many others, face regarding what is happening. But change cannot happen if I continuously expect others to take the lead or to speak out for me. It matters that I speak out — it matters that everyone speaks out.

The death of Trayvon Martin, the black teenager in Florida who was shot to death for “looking suspicious” in a white neighborhood, once again brought to the surface the issue of racism in the United States, and, ultimately, provided a platform for the disenfranchised African-American community to speak out about institutionalized racism. This case has had a ripple effect since, with race becoming the elephant in the room that the United States as a country seems powerless to address. His death has been followed by the deaths of two other, unarmed, black people in 2014: teenager Michael Brown, and Eric Garner. Their deaths, similar to Martin’s, have deepened the wide racial divide stemming from the United States’ history of slavery and discrimination.

It is no coincidence that these events have sparked such a visceral reaction when one considers the poor economic state of the country at large, which typically pushes oppressed groups to find a scapegoat for their difficult living conditions. This behavior can be observed in many countries around the world: Greece, with the downturn of its economy and subsequent rise of radical right-wing political party Golden Dawn, is the most obvious example in the Western world, but it is hardly an isolated case. Similarly, it is no coincidence that radical Islamic groups emerged in the Middle East following Western military intervention that devastated the region, or that Hitler’s Nazis were able to turn Germany’s population against Jews during an economic depression.

A population is most susceptible to extremism when it feels that its survival is threatened through poverty and systemic failures. In 2012, 35% of black people were living in poverty, compared to 13% of white people. African-American culture is not inherently poor, problematic or inferior — rather, it is the economic system itself that has failed the black community.  It is of utmost importance to recognize this simple fact, because the system is slowly failing us, tooGiven the United States’ role on a global scale, it is crucial  for the country as a whole to address the deep and divisive issues within its borders, as it cannot lead other nations if it can’t even lead its own.

The America that I knew as a child is not the America that I know today, but not all hope is lost. The people protesting in Chicago, Ferguson, New York City and other cities, give me hope and the courage to speak out.  The system in place has been broken from the very beginning. It might take entire generations to fully address, but there is no better time to start than now.

Unless we, the citizens of the world, can rebuild the very foundation of our societies, we might never have the luxury of living in a world where social injustice, racism and poverty cease to exist.

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