Even the US’s smallest towns can be instantly turned into occupied territories as local police agencies quickly transform themselves from peacekeepers into occupying military forces. The small town of Ferguson, Missouri, is living proof of that.
The London Guardian covers the story:
Why are white people scared of black people’s rage at Mike Brown’s death?
Because ‘working together’ on Ferguson means nothing unless white privilege gets used for change – and defers to the black experience
In the days since 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed in broad daylight by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri – amid the flurry of media coverage, the teargas and the wooden bullets, the shameless character shaming of Brown, and the gut-sick heartbreak of his family – all I keep thinking is: Make it stop, white people.
You are the ones who created this godforsaken racist system by using your circumstantial power and privilege 400 years ago to institutionalize white supremacy. Now use that power and privilege you still have, 400 years later, to dismantle it.
And please don’t quibble about whether you have any direct lineage to the architects of racism. You are benefitting from it, so you have a direct responsibility to figure out how to undo it. Because maybe you’ve seen what happens when we black people try to undo it in 2014 – they call in the National Guard.
In between talking with my son to both protect him from the same fate as Michael Brown and empower him to walk tall in his skin, I have tweeted and posted on Facebook about this all week to no avail. Some white friends and acquaintances have said their silence is not complicity, or that we all need to work together. More pointedly, it was suggested in one thread comment that my upbringing – adopted by two white parents and raised in a majority white town – imparts a certain privilege that does not allow me to truly understand the racism toward black people in places like Ferguson.
But cops in places like Ferguson don’t see my white parents – that I learned early on. Since my parents, with the best of intentions, downplayed the significance of racism and racial inequality in our family, as a kid I felt as entitled to living, breathing and cultivating a full-on, ass-out, individual personality with big opinions as much as any white kid. But when I entered the real world, my opinions become angry accusations, and my individuality became threatening.
My parents’ liberal ideals of a race-blind world were gorgeous in their romanticism, but they neglected to consider what might happen should my individual body end up in a place like Ferguson, Missouri … in which case all the gorgeous romanticism in the world wouldn’t save me from being teargassed or shot to death.
Even if I had ended up in Ferguson, and my white parents happened to have been visiting me last week, well, who would really try and argue that the police – dressed in their camouflage, armed with their heavy artillery, driven by a militaristic us-and-them state of mind – wouldn’t kindly have asked my parents to step aside while they kept their guns pointed squarely at me?
Darren Wilson, the cop who shot Michael Brown, didn’t know whether his victim was headed to college or a high school drop-out, a straight-edge or had THC remnants in his blood, whether Brown was looking for a good flat stretch of pavement to skateboard or an unlocked car door, any more than Wilson would have known that I was raised by white people in New Hampshire, or that I bristle at authority, that I am defiant as hell, or that I sometimes drink too much wine.
That cop in Ferguson saw what he was looking for: a big, black, dangerous man, because that’s what white people learn to see. And no amount of “us” behaving better is going to change that calculus for white people: white people have to change it themselves.
To me, being black is about the brown of my skin, the dream-memories of high cotton, hymns, hollers and the soft backsides of nut-colored hands against my cheek. It is about the refuge I feel in the face of another black person, and the intrinsic joy at the base of my belly when I enter a room full of black people. But it is also about enduring racism on a daily basis, and often swallowing my rage and my pride in order to teach my son what it means to be black and endangered as he walks down the street.
So when I call for white people to get woke and get real serious about how you can use your privilege to make change, I don’t want to hear how I’m not like those black people in Ferguson. The cops in Ferguson or on Staten Island don’t care – don’t think – that I’m a “different kind of” black. The Detroit man who shot Renisha McBride in the face didn’t ask about her educational achievements. The North Carolina cop who shot and killed the unarmed football player didn’t ask him what color his parents are. The white guy walking down the street in Manhattan last year after George Zimmerman’s acquittal – the one who said to me, “poor Trayvon” – he didn’t turn and say it to a white woman.
I’m just black to them – and you’re white. You need to come for your own. Maybe start with the still existing New Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who are currently raising money in support of Darren Wilson, “a cop who shot a n*gger criminal”. But when black people’s anger is demonized, pathologized and criminalized – when it’s never seen as righteous, when we’re being gassed in the streets for it – don’t tell me you’re afraid of making black people angry by speaking up, or that my anger feels isolating to you. Because then I have to wonder if the people whose anger you really fear are white.