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The “I” Behind the Protests

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By William Clements
June 10, 2020

Although this may not immediately read as the typical pieces which I regularly write, I would like to present intimate insight regarding American life and its perception currently as a Black man in hopes of aiding public administrators to better incorporate equal representation, justice and equity. While viewed primarily as outrage toward lethal police brutality and the general criminalization of Black individuals and neighborhoods, there also exists an intersection of race and socioeconomic classes which play key roles in the national disparities experienced by communities of color. It is my hope that the horrid and despicable history of minorities in America is accepted and the stain of America’s “original sin” finally evaluated and compared within the scope of understanding the different childhood, familial, occupational and societal experiences in hopes of further cultivating better public administrative relationships with all members of society.

We all begin infancy within a realm of superficially endless possibility. There would be little disagreement in the innocence children are naturally given as small, precious beings who live helpless and blameless as they are pure in conscience, actions and even perceptions. In the United States, however, this cannot be further from the truth. Being Black, it continually pains me to fully realize the stark difference between the childhood experiences of White and Black children. As public administrators, it is our duty to help eliminate these injustices by implementing fair policies, but first, we must all do our part to discern what changes can and need to be made. While it goes without saying that my Black experience is not identical to all who look like me, there are seemingly quite a few sufferings shared by a large block of Black and Brown people within the United States. I would like to briefly list a few here.

  1. The Burden of Black:
    From an early age and with historical basis in America, Black children commonly find themselves deliberately and/or inadvertently ostracized from their peers by way of prejudices, socioeconomic opportunities, etc. While other children are realizing their dreams, we were introduced to our nightmares; one of which is the heavy burden of carrying your Black skin in a country where there exists such diversity, yet so little awareness of the inherent racial biases and discrimination. Around the ages of five through nine years old, Black skin is noticed and the actions of society successfully reinforce the blatant reality of its “otherness.” It can be a trip to a local department store where it invokes an unduly suspicious interrogation by the clerk or at school when the teacher is having a bad day in class when it is unfavorably labelled “unruly.” In both cases, our Black skin can unfortunately make for an easy, appealing target for those looking through unfamiliar lenses.
  2. Experiencing Wholeness Through Separate Quadrants:
    Our whole is based on four equal parts which consist of bitter resilience, unrequited hope, dispossession of “home” and obligatory acceptance of an unjust reality. Despite this unfeasible lifestyle, we are then provided advice such as “love yourself,” but how do I learn to accept myself enough to begin loving when all I’ve ever witnessed is the disenfranchisement within my communities and the banning of my culture in such ways that even my natural hair, clothing choices and atavistic language of “ebonics” constitutes a measure of my character which allows for widespread criminalization of my entire identity? The questions posed become, “Am I allowed to freely express myself or am I made to conform to what is deemed tolerable by those who misunderstand me, or worse, harbor hatred?” And, “Are others ever taught my true culture to dispel ignorance or is it the partial history taught that consistently positions them to feel dominant in society?”
  3. Fighting Ghosts:
    Phantoms appear authentic to the unwitting mind. Similarly, those who reiterate their own innocence and disconnect from their ancestors’ offenses oftentimes hold the conditions of ghettos being the “problem” within Black America, yet this logically fails to produce substance, much like an apparition. How can we hold you irreproachable for the actions of your forefathers, but cast accountability on our children for their fathers receiving a maximum criminal sentence, largely due to race and limited financial resources, and upon release, having the harsh inability to gain employment in his economically stagnant neighborhood due to his prior conviction while Black mothers are overlooked for well-deserved promotions because she is not only Black, but also a woman?

This list could continue for numerous pages, but these are a few aspects of Black America which begs to be acknowledged and is critical to comprehending the intricacies of the recent protests from a public administration viewpoint.


Author: William Clements, Ph.D., is a Professor of Criminal Justice and Psychology at higher education institutions. With a B.S. of Justice Studies, an M.S. of Forensic Psychology (concentration: Legal Systems), and a Ph.D. of Public Policy and Administration (concentration: Public Management and Leadership), he is a research fellow at the Institute for Polarities of Democracy and has served in public service fields for 13+ years.

Email: [email protected]

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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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