by Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D.
“Racism is a physical experience. The soul is part of the body. The mind is part of the body. When folks do physical violence to black people, to black bodies in this country, the soul as we construe it is damaged too, the mind is damaged too.” — Ta-Nehisi Coates, as quoted by Jenny Kutner, 2015.
Racism is a social construct. White slave masters and their cohorts invented the concept to normalize the use of African American slaves, as unpaid labor, for their tobacco plantations and farms in the early 18th and 19th centuries. Black slaves were the first victims of human trafficking, if we apply today’s definition: the unlawful movement of people for forced labor or sexual exploitation. Racists hate and fear the “other person.” They show contempt and disgust at engaging with “the other.”
Not many immigrants from our community know about this dark history of racism and how it emerged in America. But most of us know of or have heard of visceral experiences at the workplace, in churches, in public squares or in the media wherein Blacks are relegated as second-class citizens.
We all know that Blacks and folks of color are not treated as equals. Even the current resident of the White House , our President Barack Obama, is not spared as the object of bigotry and wrongful presumptions. In a recent press conference on Iran, the president was asked by Major Garrett:
"Thank you, Mr. President. As you well know, there are four Americans in Iran -- three held on trumped-up charges, according to your administration; one, whereabouts unknown. Can you tell the country, sir, why you are content, with all the fanfare around this deal, to leave the conscience of this nation and the strength of this nation unaccounted for in relation to these four Americans?And last week, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, under no circumstances should there be any relief for Iran in terms of ballistic missiles or conventional weapons. It is perceived that that was a last-minute capitulation in these negotiations. Many in the Pentagon feel you've left the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff hung out to dry. Could you comment?"
Can you imagine this reporter asking this question of Pres. Ronald Reagan or Pres. G.W.Bush, with erroneous presumptions already embedded? Pres. Barack Obama responded to: "I got to give you credit, Major, for how you craft those questions. The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails -- Major, that's nonsense, and you should know better. I've met with the families of some of those folks. Nobody is content. And our diplomats and our teams are working diligently to try to get them out."
Imagine the America we dreamt of -- the nation we worked so hard to immigrate to, the country we would cross mountains, hills, valleys and rivers for -- is also the America with a hidden darkness in the deepest recesses of its soul, a cancerous and poisonous virus that keeps replicating in the minds and hearts of successive generations, unless we make RACISM no longer contagious. It was started in 18th and 19thcenturies, and it is now still very much alive in the 21st century, after a period of 3,000 years.
Racism is an agency and institutional practice where folks of color are relegated to a secondary status, while whites are presumed and are conferred special treatment by virtue of their skin, and to some, also known as “white skin privilege,” an invisible cache of privileges.
They are presumed to be competent, knowledgeable, honest and responsible. They are called first for jobs. They are cast in roles in films, television shows and even “made up” to assume roles of folks of color, much like the latest film shot in Hawaii, where whites were cast as Hawaiians. The reverse is also true, the hyperscrutiny of mistakes done by folks of color, while those are ignored amongst whites.
The opposite presumption attaches to African-Americans: “The number of African American men under state and federal criminal justice supervision in 2013, totaled roughly 1.68 million people. That is 807, 076 above the number of African American men enslaved in 1850," according to the US Bureau of Criminal Statistics, as posted by Senator Cory Booker on Facebook on July 14.
His bipartisan bill, the Redeem Act, gives us a glimpse of the compelling problem: “Our criminal justice system is broken, and we are all paying the price for it. Home to just five percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prison population, our nation is wasting massive sums of taxpayer dollars to make our streets less, not more, safe. Furthermore, incarceration trends have created racial and socio-economic injustices of staggering proportions.” Pres. Obama spoke of how America spends $80 billion on incarcerating folks and for that amount of monies, tuition can be free in all colleges and universities.
Racism is the scourge and poison in one's heart and one's mind that permeates one's being. It is neither conservative nor liberal; it is simply an unacceptable cancer that must be rooted out from one's being, our souls, and our collective population in America.
