With Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday this week, it seems an opportune time to re-examine just how much "liberty and justice" African American citizens receive in the United States today. Though Jim Crow laws no longer exist, active racism still thrives in America. Recently, for example, the front page of The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 26, 2000) revealed that some life insurance policies are still paying off along race-related lines. The article specifically highlighted the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company's history of enacting racist insurance policies, reporting that families of black customers who bought life insurance during the 1950s are collectively missing out on "millions of dollars." The policies sold to African American customers earlier this century included five fewer shares of stock than those sold to their white counterparts who bought the same amount of insurance at the same time. While they verbally apologized for this previous racist behavior, MetLife is still doing little to remedy the current situation and is, in fact, continuing to follow its discriminatory contract. Unfortunately, this is far from the only incidence of contemporary racism. According to a recent study by the Public Broadcasting System, African Americans have significantly less access to technology and the Internet than whites, even when those compared are within the same income level. Contemporary observers have come to call this separation the "Digital Divide." I raise the issue of resource and economic discrepancies not to be morbid during the week of King's holiday, but as a reminder that the racism he fought still exists in a very concrete manner. Many of us who are in the "racial majority" focus on the social segregation we see at Penn and assume that this behavior defines the extent of racial issues in the United States. Without belittling the racial concerns on our own campus, I believe we need to view the issues surrounding race on a larger scale in order to better understand local tensions. Many white people are not affected negatively by racism, and, like many of us at Penn, often are so overwhelmed with their studies, jobs and future career plans that they seem unable to think about issues such as race. Fighting racism is a tremendous task, but we must realize that it is not simply a minority problem in America. After all, it was only 70 years ago when people not affected by discrimination were too busy to fight the blooming prejudice against Jewish-owned businesses in Germany. We cannot be complacent while racist practices continue in our community. As history shows, once discrimination is allowed in one part of our lives, it will infect every other part. In a long term and optimistic sense, we will all have influence over various businesses. We will hopefully be purchasing houses, buying insurance and some Penn students will even decide what insurance their employees will obtain. We can take the time to research the history of the companies in which we invest, buy and rely on, to make sure we are not supporting racist institutions with our dollars. While money isn't everything, it does have a large influence on social policies of many of the major institutions in this country. But with a sense of urgency, action is needed now. The easiest and most immediate way to fight racism can be found on our own campus. The Penn community needs to make a united stand by attending events, such as those run through DuBois College House and the Greenfield Intercultural Center. Even though the fight against discrimination benefits all of us, these programs are too often attended by mostly minority students. It is truly no wonder that there is racism in our country and tensions on our campus when many of us treat these events as if they are only for the "students of color." We are all busy on campus, from getting adjusted to college life to preparing for graduation, but we cannot afford to focus only on our own survival, leaving others to suffer. In King's own words, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly."Comments powered by Disqus
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