“For good reason, many people—especially poor people of color—fear police harassment, retaliation, and abuse. After having your car torn apart by the police in a futile search for drugs, or being forced to lie spread-eagled on the pavement while the police search you and interrogate your for no reason at all, how much confidence do you have in law enforcement? Do you expect to get a fair hearing?”
~ Michelle Alexander
The above quote is from a book that I wish every one of my Caucasian friends would read: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. In its pages, Alexander presents a case documenting the rise of a Police State enforcing a caste system against people of color, primarily young black men, through America’s “War on Drugs,” and our corporate commitment to felony convictions and mass incarceration as a key tool in this effort.
I really believe that this book, whether you agree or disagree with its cultural assessment, will help some of my white friends begin to process the recent events in our country, that have brought the following names and locations into the forefront of our consciousness: Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida; Michael Brown and Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner in New York; and young Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Ohio. And, I believe that this book would give us the opportunity to have valuable conversations with others in our communities who have a vastly different experience than many of us; who live in a state of disparity that we are unable to see, and many times refuse to see!
This is hard to understand, when you’re living in a culture where you are part of the predominate racial, ethnic, and economic majority. You are swimming in the social construct or Zeitgeist (spirit of the age), and may not even realize that the scales are tipped in your favor at the expense of someone else.
Everything isn’t black and white (there are shades of gray). Everything isn’t as clear as the media attempts to portray it, and it also isn’t always as clear as we like to see it. There is a reality that exists, and saying we are colorblind won’t hide the truth. In our country, white individuals and people of color live in vastly different worlds. For many in our society, the black man is seen as a potential thug, the Latino woman is probably an illegal immigrant, and the Arab man is a possible terrorist. We need to work hard to seek conversation, to not dismiss perception, and to address injustice.
I’m sickened by the recent events that have unfolded in our country. I’m always disturbed when a white man seems to use excessive force against a black man that ends in harm or death that appears unjustifiable or doesn’t fit the perceived “crime.” I’m disturbed by the blatantly racist comments that come from many of my white friends, the vilification of the dead person that ensues, and the justification of their prejudices that follows. And I am extremely disturbed when I realize that sometimes such assumptions lie in my own heart. Prejudice runs deep, and I have worked hard in my life to overcome it, but sometimes the cultural waters run deeper than you expect.
I don’t pretend to speak for the black men in these situations, nor do I intend to vilify our police officers, many who faithfully serve to protect our communities. That is not my place, nor is it my purpose for writing this post. However, I can seek to understand, to reach across to the person different than me, and view the world as they see it. And even within racial/ethnic groups there are different viewpoints.
Some of my black friends, as well as some black cultural icons and entertainers have acknowledged that they do indeed live in a different reality than many white individuals, but they are willing to accept the responsibility of that reality, to have conversations with their children regarding that reality, and to hold themselves to a different standard in spite of the disparity between their world and that of others. Some of these individuals were offended by the rioting and looting in Ferguson, Missouri, the response to our police officers in some of these situations, even while acknowledging that injustice still exists (and probably always will).
I am saddened that these individuals have to navigate such difficult waters.
And I am offended that many of my white friends refuse to have a conversation, refuse to seek to understand the viewpoint of others, refuse to see beyond black and white. We are not colorblind, and it is time to admit that reality. We have a color problem, it is a deep wound festering in our cultural “skin,” and it will continue to create explosions across our country until we commit to do the difficult work and painful work required to bring healing. We must have conversations, we must risk offending others, we must face the challenge of rebuilding our society, and we must truly seek a culture that is committed to justice for all.
Image Source: Public Domain