W. E. B. Du Bois was right

“The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color line”, said W. E. B. Du Bois in 1903. He was sadly correct, and I sincerely hope that his prophecy for the 20th century is not repeated in the 21st.  

There’s an assumption of guilt-by-nature applied to any crime involving an African American suspect that doesn’t exist for whites.  White college students rampaging after a football game are criticized for drinking too much and partying too hard, but they are not called thugs or animals.  When white teens are accused of crimes, there is a call to look for the reasons why; were there mental health issues, or family problems?  When black teens are accused of crimes, they are viewed as hardened criminals beyond any hope of redemption.

Despite the vast predominance of mass shooters being young, white males, there is no presumption of a common thread of race linking each new event.  Conservative radio hosts do not take to the airwaves discussing their ideas on the failure of white families to instill decent values in their sons, nor do Fox News hosts bring in white guests who are expected to apologize for the actions of their fellow whites.  Instead, each case is reviewed and debated on its merits.  Mental health issues are raised, as are concerns over the bad influences that can come from outside influences such as movies, music or video games. 

Contrast that to incidents of criminal acts where the alleged perpetrators are people of color.  Reviewing the comments section of local online news sources bears this out.  Crime reports showing pictures of African American suspects will garner far more comments than the exact same story would have had the picture been of a white suspect.  Comments will focus on the “obvious” connection between the suspect’s race and their crime.  Many will contain base racial stereotypes and slurs.

Different standards of review are not just reserved for people accused of committing crimes.  I’ve spent close to 30 years working in professional office environments that have included small and large companies, privately held, corporate and government.  In every situation I’ve encountered people who were, frankly, incompetent. It’s a fact of life; not everyone succeeds at every job.  When a person of color or a woman fails, the prevailing wisdom is that they were hired for token reasons, and that of course they weren’t as good as anyone else.  I’ve never yet heard anyone suggest that maybe the white guy who failed was hired because he looked just like everyone doing the hiring, not because he had the needed experience, and so of course that’s why he failed.

It’s sad and depressing and I don’t know how we can move forward.  I don’t have any ideas for solutions or any hope that it will get better.  I hope I’m wrong, but I fear that in 2103 Du Bois’s words will have been as prophetic for the 21st century as they were for the 20th .