Last night was a long one as I sat and watched with the world as the decision whether to indict Officer Wilson was handed down by the Saint Louis County Prosecutor. I watched with fear and hurt inside me as protests were upended by pointless violence and looting by people not from the community. While I watched these events unfold in a community that I was just in not even a month ago with student activists, it affected me deeply, because I saw my new found friends in Ferguson hurting badly and for good reason. I had wanted to go back for the decision with students, but decided that the uncertainty of safety was more than I could put onto students, who as passionate as they are, are also new and relatively inexperienced. Instead I sat back and watched, feeling helpless to do much more than take to social media to voice my rage. I went to my virtual community for support, answers, and resolve. I expected to see an entire community of Whites and Blacks angry, hurt, and rallying around Ferguson during this tough time. I expected to hear awkward statements from well-intentioned Whites, who like myself wasn’t sure what to say or do at the moment. While we can express our disgust, we can not internalize the events in Ferguson at the deeper level that many African-Americans do. We can try to relate, but we really can’t fully understand the deep rooted hurt and anger felt by the greater African-American community over Ferguson.
As I engaged in social media and watched CNN news, I saw a great many comments made by Blacks and Whites. Even as I watched CNN news, I couldn’t help but see some difference coming to the surface among various reporters of color and their White colleagues. Yes, it is the news and they are their to cover the events as objectively as possible, but framing, back story, and interpretation is everything with the media. If we haven’t learned by now that the media is a tool of the privileged white male masses, it’s no wonder that race relations in America are in the toilette. Want a sense of race relations in the U.S. today, look at social media posts, Tweets, and blogs from your friends, colleagues, family, and the greater society and you will see a stark contrast in how Whites and Blacks experienced the decision not to indict Officer Wilson. Whites generally framed the decision as unfortunate, but just given the evidence. Blacks were quicker to call into question the entire forensic process, police investigation, and grand jury process for determining the decision. Whites were more likely to blame Ferguson community members and call them out for the fires and looting, whereas Blacks pointed out that most of these individuals were likely not even from the community and simply taking advantage of the tragedy. I saw more silence from African-American colleagues and friends than from Whites, mainly because of the trauma, pain, and frustration that they experienced at a deeper level than Whites. I have no doubt that there are awkward silences across many places of work, schools, and social media communities today as all of us are absorbing what happened, not just in Ferguson, but all across social media and traditional media. I can’t imagine being a Black person, especially a Black man in America today, looking back at what your colleagues and friends posted or didn’t post about Ferguson, not to mention the media coverage and social media discourses. This is why when White people claim racism, I scoff, because in order to experience racism, one must be in a historical and current state of lesser power than another group, compounded by discrimination and prejudice across major social institutions, and face historical legacies of oppression at the hands of another group or groups. Today, not only do Black people have to deal with the trauma of the Ferguson decision and subsequent events, but also the further trauma induced by media and social media coverage, micro aggressions and ignorance from White colleagues, friends, and people, and the realization that America for all it’s rhetoric and talk has came a disheartening little ways in addressing racism, improving race relations, or in changing the culture and systems that continue to oppress and traumatize African-Americans since before the civil rights movements. This is not to discredit or discount the lives lived and lost in the fight for freedom and equality or to imply that strides have not been made, only that Whites and those with privilege tend to think we have came further than we really have, and both Blacks and Whites need to realize that we need to continue the fight within our own families, networks, places of work, communities, and society, if we are to progress and improve race relations in America. Although sleep eluded me last night as I lay with a heavy heart, it is nothing compared to the nights that my sisters and brothers experienced in Ferguson or the night that African-American’s had last night and on far too many nights.
As the grand jury verdict about whether to indict the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown looms over the community of Ferguson, MO, I have noticed less and less dialogue from white social workers, academics, and people in general. I sense that the discomfort is so thick in some schools, offices, and communities that you could cut it with a knife. Why are whites so uncomfortable with the events occurring in Ferguson and why has support for addressing racial injustice in Ferguson diminished in recent weeks, especially among privileged whites?