How do we translate the love that Pres. Obama speaks of and make racism obsolete?
“Justice is making sure every young person knows they are special, they are important, and their lives matter. Not because they heard it in a hashtag, but because of the love they feel every single day.” -Pres. Obama
On June 4, Synergy Kinetic Academy promoted their 8th graders to high school. Part of their graduation ceremonies included a recognition and an award given to Guadalupe E., as a Synergy HERO: Honest, Exemplary, Respectful and Open-Minded. Their newsletter boasts of 99 percent of Synergy seniors graduated in 2015, even though less than a third of adults in this community have a high school diploma.
That does not happen by accident, it happens with intentions and consistent practice and a synergy between teachers and parents.
At Synergy, every child is called scholar. Before class begins, the children line up in their uniforms and do a formal handshake with their teachers and are greeted, “Good morning Scholar!” It reinforces the high regard the teacher has of each student but also the high potential of each student being nurtured by this school.
When a student is a disciplinary problem, parents are guided to work with the problem student positively and given clear choices: you can continue to be a disciplinary problem or you can emerge a new HERO (honest, exemplary, respectful and open-minded). He or she is also viewed as a high potential rather than a high risk destined for prison. Instead, they are educated as if future scientists, engineers, poets, teachers and leaders.
This school was founded by two University of Southern California graduates, a husband and wife team: Randy Palisoc (a Filipino-American born and raised in Hawaii and the very first in his family to graduate college and now a TEDx speaker and an author of mathematics books, which are used to make math more accessible to parents and their children) and his wife, Meg Palisoc, an inspirational administrator of Synergy Academies, which are now three. Both are USC doctorate degree holders who founded Synergy to provide educational equity for all students, regardless of zip code origins (a euphemism for rich and poor students are a function of zip codes). It started as an Elementary School, then a Middle School and then a High School. This year, they are introducing a year of engineering classes to seniors in high school to emphasize the importance of science, math and engineering.
It matters to be in the right zip code, as in the heart of the urban cities, in Synergy Academies, where these scholars are grown and developed by caring and strategic-minded founders and teachers and administrative staff. “This fall, Synergy’s alumni will be attending these colleges and universities: Antelope Valley College, Bucknell University, Cal Poly Pomona, CSU Bakersfield, CSU Dominguez Hills, CSU Long Beach, CSU Los Angeles, CSU Northridge, CSU San Bernardino, Cerritos College, East Los Angeles College, El Camino College, Glendale College, Hawaii Pacific University, Los Angeles Trade Technical College, Los Angeles City College, Mount Saint Mary’s University, Pasadena City College, Sacramento State University, San Francisco State University, Santa Ana College, Santa Monica College, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, University of New England, USC, West Los Angeles College, Westminster College, and Yale University.”
When we practice non-racist methods of educating our children, we grow them as competent scholars, as in Synergy academies, where they are given safe and secure homes and where they are taught to be honest, exemplary, respectful and open-minded.
“We are all longing to go home to some place we have never been – a place half-remembered and half-envisioned we can only catch glimpses of from time to time. Community. Somewhere, there are people to whom we can speak with passion without having the words catch in our throats. [or corrected for precise terms to be used.] Somewhere a circle of hands will open to receive us, eyes will light up as we enter, voices will celebrate with us whenever we come into our own power. Community means strength that joins our strength to do the work that needs to be done. Arms to hold us when we falter. A circle of healing. A circle of friends. Somewhere where we can be free.” – From Warrior Goddess Training, posted by @the_mind_body_spirit_tribe on Instagram.
I am because you are! Nothing less, nothing more, all of us are equal and are all God’s beloved. #BLACKLIVESMATTER #ALLLIVESMATTER
Prosy Abarquez-Delacruz, J.D.
Features/Opinion-Editorial Writer, Asian Journal/Balikbayan Magazine, 2008 to present
Former Commissioner, L.A.City Civil Service Commission and Convention Center, 2005-2008