When Barack Obama launched his Yes-We-Can campaign to win the presidential election of 2008 and finally moved into the White House, a feeling of hope and optimism, even a spirit of enthusiasm set in – particularly with regard to the situation of African Americans. People wondered if racial equality finally was on its way. It seemed that with Obama’s inauguration African Americans had made it, that Martin Luther King’s dream had come true in the end and they had finally freed themselves not only from the bonds of slavery and segregation but also from racial slurs and discrimination. In the course of his two terms as president of the US, disillusionment set in and racial justice sometimes appears to be more of a vision than a reality.

 

On April 12, Dr. Markus Hünemörder from the Department of English and American studies at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich gave students of the English classes in year 11 a detailed insight into contemporary race relations with a focus on institutional discrimination. Based on the thesis that race had always been the sharpest dividing line in US history, the expert in American history and politics explained that the situation of African Americans had improved considerably since the time of the Civil Rights Movement with Rosa Parks’ bus boycott and Martin Luther King’s March on Washington; not only were discrimination and overt racism illegal, they were also socially unacceptable and considered politically incorrect. Even if it is true that the number of middle and upper class African-American families has risen, there are still a number of persistent problems for African Americans today. Many of them, however, seem to be class-related difficulties, such as low income and a lack of social safety. Poverty and deprivation, on the other hand, quite often go together with crime and especially drug-related crime according to Dr. Hünemörder. This seems to be one of the reasons for the overrepresentation of African Americans and Hispanics in jail. In many US cities, police relations with members of minority groups tend to be difficult with complaints about police harassment. Quite often police are perceived as an opponent force whose major objective it is to keep minority populations under control. There is often the impression that, for instance, African Americans are targeted more frequently and more harshly by the police, implying racial profiling in routine stops. Several recent police shootings of unarmed African Americans have led to protests or even riots, particularly because police officers rarely face criminal charges. Consequently, protest movements such as the Black Lives Matter Movement have cropped up. They claim that police shootings are signs of systemic racism in US society and take a disruptive but mostly non-violent approach; for example, they stage events such as “die-ins” to protest against the situation. On the other hand, they tend to overlook the murder of several police officers by African-American gunmen. Police organizations emphasize the danger of their work. These controversies have resulted in deep racial division. The difficult relations between the police and members of minority groups can partly be explained by the fact that police structure in the US consists of various completely different and independent forces according to Dr. Hünemörder. He pointed out that there was no central command structure; thus, training and policies differed greatly. Whereas many cities have implemented major reforms with a more diverse police force, the development of de-escalation tactics or the focus on strong community relations; in other cities like Ferguson or Chicago reform seems to be overdue. Besides, a tendency towards police militarization with paramilitary equipment and the implementation of SWAT teams has not helped to release tensions. Likewise, Donald Trump’s presidency and his “law and order” campaign have not improved race relations either.

In conclusion, Dr. Hünemörder pointed out that race remained the most troubling dividing line in US society with the perception of race being the key issue: Whereas a majority of whites saw racism as a minor problem, African Americans tended to perceive it as an integral part of US society and a continuous source of suffering.

Die Englischlehrkräfte der Jahrgangsstufe 11:
Kurt Auer, Susanne Beer, Elisabeth Rembeck, Josef Steffan