Column, 684 words

America’s ‘Post-Racial’ Lie

White Americans have no right to judge the outpouring of black anger in Ferguson.

Jill Richardson

Shortly before Michael Brown’s fateful encounter with Ferguson cop Darren Wilson, I was appointed as a teaching assistant in a class on race and ethnicity.

I’m white. I didn’t go to grad school to study race — I study agriculture. When it comes to race, I’m clueless.

I wish I could say that I was clueless — that I’ve since obtained a whirlwind education on race in the United States. But that’s not true. If anything, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation of my blind spots.

I probably boast a more diverse group of friends than many of the folks I grew up with. But like the majority of white people, my social networks are still almost entirely white.

I could tell you the names of every single black kid in my grade in my childhood elementary school because there weren’t that many. At the time, I thought they were having the same social and educational experience that I was.

The Prejudicial System, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

The Prejudicial System, an OtherWords cartoon by Khalil Bendib

I was wrong.

I recently reconnected with an African-American guy from my fourth grade class. Our teacher, he told me, was racist. “What?” I responded.

I mean, I was there. But I remember nothing. It was something I didn’t even think about as a kid.

What I do know is this: Whenever I had a run-in with a teacher — or anyone else for that matter — I never had to wonder if they treated me that way because I was white. Not so for my black classmates.

I’ve never had acquaintances come up and touch my hair as if they’re petting a dog. I’ve never had someone say something like, “You’re so cool, I don’t even consider you white!” or “You’re pretty, for a white girl.”

People of color hear statements like these all the time.

When I screw up, I don’t have to worry that I’m representing all white people and ruining things for all of us. When I get pulled over by a cop, I never wonder if it’s because I’m white.

And, what’s more, I never even have to think about this stuff. I can even claim I’m “colorblind” because we live in a “post-racial” America.

As an adult, I’m frequently shocked by how different my black friends’ experience of America is from mine. One friend told me that when she dresses in the morning, she consciously attempts to look “non-threatening” to white people.

Other friends worry about the safety of their teenage sons.

What do you do when your 13-year-old is six feet tall, and you see the police looking at him as if he might be up to something? How do you explain to your rambunctious, innocent nine-year-old that he can’t wear the hoods on his hoodies, just in case?

It’s hard to buy into the “post-racial” lie when you fear that a not-so-colorblind cop might shoot your kid.

Being white doesn’t give me a free pass in life. As a white person with a medical disability that impacts every day of my life, I struggle plenty. But my experience — any white person’s experience — of America doesn’t match what people of color experience.

If this makes you uneasy, there are a few small steps you can take to promote change.

First, admit your ignorance and withhold judgment. White folks don’t know what black folks are going through. How on earth can we judge the outpouring of anger in Ferguson right now?

True, burning down a strip mall won’t help anything. But with a legal system deeply biased against African Americans, white Americans need to understand that this anger comes from an entirely valid place — one that most whites simply don’t understand on their own.

Second, reach out. Make friends. Get to know someone who doesn’t look like you.

In fact, get to know many people who don’t look like you. Because the first step toward bridging the gap between the races in America is forging friendships.

OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.

  • Tango3

    Perhaps, perhaps not. You seem to be persuaded that racism runs one way. I assure you that it does not. But I fail to see (and I’ve tried to) how a “…deeply biased legal system….” put this entire chain of events in motion. Because to undertand the final outcome, you have to understand the entire event in totality. Was it a biased system that committed a strong arm robbery in a convenience store? Was it a biased system that attacked and attempted to disarm a police officer?

    But the crux of this problem doesn’t reside in cultural understanding, education, or body cams. A couple of days after Micheal Brown’s death, a young woman was interviewed by one of the major news affiliates and I believe it was CBS. She talked about “…things that young black men do while they’re young….” She didn’t elaborate on what those “things” were and she expressed a fear for her own son who was a pre-teen. But I’ll bet you this much. If you can identify those things that are illegal and curtail the need to challenge authority when confronted, these kinds of incidents will become passe.

    Nor am I trying to rob anyone of their culture. But when your culture runs counter to the rules of society, which one takes precedent?

    Officer WIlson didn’t shoot Michael Brown because he was black. Michael Brown was shot because he posed a threat, a real and dangerous threat, regardless of whether he was armed or not. His size, his strength, actions, and demeanor were such that he posed a real and serious threat to the life of Officer Wilson. Michael Brown’s character and his actions lead to his demise, not his race.

    • Jan van Dalfsen

      Members of the white authority structure throughout the USA are petrified in case some police get hammered by the courts for “enforcing the law” over the African-Americans. They fear deep down that the whole ediface of US racially based authoritarianism will collapse if some white law enforcer gets jailed for going a bit too far upholding the law over the African-American community. White authorities fear that if a couple of police get found guilty for killing blacks, the rest of the police will lose their nerve so that all control will be gone. To boil it all down to its core, whites rule over blacks in America by imposing TERRORISM. Police terrorize blacks not that differently from what is done by many gangs.

