Tag Archives: black lives matter

On Ferguson: White Fear Murdered Michael Brown

Ferguson

America was watching as St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch scraped through every minor detail of the events of August 9, 2014. Painfully and impatiently, we heard this tired white man repeat the alleged interactions between Darren Wilson and Michael Brown; an incident that left Michael Brown lying dead on the asphalt and Darren Wilson in protective hiding, on paid leave from his post as an enforcer of the law.

Here was McColloch, sluggishly repeating that we know barely anything about why Michael Brown’s life was taken. And somehow, this uncertainty was appropriate background to justify a Grand Jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson. The jury wasn’t harbored to decide whether or not Wilson was guilty of murder, but rather if Wilson should be tried for his actions.

We have our decision. Wilson’s judgment to fire multiple rounds at Brown was concretely justified, says McCulloch. He feared for his life, and as an officer of the law, used “proper training” to shoot and kill a young black man.

I remember, vividly, the last time our nation gathered to hear one man speak. Barack Obama took to the stage in Chicago to announce a victorious presidential election. Like many, I was in tears over the moment. It seemed as if the nation was changing before my eyes. As if the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. were realized in a moment of collective joy.   And yet we find ourselves, six years later, gathering around TV sets and rallying in the streets because the American justice system continuously justifies systematically profiling, incarcerating, and murdering American citizens solely because they are black.

McColloch’s statement treats Michael Brown’s death as a tragic, yet isolated incident. And by detaching Brown’s death as one event of tragic uncertainty, he attempts to excuse Wilson’s actions merely as an officer trying to do his job. In reality, this is one of many incidents of black men being targeted, instigated, arrested, and murdered.   Police officers continue to justify using their weapons because they are consumed with white fear; because they were raised and trained to see black men as useless thugs who belong either dead or in jail.

We cannot treat this decision as simply one incident of a white officer killing a black man. If we do, we ignore this culture of systemic profiling, of dangerous, poignant racism that underwent a significant surge directly following the election of Obama.   No, Rudy Guliani, Ferguson isn’t about black on black violence. No, Don Lemon, Ferguson isn’t about rowdy looting protestors. No, white America, Ferguson isn’t about Black rage or “reverse racism.” These issues are irrelevant topics to distract the American public from facing the fact that white people have reacted to President Obama’s election the same way we have reacted to any progress black Americans have ever accomplished in our nation’s bloody timeline of race relations.

Ferguson is about white fear; the same white fear that drove whites to create Black Codes to maintain supremacy after the abolishment of slavery. The same fear that had whites clutching to Jim Crow laws long after segregation was publicly eradicated. The same fear that urged present day republicans to establish the antiquated voter ID laws to intentionally prevent large portions of the poor black community from participating in our so-called democratic elections after we elected our first black president.

The same white fear inspired Darren Wilson and countless other white police officers to turn black citizens into thugs and “demons” who pose a threat to their livelihood, and therefore deserve to be shot and killed.

If we can’t enslave them, we’ll shackle them with laws. If we can’t segregate them, we’ll make them powerless. If we can’t control them, we’ll incarcerate them. And if at any point we feel threatened, we have the right to kill them.

Fear can stem from misunderstanding, lack of exposure, misrepresentation, or cultural differences. This mass white fear, however, cultivates itself in hatred. A cyclical hatred of black progress. Hatred of this illusion that white people are somehow losing their grip on American supremacy. Hatred of any threat of American post-racialism.

No, fellow white people, we cannot claim that we live in a post-racial America, and yet simultaneously use that façade to justify a mass hysteria that we have lost our superior majority. If we ever want to make any sort of claim to post-racialism, we need to stop fearing black progress, and using that fear to justify the mass incarceration and murder of black Americans.

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Dear (Fellow) White People:

WhitePrivilege

Back in my grade school years, I developed a mindset that socioeconomic circumstances trumped skin color. I was raised in a relatively humble middle class home, attended an inner-city public school, and didn’t have cable TV. I didn’t inherit a trust fund or have a fancy car in a garage waiting for my 16th birthday. I was aware that there were kids born into families much better off than mine, and there were certainly kids who grew up in worse conditions. But my whiteness, I thought, didn’t make me any better or worse off than any other middle class sixth grader.  Woopty doo.