I think that as time goes on more and more information is being disseminated across blogs, television, and social media, and it is becoming more and more difficult to discern fact from fiction. I think that the newly leaked forensic evidence makes privileged whites who once rallied in outrage with the African-American community in Ferguson, take a gigantic step back from it. The reason being is that the once accepted scenario that a young innocent African-American youth, Michael Brown, was unjustly killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, while putting is hands up in the air from a safe distance away, is likely quite inaccurate. From the great many leaks it is becoming more and more likely that Michael Brown in fact did rob a convenience store, pushed a store clerk to the ground, and attempted to charger become aggressive towards a police officer. Now, this is all still heresy until the facts come out and like any other facts, the interpretation of facts can be quite different depending on who is perceiving them. Many privileged whites are thus thinking deep down inside, that all of the protests, demonstrations, and violence occurring over the incident of the perceived unjust killing of Michael Brown is for nothing, because the shooting may have been justified and at worse, that Mr. Brown played a bigger role in the event than was first put forth by friends, family, the media, and by some in Ferguson. What whites don’t realize is that regardless of whether or not the forensics demonstrate that the “hands-up” story was false, it still does not mean that the police officer was justified in his shooting of Mr. Brown, who was unarmed at the time. It also does not mean that the events that have taken place in the wake of the shooting and subsequent months including; leaving Mr. Brown’s body lying in the street for countless hours, a lack of transparency by police, numerous violations of citizen rights, and the potential for people to raise issues about evidence tampering due to the screw-ups by investigators and high profile nature of the case, are not justification for outrage by the community of Ferguson. What whites and outsiders also don’t understand is the killing of Mr. Brown was simply a precipitating event that set off a fire of racial difference and injustice that has been ready to spark for a long time coming. One of the worse parts is that privileged whites, when they feel uncomfortable, generally clam up and just stop talking about their feelings and thinking because they are too uncomfortable to talk about race and difference. Privileged whites are polite, we keep our most intimate thoughts about racial tensions and difference somewhere deep inside, and are careful to not approach the topic in the workplace, classroom, place of worship, or community.
What whites must also understand is that much of the violence seen on television is not reflective of how community members in Ferguson feel about the issue or what should be the appropriate course of action. Have you not heard the family’s many pleas for peaceful protest? Most of the agitators and those looting stores are not from Ferguson. Let’s give our neighbors more credit than that, the average African-American in Ferguson is not going to destroy a local business, harm a neighbor (white, brown, or black), or blame or hate all white people. Whites, even well intentioned and educated ones, are so uncomfortable still in 2014 when it comes to discussing race and difference, so many whites make the choice to say nothing. Well, saying nothing is not an option for us, especially those in education, social work, and helping professions. We have a responsibility as people with white privilege to not clam up, to raise issues, open dialogue, challenge irrational thinking, and continue to fight injustices within the systems that are behind the inequality in Ferguson and around our country. In the words of Desmond Tutu –If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. I challenge other whites to confront their own privilege and discomfort over Ferguson and other issues of race and difference by speaking about them, struggling with them, opening up dialogues in your spaces, and learning to accept that being in a constant place of discomfort is a good think when it comes to addressing injustice of any kind.
One of things about working elections and campaigns is that you have little time to process the results and impact of the broader election picture until a bit later. It looks like the apathy of younger voters is being blamed for the lost seats. I am a proponent of voting, but this is not a fair critique.
Firstly, from what I have read and come to know, the younger generation in more informed and in many ways participatory than previous generations, including my own. They just chose to exercise their social participation in other ways besides voting. After all, according to a the oligarchy study published out of Princeton this year, along with some work by the bright folks at the Pew Institute, lobbying is by far more influential on shaping public policy than voting. Younger generations are on social media and part of how they define their own social participation is through online social media, but they also contribute their time and money. Look at protests at Berkley, USC, Ann Arbor, and many other places and tell me that young people don’t care about their nation; it simply isn’t true. They just chose to participate differently than others do.
Another issue with blaming young people for election losses is that while statistics say that 50% of voters turned out, this is by far not half the population. An estimated 25% of the U.S. population eligible to vote is not registered. This doesn’t include the high rates of incarcerated persons, many people f color, who are not allowed to vote, and in many states those on parole, probation, or with felonies also cannot vote. In many states restrictive and discriminatory laws are allowed to be passed that marginalize already marginalized voices. This means that a much smaller percentage of the nation is voting period. We must make voting laws completely regulated by the federal government to take away the power of states to use the polls as a way to oppress the voice of voters. Additionally, while allowing inmates to vote may be too radical for most, any person incarcerated awaiting court or released after serving their term should be allowed to vote. In fact, part of re-entry should be making sure folks know their voting rights.
The last and least popular issue among most of my friends and colleagues for why younger people aren’t to blame for the loss of elections is that the Democratic Party deserves some responsibility and accountability for the losses and apathy of voters. Sorry, republicans are not to blame for all of America’s ills. I am not one to pile on President Obama either, but he has made some ill advised decisions and lost some of the organizing focus that helped make him popular to begin with, meaning voters are not only pissed, but disconnected from him and party politics. It is so easy for people to tell others to just vote for the lesser of two evils often times and to call someone’s vote for a third party candidate a waste, but you are further alienating them. They are exercising their conscious and participation, sorry you don’t agree with their candidate. I have always secretly thought straight party ticketing, when and where legal, was a terrible exercise of civic responsibility.
Finally, the governance system must change for many younger people to feel like voting matters again. Lobbying must be completely regulated through policy reform, voting must be regulated at a federal level, and enforced as well. Campaign spending must be seriously reformed to allow for the potential for a third party to be a threat. Mark-ups must also be stopped, as laws and policy should not come down to blackmail. Despite the low turnout this election and the overall frustration of democrats and liberals across the country, there is blame to go around in many directions. But before you take out all of your frustration on the younger generation of voters, think about the many other issues impacting democracy in American first, before you cast that stone.