After a year in which a black teen wrestler was targeted for his hairstyle, and Starbucks patrons were targeted for waiting while black, and a Dallas police officer was indicted on a murder charge for killing a black man in his own apartment, I eagerly await 2019.
Thanks to the presence of cellphone cameras and social media, there is no doubt that numerous incidents of cultural bias, ethnic bigotry, and outright racism occurred over the past year. The question now is simply this: What are we prepared to do about it?
As for me, I plan to approach the new year with the abiding hope that 2019 will be a turning point on race relations in America. This is my hope every year, and, while I am committed to telling the unvarnished truth about what exists in the present, I am equally dedicated to working toward a better future. With that in mind, here is my wish list of the racial changes that I believe are achievable in 2019:
Black hair will stop being controversial
Americans of all stripes watched with horror and heartbreak as white New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) referee Alan Maloney, citing NJSIAA rules, forced black teen wrestler Andrew Johnson to cut off his dreadlocks before a match.
The outrage that followed was about much more than the actions of a referee who previously faced punishment because of allegations of racist behavior. The anger was driven by the racism that has traditionally denied blacks the freedom to express pride in our identity by embracing the kinks in our hair.
The white backlash against black hair has traditionally been expressed through mocking and derision, but it has also been codified in rules that prevent black hairstyles from being worn in work and school environments. Maloney used such a rule to engage in what many observers viewed as racism.
In denying the boy the right to wear a hairstyle that flouted European beauty standards, Maloney was denying him the right to express his blackness. But more than that, Maloney was denying him the opportunity to use his hair as a silent protest against racism.
My hope for 2019 is that white America will let go of its fear of black hair and embrace the truth. Like braids, cornrows, and Afros, the locks that go back 2,500 years in various cultures are not just about reacting to white aesthetics. They are about embracing black identity and culture. Most often, that has little — if anything — to do with white people. Accept that, and America will instantly become a better place to work, learn, and live.
Criminal justice will remove some racial bias
It was almost lost in the turmoil of a government shutdown over a border wall, and a defense secretary’s resignation over military policy, but President Donald Trump signed a transformative bill into law last week.
The law, called the First Step Act, is the result of a bipartisan effort to reform a federal prison system that bred mass incarceration during the War on Drugs. In my view, Trump’s action in signing the bill is to be lauded, because it will positively impact Americans across multiple racial demographics.
The legislation, which was championed in the U.S. House of Representatives by Reps. Hakeem Jeffries (D., N.Y.) and Doug Collins (R., Ga.), directly addresses the drug-related crimes that incarcerated so many people of color during the crack era, just in time to help the white defendants who are now facing drug charges during the rise of what is known as the opioid epidemic.
Still, the First Step Act gives America the tools it needs to fix a criminal justice system that ballooned to over two million people because of unfair, unjust, and, yes, racist laws. It addresses the sentencing disparity between crack cocaine and powder cocaine, limits the use of juvenile solitary confinement in federal prisons, curtails three-strikes laws, gives judges greater leeway in sentencing, and much more.
I believe 2019 can be the beginning of a fairer and more equitable criminal justice system in America. It begins with the First Step Act.
Educational disparities will finally be addressed
The Keystone State is home to the largest disparity in education funding between rich and poor school districts. A whopping 33 percentage points separates what’s spent in the richest districts and what’s spent in the poorest. Not surprisingly, there is a link between economic status and race.
Now is the time for Gov. Tom Wolf to face that reality, and fix it.
Wolf, who took office with substantial support from teachers' unions who believed his promises when he said he would fully fund education, is in his second term. He can’t run for office again. He’s independently wealthy. The politics should not make a difference. Wolf, however, can make a difference.
In 2019, I want to see the governor who promised to change education in Pennsylvania take a bold step to do so.
That way our children can have happy new years for decades to come.