“Ferguson” is now a meme as opposed to a place; it is a story that individuals can read themselves into depending on their own politics, values, and life experiences.
A person’s response to the explosive combination of race, crime, and the law in Ferguson is a litmus test for deeper political values and life experiences.
Black Americans have historically and in the present been victims of police abuse and disproportionately punished by a racist and classist criminal “justice” system. The killing of Michael Brown is one more death in a necropolis of unarmed black people killed by white police, white street vigilantes, and others with like power and orientation.
The killing of Michael Brown is not a surprise or a shock to most black Americans. We have either personally experienced racially motivated harassment by police authorities, have a relative or friend who has, or live in a community where such norms govern our day-to-day lives and limit our full citizenship. Police abuse is part of the collective memory of black Americans. Understanding how to navigate that maze and mine field is a necessary skill which is taught to us early in life.
Black parents, and those others who love black or brown children, have to rob the latter of their childhood innocence by teaching them that their very personhood will be looked at as a threat by the police and other white authority figures. We have to tell our children that they will be “niggerized” even if they are unarmed innocent victims. We will adultify them so that they will not be surprised when the world does so in ways much, much crueler.
Responsible parents and mentors of black children must rob them of their innocence by teaching them about the realities of life in a racist society. We are their “hard masters”. These lessons are not mean or some type of child abuse. No, they are acts of love, because if you love your child you want them to live, prosper, and grow into adulthood. A black child who does not learn how to interact with the police is more likely to end up killed and dead at the end of a police officer's pistol or rifle.
For many white Americans, the killing of Michael Brown by a white police officer is an anomaly; in their cognitive framework, there must be some reasonable explanation for why a police officer would kill an unarmed person. The collective experience of White America is one where its members are not routinely abused, violated, killed, and harassed by the police. Of course, individual white people may have negative encounters with a given police officer. However, those interactions are not reflections of an institutionally biased set of power relationships where that negative treatment is legitimated and encouraged as both a normal and expected type of public policy.
Historically, the primary role of the police in the United States has been to monitor and control black and brown people in the interests of protecting a dominant racial hierarchy, one that serves to maintain the material, economic, and psychological advantages of white people en masse.
Many white Americans may not have the knowledge or language to articulate this fact. Others know this fact to be true, but they are unwilling to state it for fear of violating the bargain of Whiteness as a type of historical amnesia, and whose owners and signatories believe that Whiteness is ultimately benign and harmless. Both groups of white folks instinctively defend police abuse and the killing of black and brown people because of a deeply learned and taught set of assumptions in which African-Americans are viewed as a race of inherently dangerous rapists, brigands, and murderers.
When people say that “Darren Wilson must have had a reason for killing Michael Brown”, or that “we should give police the benefit of the doubt when they shoot someone”, is as much an embrace of lazy thinking and a default surrender to petit authoritarianism, as it is a projection of a type of white racist logic which deems that black people are “scary”--and "what 'smart' white person would not proceed from such a 'reasonable' assumption and act accordingly?"
And yes, there are some white folks who dare to tell the truth about white supremacy and the realities of white privilege and the color line. In turn, they often face censure, hostility, and rage from other white people. Whiteness and white privilege are a version of the Mafia’s infamous “omerta”. There are consequences for breaking its trust and pact.
The recent events in Ferguson, Missouri are a metaphorical nucleus around which a person’s and a community’s political attitudes and values revolve. Here, the national controversy surrounding Michael Brown’s killing by Darren Wilson channels and arouses the sentiment and ideology known as white racial resentment and symbolic racism. Narratives of black criminality, guns, and police authority are central to the “law and order” politics that have driven the Republican Party’s racist Southern Strategy, as well as the Right-ward shift of “New Democrats” from the 1960s to the Age of Obama.
In all, scaring the white American public about “black crime”, ginning up white racism, and creating resentment towards reasonable efforts to ameliorate or confront the economic and social consequences of centuries of white racism against people of color, pays political dividends for white politicians in both the Republican and Democratic parties.
And like “old fashioned racism, the “new racism” embodied by white racial resentment and “conservative colorblindness” also pays material dividends to its owners, beneficiaries, and owners.
