What Black Rights Mean in the 21st Century

With the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, and Michael Brown, renewed attention is honing in on police brutality and vigilantism within Black and Brown communities. In this rapid-fire era of social media and the 24/7 news cycle, a modern day Civil Rights Movement is forming on the heels of the social and political gains of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s.

As Michelle Alexander eloquently explains in The New Jim Crow, a contemporary racial hierarchy has been formed to congeal longstanding racial injustice. Instead of overt and brutal means to enforce racist social control (such as slavery and Jim Crow), white racist elites have created a criminal justice system buttressed on enduring racial tensions.

Today's criminal justice system encapsulates the explosive and dangerous development of private prisons, and expounds upon racist and prejudicial laws meant to oppress, marginalize, and disenfranchise low-income people of color. The effect has been disturbingly successful; with high incarceration rates, skewed prison sentences, and a culture that accepts (if not embraces) unfair policing of minorities, racism has taken a new form by way of well-financed institutions.

The criminal justice system is but one form of institutionalized racism. Across the United States, housing policies and public school systems further contribute to the societal crippling of Black and Brown communities. Recent rollbacks in voting rights further tear away at minority political power. These harsh realities, added to cultural elements which actively misrepresent minority communities in media, combine into a racist and prejudicial force.

As these structures concretize by way of financing and public support, Black and Brown activists and professionals must consider the depth and intricacy of these various institutions. This is what the modern Civil Rights Movement looks like.

Unlike the Civil Rights Movement of the past, racism and prejudice is not as clear or physically violent as it once was. Hidden through complicated system of policies and laws, contemporary racial justice activists must be trained and efficiently organized in order to combat intricate racist institutions.

Restructuring law enforcement and improving police and community relations is but one pillar of this modern Civil Rights struggle. With the failed War on Drugs came skewed incentives for police to target low-income people of color. This tension has fostered distrust between police and community stakeholders, which altogether halt racial progress.

Climate justice is another area that the Civil Rights Movement works into. Low-income neighborhoods (which are disproportionately home to people of color) are more likely to have high rates of pollution, and are less likely to have the necessary resources and services when natural disasters hit. Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy are prime examples of how lackluster preparation exacerbates damage.

The conglomerate school system is yet another front worth tackling. Underfunded public schools are less likely to have and retain qualified teachers, while being more likely to lead Black and Brown youth to gang violence and criminal behavior.

Altogether, institutional racism is deeply entrenched in a multifaceted network of law, politics, and media; three systems marred in intangibility. This is why racial justice advocates and activists are focusing more on systematic change in conjunction with grassroots direct action.

Fortunately, with social media makes these enigmatic systems more visible. As we tweet and post our experiences, share our stories, and provide resources for information, institutional racism becomes more visible.

All in all, the racial justice struggle of the 21st century relies on the rapid pace of social media, combined with a holistic comprehension of structural racism. The racial justice struggle of today involves efficiency, academia, and education. Comprehensiveness is necessary, if not required.

Black rights is a culmination of changing systems.