What Sort of White Person Do You Want to Be? The Cowardly Police Shot and Killed an Unarmed Black Teenager Named Michael Brown Eight Times in Ferguson, Missouri
The police have killed another unarmed black person whose supposed "crime" was walking in the middle of the street. Eric Garner was choked to death several weeks ago by the NYPD. On Saturday in Ferguson, Missouri, an 18-year-old college-bound teenager named Michael Brown was shot at least 8 times by a local police officer.
Of course, the police have offered up a narrative in which Brown attacked their officer (a basic question: who jumps inside of a police car and attacks a heavily armed cop?).
Witnesses offer a very different version of events: they claim that the police officer in question shot Michael Brown, the latter collapsed, and the cop then proceeded to shoot him multiple times. The African-American community in Ferguson Missouri is justifiably upset and protests soon began out of the Ferguson police department.
The white racial frame deems that black and brown people are not allowed the right of righteous anger. When black and brown folks protest--using their Constitutional right to assemble, airing grievances in the public sphere, and exercising free speech--they are somehow "rioting".
Angry white men, the most privileged group of people in the United States, are feted by the mass media and courted by America's political system; angry black people, who have suffered under power and have legitimate justice claims, are criminalized, slurred, imprisoned, and shot by police.
As I shared on Twitter, to fully understand the shooting of Michael Brown and other incidents of police violence, abuse, and tyranny, one must have an expansive understanding of power and white supremacy.
Individual tragedies are important. However, once we see power as a type of interlocking relationships, it is far easier to contextualize them. Most importantly, because white racial paranoia and the defenders of white supremacy are so adept at denying and reframing reality (see the virulently racist comments on CNN's story about the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri), a systematic understanding of racism helps to keep good and decent people who want to fight those evil social forces both grounded and sane.
As I wrote here, white supremacy is a social, cultural, and political force that is reflected in all of areas of American life. The violence against black and brown people visited upon them by police and other state actors must be situated within the proper historical, local, national, and global context.
The murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and many others by police (and other white-identified state actors) are part of a historic and ongoing continuum of racial terror and terrorism.
What David Theo Goldberg brilliantly described as "the racial state" has committed genocide against First Nations and other people of color, and used (and continues to use) imperialism and war to exploit the resources of the "Third World". The wealth and power of the United States was built upon the forced enslavement and murder of millions of black people during chattel slavery--with a condition of de facto servitude, imprisonment, and debt peonage continuing for decades after the formal end of slavery via Jim and Jane Crow.
The police are the armed domestic wing of the white racial state. Their ultimate purpose is to control, monitor, and terrorize black and brown people, the poor, and the working classes. The police and their allies who abuse black and brown communities can trace their lineage directly back to the paddy rollers and patrollers of the American slaveocracy and Jim and Jane Crow.
To reiterate. One of the dominant and primary powers of white privilege and white supremacy in post civil rights America is their capacity to reframe reality, to cause frustration, mental and physical stress, as well as exhaustion by denying basic facts about the enduring power of the color line and how racism over determines the life chances of people of color in a negative way.
Conversely, one of the dominant and primary powers of white privilege and white supremacy in post civil rights America is their capacity to empower and give advantages to undeserving and mediocre white people by virtue of their skin color and social location as determined by luck and fortune of birth in a racially ordered society.
The righteous anger of black and brown people in response to incidents such as the murder of Eric Garner by the NYPD, and the shooting death of Michael Brown by St. Louis police, is understanding and reasonable: our safety and security is threatened, as is that of our friends, families, and communities.
But, where is the anger of white folks en masse at such horrific incidents? This is one of the essential questions if we are to move towards a more just and good society. A sense of shared humanity across the color line is a bulwark against the same forces who terrorize black and brown people, spy on the American people, have created a culture of cruelty, empowered gangster capitalists, destroyed the social safety net, and are stealing wealth and resources from the middle and working classes to enrich the parasitic 1% and other plutocrats.
White privilege creates social distance, which in turn frees white people from an obligatory sense of moral and ethical outrage, as well as a feeling of responsibility, for the systematic mistreatment of black and brown people in American society. "Colorblindness" is one of the many white lies which is used to further that cognitive state.
Instead of looking way or surrendering to the just-world fallacy, white folks need to look directly at events such as the killing of Eric Garner and Michael Brown by the police, and ask themselves "what sort of white person do I want to be?"
How white Americans answer that question will hold the key to salvaging their collective souls, and may even help to save the republic by seeing the Common Good as a shared state of affairs across the color line where injustice done to one community will inevitably be visited upon others as well.