Have you ever read the book “To Kill a Mockingbird?” How about “Paperboy?” Maybe you have read a biography about Martin Luther King Jr. or Rosa Parks? All of these books have a common central theme: racial discrimination.
In mid-January, Dr. Gary Ford, a Harvard graduate who attended law school at Columbia and who now teaches Afrofuturism, visited with history and English students at ‘Iolani to discuss the evolution of racial discrimination in today’s society.
Dr. Ford discussed the Jim Crow laws, which established racial segregation against African Americans during the 1800s until 1965. With prejudices still running high, African Americans struggled to earn the respect as deserving citizens. This gave African Americans less rights and accommodations than the white people, for example having to use a segregated water fountain or sitting in the back of the bus.
Moving on to World War Ⅱ, Dr. Ford talked about how the African Americans fought for the Allies and were sent to fight with the French. Doing that, he said, meant the American government would be responsible if anything “happened.” The government sent a notice to all the French women and children to stay away from the black men; this led to the lynching (violent ways of dying: hanging, being burned to the stick, etc.) of many innocent black men. The American government took other precautions to prevent the darker skinned people to gain too much freedom in France since the French did not have slavery.
Speaking about the prejudices African Americans experience, Dr. Ford recounted the story of Freddy Grey, an African American man who lived in Baltimore and who had a bad reputation with law enforcement. After making eye contact with a law enforcement officer, he was arrested and placed in the back of a police van and received what is now called a “rough ride.” He was purposely “thrown around in the car,” and was later found dead with a broken neck. In response to Mr. Grey’s death, a group of citizens led a rally about how black people’s lives matter, which later caused much destruction of public property, including the burning of a CVS store.
Dr. Ford ended his presentation by addressing the severity of the problem of racism and how it is being controlled today. He said since World War Ⅱ, there have been times when racial discrimination has been “almost completely wiped out,” but right now America is in a phase that he referred to as “aggressive.” This means that non-black people are making fun of black people in a way that is degrading.
According to Dr. Ford, America still struggles with fighting racial discrimination because white supremacy is currently at a high point and not equally balanced.
Born in Connecticut, Dr. Ford grew up when racial discrimination was prominent in American society. His grandfather worked in Arkansas as a sharecropper--a tenant farmer who works on someone else's land and pays a share of his crop as rent--but escaped from his landlord, who threatened to kill him. Dr. Ford’s grandfather’s family eventually found their way to Connecticut, and soon after, Dr. Ford was born. Living in a 99 percent white town, Dr. Ford had a challenging childhood. He recalls a time when he and his sister went down to the swimming hole (calm water off of a river or a small lake), only to observe the white kids climb out of the water and go went home when they entered. His school was also highly racially discriminatory. Although academically inclined, he was put into the slower learning group simply because of the color of his skin. Dr. Ford continues to strive for equal rights, and hopes to one day see racial discrimination eradicated from the world.