Ain't nothing changed but the year it is.
Furthermore, in the play, Jason Sanford presents an opportunity to display the power difference between whites and people of color in American society. Jason is a handsome white man in his late twenties. Concerning the events of Rodney King, Jason states, “I don’t know if I’d been beaten… I don’t think it would have gone as far,” which means he acknowledges his white privilege. “‘Why do you have so many warrants?’” a cop asked Jason. “Ya know… ‘You look like an all-American white boy. You look responsible,’” the cop followed (Smith 1992, 22). “I’m sure I’m seen by the police totally different than a black man,” says Jason (Smith 1992, 23). Race means everything in America. Being white holds more value than being black in American society, and it reflects the ignorance of the majority of America and their biased preconceptions about people of color. White people are seen as “responsible” and friendly, but black people are quickly perceived as “thugs” and untrustworthy. Many people of color experience covert racism where racism is “subtle” and implicit but still “perpetuates systemic injustices as well as policies and practices that keeps a lot of people behind” (Bellamy 2018). Through institutional racism, white people keep their racial hierarchy alive.
Protestors upset over the verdict in the Rodney King beating trial in Simi Valley, California, demonstrate outside of the Fraternal Order of Police headquarters in Washington D.C. on April 30th, 1992. ©Paul J. Richards
South Los Angeles was a black community that had to survive in the poorest of conditions in dilapidated slums. They were given little to no access to power or resources to revitalize the community as a whole, keeping them behind in American society. They were victims of institutional racism. Former congresswoman Maxine Waters knows institutional racism exists, and she asked the president to “deal with the young men who have been dropped off of America’s agenda” (Smith 1992, 160). She asked him to address those who have been silenced. Those who have had their struggles and experiences made insignificant. “Everybody in the street was not a thug or a hood,” good people struggle, and it leads them to crazy things, but they are not criminals (Smith 1992, 161). “The fact of the matter is, whether we like it or not, riot is the voice of the unheard,” declares Waters (Smith 1992, 162). The riots were meant to unite those who knew the struggle and uplight their voices to be heard by a nation that chose not to listen.
Police officers form a line as demonstrators make their point about the verdicts in the Rodney King beating trial. ©Orange County Register
America had betrayed the trust of many communities of color, especially when most believed things had changed with time. But it quickly became evident that things might stay the same. The rioters cried for racial freedom and equality, and they wanted to be heard loud and clear. The riots were meant to achieve the very concept that America promises yet still denies: freedom and equality. Communities of color have become marginalized by white America since America was first referred to as “The New World." Even in 1992, it was evident that America is certainly not on the side of people of color. The events of Rodney King reminded every person of color of their place in America: unimportant, just like America treated the lives and experiences of Rodney King and Latasha Harlins. America promises to be a haven, but people can not exist without discrimination, so they have to be brave enough to stand up and create change in such an oppressive system. America is not "the land of the free and the home of the brave.” It is the land of the silenced and the home of the lies.
Cover Image. ©AP
Bellamy, Wes. "Charlottesville Has Become 'Ground Zero For The Awakening' Of Covert Racism." NPR. August 11, 2018. http://www.npr.org/2018/08/11/637865131/charlottesville-has-become-ground-zero-for-the-awakening-of-covert-racism.
Press, The Associated. "Rodney King Riot: Timeline of Key Events." AP NEWS. April 26, 2017. https://apnews.com/fa4d04d8281443fc8db0e27d6be52081/Rodney-King-riot:-Timeline-of-key-events.
Sastry, Anjuli, and Karen Grigsby Bates. "When LA Erupted In Anger: A Look Back At The Rodney King Riots." NPR. April 26, 2017. https://www.npr.org/2017/04/26/524744989/when-la-erupted-in-anger-a-look-back-at-the-rodney-king-riots.
Smith, Anna Deavere. Twilight--Los Angeles, 1992. Dramatists Play Service, 2003