Convinced that our country’s problems were disproportionately blamed on race, I believed that improving America’s socioeconomic gaps would fix all of our problems. Segregation was a thing of the 70’s. Racism started and ended with Remember the Titans.  I lived in this mythical America where skin color was no longer a burden, and rather an aesthetic difference that contributed to cultural diversity. I gradually learned that this was all a product of my imagination, a fairy tale that continues to embody the façade of equal opportunity, freedom, and the ever-attainable American dream.

I’m not sure when the separation started, exactly, but I began to notice that number of black kids in my classes dropped drastically by the year. I was placed in “scholars” classes and shipped off to “gifted” programs once a week–both of which were, not coincidentally, stocked with the majority of the white kids enrolled in the Pittsburgh Public School system. There were a handful of black kids who received the same special treatment, but they were undoubtedly the exception.

As the grades went higher, the number of black students in my classes grew smaller. Was it merely a coincidence that my black peers had lower reading levels? That they were placed in larger “mainstream” classes with less teacher-student attention and inferior curriculums? That the only times I would interact with my black friends were on the school bus and in gym class?

The more black students disappeared in my classrooms, the more I realized that my educational experience was a microcosm of present-day racial segregation, a prime example of the many benefits I received because of my whiteness. It wasn’t until I reached college that I grasped how few white children had more than a handful of black classmates ranging back to their kindergarten days. I found myself thankful that I even attended an inner-city school, hearing from my college peers that their suburban prep schools rarely had more than ten black students, total. I imagined assembly halls filled with blissfully ignorant white children, celebrating black history month like it is some sort of annual accomplishment.

We find ourselves wondering why there are so many white people who have no idea what white privilege means. Who have never unpacked the knapsack, never grasped the blessings of their whiteness, or been called out for racist remarks or attitudes. They grew up to be the people who cried out for Obama’s birth certificate, who labeled Affirmative Action as reverse racism, and attended rallies in support of Darren Wilson’s innocence.

The truth is, my dear fellow white people, that we will never rid ourselves of our privilege. Feeling guilty about our whiteness does nothing to change our problems. Privilege isn’t a stain that we can scrub away. White privilege is the elephant in the room that only gets bigger and more damaging the longer we ignore it. We can only start empathizing, start changing the ways we view racial inequality, and stop contributing problem.

We can stop teaching children that racism ended with the 1970’s civil rights marches. Keep each other from perpetuating the myth that Obama’s election marked the beginning of a post-racial America. Stop bragging that we have black friends, as if it’s some sort of pass-go card to avoid being labeled a racist. Put an end to using commercialized hip-hop to categorize, homogenize, and diminish an entire group of people.

We can stop assuming that our justice system is colorblind. Realize, for instance, that the War on Drugs isn’t really about drugs at all, but rather a crusade led to intentionally target and incarcerate minorities. Accept that racial profiling establishes present-day caste system that labels black youth as suspected criminals because of their skin color. We can come accept that our current system takes advantage of the reality that plenty of people of all races commit crimes in this country, and uses this fact to police certain areas, prey on minority groups, and leave black youth feeling lucky being alive and out of jail by the age of 25. We can change who and what we vote for, and decide who and how we want to enforce our laws.

We can stop pretending that we deserve the jobs that we inherit because our grandfather’s grandfather made boatloads of money on the backs of slaves. Stop insisting that our legacy admittance to Yale was somehow a merit of our own accomplishments. We can call out our co-workers, friends, and family for racist habits.

Well, even after all this, we’ll still be privileged, but at least we can get up in the morning and proudly say that we aren’t part of the problem. At least we can go about our privileged white lives knowing that we are doing something to stop the oppression that burdens black Americans from birth. That carries with them from the hospital crib to the preschool, from the classroom to the workplace. From the convenience store to the jail cell to the cold hard asphalt that Michael Brown lay dead on for four hours. We can protest.

For too long, I believed that my own principles were somehow enough to reach some peace of mind that I wasn’t contributing to the damaging ways of white folks. But we, as white people, cannot sit back and blame “the white man” for having a stronghold of American discourse. We can’t lay blame on the police force and the judges and the teachers, because these people are our former classmates, our co-workers, our family and friends. As members of the white community, we are to blame.

I’m not saying that it’s our fault that we were born with white skin. We are, however, at fault for the destructive oppression that our own community has afflicted on American minorities for centuries. We must hold ourselves responsible for changing the ways we enforce our laws, educate our children, and treat each other on a daily basis. Only then can we claim to be part of the solution.

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