What Ferguson Has Shown Us About Race Relations in the United States
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.