Everything’s Fine; White People on Racism

As the events in Ferguson, Missouri have unfolded since the day Michael Brown was gunned down by a police officer, we have learned a lot about the state of race relations in our country.  But it’s not in Ferguson where we learned the most.

I have purposely avoided watching any of the news coverage of the reactions of the Ferguson folks to both the killing and the failure of the grand jury to indict the killer.  It’s entirely reasonable that people who already believe the system is stacked against them because of their race react in ways that make white people squeamish.  I don’t delight in seeing people act in desperation.  Violence makes most people uncomfortable, but it might be that only certain violence makes us nervous.

Throughout our history, the federal and state governments have used violence against our fellow citizens and most often the vast majority of citizens have turned a blind eye.  The more you get your nose out of the official narrative and look at how “order” is kept, you can’t help wondering just when we are going to admit the serious flaws in that official narrative.

Homestead, Sand Creek, Ludlow, Republic Steel, Selma, Kent State, the Bonus Army, Chicago 1968, Waco, and Colfax are code words for just some of the incidents when the US Military, federal authorities, state militias, or local police used violence against innocent citizens.  Yet you’d have to dig deeply beyond whatever makes it into our US History books to really learn about these events.  The American people seem to have always had a cast iron stomach in tolerating horrific acts by their government, but almost no tolerance for those folks who are moved by injustice to speak or act against that injustice.

So it has been no surprise to me that seemingly millions of Americans have justified the killing of Michael Brown and have brought condemnations down on the heads of all black people demonstrating and rioting in response to Brown’s murder.

Most interesting are all the Facebook posts by white people who just don’t see a race problem in this country.  They are all too happy to post such insightful comments as “The United States is not as racist as other countries,” or “I live in a mixed neighborhood and everyone gets along fine,” or “Why does President Obama send representatives to Ferguson but ignores the families of white police officers killed in the line of duty?”

It’s these asinine statements and comparisons that tell you how deep the racial divide remains in our country.  To claim that the United States is better off racially than other countries says nothing about race in America.  Our standards cannot be the abysmal conditions in other countries.  It’s like saying being poor in America isn’t as bad as being poor in Burkina Faso and then concluding we don’t have a poverty problem in our country.

A white person living in a “mixed” neighborhood has no basis to claim that “everyone gets along fine” unless she means “the black people behave.”  I’m not saying it’s impossible for such neighborhoods to exist, but it’s not the white people I’m interested in hearing from.

And as much as President Obama’s enemies try to deny their hate for him has anything to do with his race, they are always quick to point out when they feel any of his actions are motivated by that race.  They are essentially saying “President Obama only cares about Ferguson because he’s black, but I’m not judging him by his race.”  It’s the shallowest expression of hypocrisy in the race game.

There will be more Fergusons in our future and they will elicit the same response until all Americans understand that violent reactions to injustice happen a lot less frequently than violence from our institutional authorities….and these are, or should be, a lot more understandable.

Racism manifests itself in unwarranted fear of people who don’t look like us. The police use insanely over-the-top responses to street violence because of this fear.  And reactions to that excessive police response lead to an escalated reaction from the targets of that police action, which of course retroactively justifies the excessive police violence. When we stop acting afraid of each other we will have a whole lot less to fear.

We have a lot to learn and much more progress to make on race in this country. We can start by discarding anecdotal evidence of racial harmony as reported by white people.  We will have racial harmony when a black man can walk down the street in a white neighborhood and not be afraid of what might happen to him…and not the other way around as many people imagine.  As a white man, I will never claim to be able to understand what it is to be a victim of racism.  About as close as I can get is being a liberal in northern Michigan.  But I’m trying.

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One Comment on “Everything’s Fine; White People on Racism”

  1. Richard Scott November 30, 2014 at 4:18 pm #


    Reasonable comment. Yes our history is full of what Weiner calls the “rule of Clans”. But no state or nation is free of post tribal groups where one of different religion, color, or ethnic background has differences that make them suspect. Or worse, sends the, to the gas chamber.
    There are many who suspect our president is suspect and much of it may be due to his color.
    I have friends, very bright, who lean rightwards…as one ages and income diminishes the rule of capital rises, …life requires a delicate balance of collecting capital and acting responsibly with the money earned and invested. Some of my friends forget the meaning of theVirginia rule on religious freedom, coined by Madison and Jefferson, and believe there are no good Muslims or atheists, or as T Roosevelt noted dirty desists. So those of a different language. I, in my dotage, recall the slurs some made against Italians and Irish, and th fear of those different has reigned high. Some forget the past.

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