The 'Niggerization' of Michael Brown by the Ferguson Police Department and the Right-Wing Media
The niggerization of Michael Brown has begun in earnest. The police and the Right-wing media have decided that like all other black people who have been killed by the police and white (identified) vigilantes, Brown is guilty of causing his own execution-style murder.
Writing about the behavior of the police department in Ferguson, Missouri and their efforts to derail, obfuscate, lie, and dissemble about the murder of Michael Brown is an experience akin to Bill Murray's in the movie Groundhog Day. It is a cultural script that plays out repeatedly in the United States--the events of which are only a surprise to the naive, willfully ignorant, dishonest, and/or stupid.
Those of us who write about race and work the "racism beat" have to struggle to find something new to say about the seemingly endless parade of black unarmed men killed by police and other white-identified authorities. Being a truth-teller on such matters is tedious, not easy, and mentally exhausting.
Cornel West's use of the word "niggerization" to describe how black people are robbed of their humanity by the White Gaze and White Supremacy is cited and mentioned so frequently for a reason: it is one of the most precise and sharp ways of describing both the institutional as well as the ethical and moral violence visited upon black people by centuries of white racism in the United States and the West.
While "Black Twitter" developed a meme designed to point out the twin lying nature of the White Gaze and racial paranoia in how it selectively frames black people's humanity, Right-wing hate media such as the Drudge Report, Fox News, and other conservative sewers defaulted to the black rapist "Bigger Thomas" frame, wherein Michael Brown is a "thug" who got "what he deserved":
Sociologist Joe Feagin's concept of the white racial frame dominates this moment:
In the book Systemic Racism I develop the concept of a white racial frame holistically and comprehensively. Since its development in the 17th century, this racial frame has been a “master frame,” a dominant framing that provides a generic meaning system for the racialized society that became the United States. The white racial frame provides the vantage point from which European American oppressors have long viewed North American society.
In this racial framing, whites have combined racial stereotypes (the cognitive aspect), metaphors and interpretive concepts (the deeper cognitive aspect), images (the visual aspect), emotions (feelings), and inclinations to discriminatory action. This frame buttresses, and grows out of the material reality of racial oppression. The complex of racial hierarchy, material oppression, and the rationalizing white racial frame constitute what I term systemic racism. This white racial frame includes much more than the usual concepts we use in the study of racial matters, such as stereotyping and prejudice or discrimination.
Black people who have had violence visited upon them by the white racial state and its agents are forced into a type of bizarro world. Like women who are the victims of sexual assault, black victims are forced to defend their right to exist; rapine logic as applied to women is a neat analogy for white racial logic as it applies to black victims of white police (and other) abuse. In this framework, Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, and Trayvon Martin were somehow asking to be killed.
As social scientists have repeatedly documented, there is a deep connection between white racial animus, a fear of black criminality, support for guns, and what is euphemistically labeled as "law and order" politics. White conservative politicians have skillfully exploited that bundle of attitudes for great electoral gain from the end of Reconstruction and "Redemption", to the Southern Strategy, and the present.
The mainstream corporate media dances around a basic fact, one that I have no fear or compunction about stating clearly and directly. Michael Brown is dead because the police are empowered by a good percentage of the white American public to kill black and brown people preemptively and with extreme prejudice. If you doubt the glee that the White Right and the silent majority feel for the killing of Michael Brown, a quick examination of the comment sections on CNN and other news sites will disabuse you of that notion.
During the Cold War, it was "better to be dead than red". Historically, in the United States "it is better to be safe than sorry" by killing black people--who may or may not have committed a crime--as due process is jettisoned in favor of white rage and brutality as a means of enforcing the color line.
There has been an amazing amount of racial progress in the United States. Barack Obama, a black man, is President of the United States. Black culture is American culture.
However, it is the "exceptional" and "special negro" who is lauded and praised, made acceptable and embraced as an exemplar of white tolerance and the virtues of American exceptionalism and superiority.
But what of the black stranger who exists in a type of liminal space? Where he or she is just an idea or concept for the collective White psyche and white racial consciousness, in which cultural biases and old fashioned racism too often deem black personhood as dangerous, predatory, and criminal?
On both sides of the color line, it is easy to love the idea of the exceptional negro. By comparison, for the White Gaze, it is far harder to possess a common feeling of shared humanity and decency with a black stranger, one who even in the Age of Obama and the post civil rights era is overlaid and embossed with the stain and shadow of Whiteness's paranoia, nightmares, fantasies, fetishes, anxieties, longing for, desires, fears, arousal, envy, hostility, and other assorted feelings.
White Supremacy colours black and brown people with a reflective patina that shines back to it a projection of what white racism desires to see people of color as, instead of who we actually are.
The substantive racial progress required to finally vanquish White Supremacy from American cultural life will mandate that all Americans accept the full humanity of non-whites...even as some of the latter, like all people, are less than perfect in their behavior and comportment.
Loving an exceptional and perfect black person is easy; loving less than perfect human beings who happen to be black, and simultaneously extending to them their basic human rights on an interpersonal level, is a far more difficult task for white folks--and those others--who are infected by the racial logic of Whiteness and White Supremacy.