As was seen with George Zimmerman—he also raised significant monies from the (white, gun right) American public—killing unarmed black people is an occasion for generous charity towards the shooter.
Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, is one such white person who has directly profited and benefited from a literal version of “the wages of whiteness.” As of today, he has raised almost 170,000 dollars.
[On ethical and moral grounds, I will not share the website or other information about Darren Wilson’s donation drive.]
This amount is larger than that raised for the Michael Brown memorial fund, monies that will be used to bury a young man in what will likely be a closed casket because his face was disfigured and shattered by Wilson’s bullets, and whose body lay in the street for hours like garbage.
The comments on Wilson’s donation page are very revealing. They help us to understand what type of person would give money to a man who shot dead an unarmed black teenager, in broad daylight, who eyewitness accounts was surrendering.
Undoubtedly, given that the KKK is raising money for their new hero, some of the donors to the Darren Wilson fund are white supremacists.
Others may be friends or relatives of police officers. This close relationship has limited their ability to locate the events in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere within a historical and social context of police abuse towards people of color. They assume that because “their cop” is one of “the good ones” that all others must be given the same consideration: perhaps it a weakness of the human condition, but intimacy and closeness often rob us of the capacity for rigorous and critical thinking.
Some of the donors to Darren Wilson have not outgrown the infantile and juvenile idolization of the police. They gave money to Wilson because it is their way of connecting with a projection of who they would like to be in an alternate version of this life. Perhaps these people want to be "super" and "heroes"? They do not realize that police are regular folks, with a range of human flaws which deem them neither "heroic" or "superior".
The most degenerate of Darren Wilson’s donors have given him money in order to experience the killing of Michael Brown by proxy.
The instinctive defense of Darren Wilson by the White Right and the Right-wing hate media is a reflection of a sick and perverse type of white victimology politics that have existed in the United States since slavery. During the American slaveocracy, whites worried that they would be conquered by blacks if the latter won their freedom. In 2008, the election of Obama was met by all manner of virulent racism from the White Right as circulated by the Fox News hate media. This obsession with white victimhood continues into Obama’s second term, where Mo Brooks, the white racially reactionary and Republican Congressman from Alabama, publicly complained that there was a “war on white people” in the United States.
White racial paranoia is a fixture and continuum in America’s social, cultural, and political life.
Beyond the contemptible public trolling and petty racist contrarianism of the “counter-protesters” in Ferguson, Missouri who marched in support of Darren Wilson, there is a deep moral rot in the heart of Whiteness—one that persists even in the Age of Obama.
White people are the most economically and politically dominant racial group in the United States. Yet, many white folks are delusional: they believe that they are actually victims of “racism”, and that “discrimination” against white people is one of the United States’ biggest social problems. Their anger is also misdirected. Instead of raging at the plutocrats, robber barons, and their assorted enablers in the Republican Party, white racial resentment points their ire towards black and brown folks, the poor, and the working classes.
Darren Wilson is not a victim. He has been protected by a militarized police force that ran amok in Ferguson, Missouri, terrorizing tens of thousands of black people, all for his sake.
Like the white welfare king Cliven Bundy, Darren Wilson is a beneficiary of one of the most gross and obscene demonstrations of white privilege in recent memory.
Libertarians and“principled conservatives” will deny the role that race has obviously played in the public and the police department’s response to the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson. In reality, the bona fides and credentials of libertarians’ and “principled conservatives’” on these matters of racial justice are weak and flaccid because conservatism and racism are one in the same thing in the post civil rights era.
The Republican Party is the United States’ largest de facto white identity organization. Libertarians of the Ron and Rand Paul variety would not have supported the Voting and Civil Rights Acts: they view the rights of black people under the Constitution as secondary to the freedom of white people to trample on them.
A more basic litmus test of the distorted reality created by the white racial frame and white supremacy is highlighted by a basic question. If Darren Wilson was a black police officer, and Michael Brown was a white teenager, in the same exact circumstances, would the first person be free and the police, the Right-wing media, and the Tea Party GOP public, be defending him?
The answer is “no”. Racism is not an opinion. It is a dominant fact in American life, culture, and politics. The events in Ferguson, Missouri are one more data point in support of that truth.