Racism is the one issue that has always caused me to shift in my seat. It is a topic that makes me feel as though I’m trapped in a game of minesweeper with no information as to whether I’m about to step on an explosive. It isn’t that I think I’m a racist; it’s that I will never know what it is like to walk a mile in the shoes of a black American. It is an experience that I can never have, so I have to rely on second- and third-hand information, and that makes me uncomfortable.
Looking at the Ferguson grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, all I can do is to look at evidence. Evidence isn’t racist; it is objective. It is bare facts. And the facts in the case of Michael Brown show that the eyewitness testimony was dubious at best and completely made up at worst. The witnesses who defended Michael Brown’s total innocence were all proven wrong: the police officer’s beaten face proves that, and the blood spatter analysis proves that. If I were on the grand jury for the case, I too would have also had a hard time indicting the police officer.
Moreover, Michael Brown probably deserved his day in court, and with a more experienced officer, that may have happened. Even in that case, justice would not have a happy ending for Brown. He robbed a store and assaulted its owner. He also assaulted a police officer. He deserved to be jailed. And unless you personally know the experience of being physically assaulted by a man who outweighs you by close to 100 pounds as he is reaching for your gun, it is hard to criticize the officer too heavily. In those situations it is all about a survival instinct: take this from someone who knows a thing or two about having survival instincts kick in.
The media is to blame for most of the misinformation surrounding the Michael Brown case. They were quick to prematurely inject racism into a situation they clearly did not understand, eliciting emotions based on shoddy information. I’ll be the first to admit I never thought I would agree with an MSNBC host, but Joe Scarborough said it perfectly on his rant on Dec. 1, during his show “Morning Joe”: he calls out the media for irresponsibility and fear of withstanding the inevitable withering assault of being called a racist for going against the activist narrative.
I’m not denying racism still exists in America, and that some of it is institutional. But I do object to the focus on Michael Brown, and to using him as an example of contemporary racism. Calling everyone who doesn’t agree with you a racist is not helping, and the other side, hiding behind anonymity on discussion boards and apps, isn’t helping either. We are talking past each other instead of sitting at the same table.
I read the comments on the posters in Usdan before Thanksgiving break. The one that struck me the most was the comment by an activist saying that people he knew weren’t looking him in the eye. I had to wonder: could that have been because those people didn’t agree with him and didn’t want to talk out of fear of being labeled a racist? Doesn’t that say as much about the protestors as it does about the people who nervously shuffled by? On anonymous boards, anyone who says, “Don’t attack police officers and you won’t be shot” is met with a slew of calls of racism. Yet these anonymous commentators were backed up by the evidence in claiming that Michael Brown assaulted an officer.
Those anonymous people should come forward and not hide behind anonymity. In fact, both sides need to come to the table without being defensive or afraid to talk. Both sides need to show effort. Both sides need to stop with the name-calling and retreating to toxic vitriol at the first sign of being disagreed with. White Americans can’t sit back and expect black Americans to fix everything; black Americans can’t sit back and expect white Americans to fix everything. We all need to admit that we have work to do, and that it is a joint effort.
I would like to hear about specific instances of institutional and personal racism. I keep hearing that the former exists, but no one will tell me what it is. I want to hear what it is like to walk a mile in the shoes of a black American, to get as close of a look as I can to see what America really is like for those individuals, because all I see and hear right now is hand-wringing and shouting. I want to truly know how much of the black struggle is due to racism and how much of it is a shared day-to-day struggle of living in America that extends across all races. I want to know so I can try to understand.
My scholarship program and the University are hosting a discussion about Ferguson, power, police, and racism in an all-expense-paid weekend event in February. I plan on attending this event. Travel, room, and food all paid for by Wesleyan and hosted by the Wesleyan Veterans; if you would like to R.S.V.P., contact me or any one of the Posse Veterans.