      • Tango3

        Really? Terrorism? What is the definition of terrorism Jan? Here’s the one used by the FBI, which falls under Eric Holder’s blanket at the Department of Justice, so it can’t be racist. “Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or
        state law; Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian
        population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.” Now let’s fall back to Ferguson.

        Ferguson’s population broken down racially is…what, Blacks at almost 70% of the resident population? And yet, there is only one black member on the governing council. I wonder whose fault that could be? I’ve never been to Ferguson, but I’ll bet you that there are people in the black community well qualified to hold office. Apathy is to blame for who is currently in control in Ferguson…not some nation-wide conspiracy theory.

        You don’t like the laws. Change them. There is a process. However rioting in the streets and burning down businesses and police vehicles doesn’t bring about the kind of change you want. In fact, take those two things and the desired outcome along with the phrase “No Justice, No Peace” and gauge them by the FBI’s definition of terrorism.

        There is one thing evident in most of the encounters that no one seems to realize. The courts are the triers of fact. If you are stopped or arrested, you will be given the chance to present your case in due course and to have it heard by an impartial reviewer of fact. That is your time to challenge and assert your side and your defense. Not in the middle of the street. Not against the person who is given the authority to enforce those laws. That is the time and place to defend yourself, not by your resistance, fists, or a weapon at the time of the encounter.

        I realize nothing I say is going to change the way you think; you’re much too entrenched. I would urge you however to read the laws of your state that govern the police use of force and deadly force and arrest.

        • Aaron Parr

          Nothing you say is relevant to the real world. That is why you are not persuasive.

          The only people you can preach to and be heard by are your own choir.

    • Aaron Parr

      Here you have written many words that mean nothing.

      What are you trying to rationalize? And how does it respond to the article?

  • Aaron Parr

    Between the racism in Tango3’s comments, and the 1950’s white suburban privilege apparent in the article above despite the authors good intentions I see one very strong commonality: privilege and self-delusion.

    Privilege can not be allowed in society. It makes people as stupid as fatted cattle.

    • Tango3

      Racism. And what racism would that be Aaron? What did I say that was racist?

      And in due course, those that aren’t self critical enough, you’re willing to step in and point out their fallacies…as you see them.

      You are resolute in the knowledge that you’re right and anyone else with a different perspective is wrong. How…noble of you.

      • Aaron Parr

        You really don’t understand how your comment is racist?

        • Tango3

          Answer a question with a question. You really don’t have a clue what you say; you just parrot what you’ve heard elsewhere and stretch to make it fit and attack, deride, and berate if it runs counter to your beliefs.

          I understand how it could be misconstrued that way. Why don’t you tell my why it is, since you know so much about me.

          • Aaron Parr

            Interesting projection there. Helps me understand what to expect from you.

            There is nothing to misconstrue. Everything you have stated is completely racist. For one you heard this one little quote and then applied that to all african americans. That is racist. You took it out of context to fit with your worldview which shows racist assumptions on your part and is the definition of prejudice. And then to sit on your “high horse” as you seem to believe of your position and proclaim how others should live, act ,or be in order to avoid being shot in the street by a cop – that just takes the racist cake. After all you are telling all African Americans that it is their fault they are being killed with impunity by police.

            So really I don’t know where to begin in taking the inventory of your racist comments. It clearly runs deep in your thinking because you can’t even admit it, and yet there it is clear as day when you communicate. Your racist comments just flow right out of your mouth.

          • Tango3

            Odd. You’re a majority of one holding that opinion. But that is your opinion. And of the many people I’ve talked to face to face about this, of all races, we don’t always agree, but I’ve yet had one to accuse me of being racist, including the local NAACP President. A conversation in which we both agreed that any death is tragic particularly at so young an age.

            I applied that comment to no one. Everyone seems to be casting about looking for answers, I proffered that as a place to start. If that hits a bit close to home for you…well, I can’t help that.

            Insofar as me sitting on my “high horse”. My horse sits no higher than anyone else’s. How arrogant of me to think that we all are supposed to live by the rule of law and that, wow, there are potential consequences when we don’t. So go ahead, explain to me how if Michael Brown had been of different pigmentation, the outcome would have been different. You want to claim and state that he was killed on the sole premise of his race and not as a result of what he did and tried to do and yet, I’m the racist.

          • Aaron Parr

            Yes, you are the racist. No doubt about, and no attempts to explain it away matter until you admit it and overcome it. Thats the whole thing.

          • Tango3

            Well then, welcome Aaron, one racist to another! Cloak yourself behind rhetoric and paint broad with that labelmaker you wield. And while you label everyone else, you’ve offered nothing but condemnation for anything other than what you believe.

          • Aaron Parr

            Whatever. The only one cloaking them self is you, Tango3.

            Why don’t you try posting this racist drivel under your real name? See what happens.

          • Tango3

            Yeah, condemn, ridicule, berate. Your starting to sound like Fox News. Say it enough, someone might actually start believing it.