It may be because, as someone has suggested, our personal reaction to the events in Ferguson are a “racial Rohrshach.” There are probably three main ways to view the overall story: 1) complete denial that this has anything to do with race, often combined with denunciation of “thug” behavior and “race-mongering” protesters; 2) outrage at injustice and white “cluelessness”; or 3) a sense that truth, as it often happens, is somewhere in the middle.
My sense is that the third option, which might be described as the middle-of-the-road or open-minded perspective, is not by far the perspective of most Americans. If you are black or brown-skinned, you are far more likely to be in the second camp; if you’re white, there’s a better than even chance you’re in the first camp. I’ve posted a fair amount of material suggesting that whites need to consider that they may have blinders on when it comes to racism, especially in its more hidden or institutional forms. But clearly, violent, thuggish black men exist, as do people who “play the race card” too indiscriminately, as do police officers who, while engaging in the extremely difficult and stressful task of enforcing public safety, make split-second decisions that may be tragic without being racist. And yes, race relations and the lives of African-Americans are different (and better, in most ways) than during Slavery, or Jim Crow.
In other words, there are clearly many truths about race and crime. But none of them cancels the others out. Pointing out the systematic bias against minorities in our criminal justice system doesn’t prove that some minorities are trouble-makers. In the same way, pointing out that “black-on-black” violence is the greatest killer of young black men doesn’t explain away the fact that young black men are more than twenty times as likely to be killed by police than young white men. Moreover, all the facts (or doubtful evidence and testimony) that might have led the grand jury not to indict Officer Wilson, do not change the fact that there have been dozens, if not hundreds of such shootings over the last decade or so, with almost no indictments or convictions. Something is clearly wrong here, and the fact that so many are still so quick to deny it shows why it is so hard to change.
In the end, for white America, it may come down to the ability to place ourselves in someone else’s shoes to determine whether we respond with deep concern and calls for change or quickly forget this “isolated incident” until the next comes along. Tim Wise, a white writer on racism and white privilege, is worth quoting at length on the subject:
Can we just put aside all we think we know about black communities (most of which could fit in a thimble, truth be told) and imagine what it must feel like to walk through life as the embodiment of other people’s fear, as a monster that haunts their dreams the way Freddie Kruger does in the movies? To be the physical representation of what marks a neighborhood as bad, a school as bad, not because of anything you have actually done, but simply because of the color of your skin? Surely that is not an inconsequential weight to bear. To go through life, every day, having to think about how to behave so as not to scare white people, or so as not to trigger our contempt—thinking about how to dress, and how to walk and how to talk and how to respond to a cop (not because you’re wanting to be polite, but because you’d like to see your mother again)—is work; and it’s harder than any job that any white person has ever had in this country. To be seen as a font of cultural contagion is tantamount to being a modern day leper.
And then perhaps we might spend a few minutes considering what this does to the young black child, and how it differs from the way that white children grow up. Think about how you would respond to the world if that world told you every day how awful you were, how horrible your community was, and how pathological your family. That’s what we’re telling black people daily. Every time police call the people they are sworn to protect animals, as at least one Ferguson officer was willing to do on camera, we tell them this. Every time we shrug at the way police routinely stop and frisk young black men, we tell them this… (for full article, click here)