Imagine: A foreign war divides the country. Widespread protests at campuses from one border to another. Widespread civil rights injustice in plain sight before the nation. Police brutality caught on camera for the first time. A contentious Democratic primary between a proven civil rights leader and an establishment candidate, countered by sheer insanity on the Republican side. Tensions flare at universities across the country… culminating in the Kent State massacre of student protesters by police on May 4, 1970.
Sound familiar? We’ve been here before. Sure, the protests are over microaggressions and drone strikes and not lynchings and the Vietnam War draft, and it’s Bernie Sanders instead of Hubert Humphrey, and Donald Trump instead of Barry Goldwater, but if you look around it’s clear that history is repeating itself. The question is when, and where, will it all end?
Times have changed a little, of course. With the Internet and apps like Yik Yak, racial slurs and death threats can anonymously reach their targets in seconds. For instance, Howard University, a historically black college in Washington D.C., received a threat of racially-directed violence Nov. 12 and has stated its intentions to raise security Nov. 13. as a result, a situation that our own Drexel student body should be familiar enough with. (Though that threat wasn’t racially motivated, at least to our knowledge.)
What hasn’t changed much is the bigotry. It’s still around, it’s ever present, and, unable to get by in the open. It’s switched to much more subtle techniques, like institutional racism, subtle discrimination and momentum from the pre-civil rights era. There is still an overwhelming income disparity between whites and blacks, leaving one to prosper while the other is far more likely to live in poverty. Blacks also compose a majority within America’s prisons, and are disproportionately frequent victims of police violence.
Sure, we’ve made progress: a black person, in general, no longer has to worry extensively about being lynched. Unfortunately, “whites can no longer get away scot-free with murdering a black person in the town square” isn’t a great yardstick for social progress.
The protests at the University of Missouri, and at Yale, and at Ithaca, are only the beginings of a much larger movement. A new civil rights movement is upon us, and it is for our leaders to decide: will it end in real change, or will it end in another Kent State massacre?