A Pew Poll on the Michael Brown Murder Case shows that more than four out of five black Americans favor a vigorous prosecution and arrest of Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson. On the other side of the racial divide, just 37% of white Americans favor that course of action.
The overwhelming majority of all Americans favor full equality under the law for persons of all racial, ethnic and religious backgrounds. But when called upon to give real meaning to that view, a great many white Americans cannot do it. This is a white problem.
White discomfort at being in the presence of black Americans, where those same whites are not in the majority, in predominantly black communities, is where they meet a set of racial stereotypes so powerful that they were forged for nearly four centuries of white experience in which whites were the dominant race, most of that time the superior race.
The segregated and in other places hyper-segregated communities black, white, brown, red, and yellow that we live in is also something that feeds the dark monster of racial prejudice. To be fair and honest, most black Americans prefer to live in communities where many black Americans live. No one has to be informed that white Americans hold by orders of magnitude an even stronger preference to live in white dominant majority communities. They do so in large part in order to wall off black communities, and what they consider to be what black people most essentially are.
What do white, more conservative Americans think they are protecting themselves from: ignorance, low intelligence, poverty, crime, violence, vice, and mayhem. And the seas of blacks who have not entered the white elite part of our nation, are also seen as less intelligent, more likely to naturally engage in criminal activity, to be shiftless, lazy, and only interested in taking white people’s money for the easy life of welfare and food stamps—refusing employment to pursue that life.
And well, blacks can be, you know, so different and sometimes so black. Lighter colored blacks are part of our common racial legacy, so prominent in the Oscar Winning Best Picture last year, 12 Years a Slave. All of us resist going there for any length of time as whatever our color, there are things in the centuries of slavery and then Jim Crow Segregation too terrible to dwell upon.
So when any white citizen who has not worked, lived, and spent significant time in communities where whites are few, these racial stereotypes come with them. Black Americans who are not part of that portion of the black community that was able to benefit most from the nation’s Civil Rights Years of the Second Reconstruction are essentially living in the era of 1960’s even now. They have in material ways been left behind.
Most importantly, white indifference to the nation’s blacks as a whole, have let simmer and fester real problems of poverty which are the handmaidens of crime, and a sense of hopelessness.
Essential common community and national resources have only been focused and available for that short stint of time during the Administration of Lyndon B. Johnson, who said all Americans should be in the same position to run that race of the American dream. Amazingly, this white Southern president saw the black people of his day as shackled to the starting block when the starter gun goes off. The Michael Browns of this world too often discover those shackles around their ankles.
This was the world of Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri. He was one of the luckier ones. He had no criminal record as a juvenile or adult. He had two good parents in his life. In communities with high rates of poverty, the fact that Michael was set to enter a junior college, however humble, and had just last June graduated from his hometown high school in Ferguson bears witness to a strong record of achievement that sadly many black young men and women of Ferguson do not have. Brown himself did battle against those long odds to the very moment he was shot and killed by a Ferguson policeman.
The strong presence of black men of all conditions in the civil rights action in Ferguson since the shooting have testified most forcefully that with white indifference, and yes, white hostility to who these black men are feeds into what Dr. King called that sense of “nobodyness” that yet pervades the black community.
Young black men live in a world of constant contacts with police who are too often white, hostile, and who see them by their racial stereotypes to the exclusion of who they really are as human beings. In a strong echo of the freedom struggles of the 1960’s, several men were seen carrying the sign “I am a man” in the immediate aftermath of the shooting when protests began in Ferguson.
But Dr. King, as does this writer, has faith that the Arc of the Moral Universe bends toward justice. But all of us must do our share of the lifting to bend it more in the here and now to make the lives of black Americans who see no meaningful future as they grow to young manhood and young womanhood materially, and psychologically experience that hope and the common fruits of those hopes so common to other Americans.
Optimistically, let us focus for a moment on the 37% of white Americans today, who can so closely identify with their black brothers and sisters. How do they do it? The rest of you ought to find out.
We are seeing in Ferguson a new generation of black leaders connecting with the despair of these young men and helping them to dream once again of a better future—a better day that will challenge the common experience of hopelessness and despair so common to their condition.
And we are seeing so many young black Americans rising to non-violently and affirmatively seize the day and prepare themselves to be Americans who might transcend those long odds that Michael Brown was so very close to beating.
Thomas Martin Saturday
For Struggles for Justice
Speaking for the Voiceless, Protecting the Vulnerable”