A Year Later and the Killer is Humanized or How Whiteness Operates

In a few days, a family in Missouri, will celebrate the anniversary that no parent ever wants to celebrate. The one-year anniversary of the death of their son. It’s been almost a year since Michael Brown’s life was cut short by now former police officer Darren Wilson and while Brown’s death in many ways has served as a catalyst and a call to action, it’s also clear that as a nation we still have much more work to do.

In the year since Brown’s senseless death, we have seen far too many Black men’s and women’s lives shortened at the hands of law enforcement. We are starting to have serious conversations about the racialized nature of policing in this country and how policing as it is currently practiced disportionately affects communities of color negatively.

In more and more communities across this nation, even in white little hamlets like mine, white people are starting to realize that no one is colorblind and that there is a cost to white silence.  My words are no comfort to Leslie McSpadden, Brown’s mother, but I would like believe that her son’s death was not in vain. Though as a mother, I know that such words are meaningless to his family.

Yet as we approach the one-year anniversary of Brown’s death the esteemed New Yorker magazine made a most interesting decision in choosing to interview Brown’s killer. And yes, I use the word killer because while Darren Wilson was not found guilty of wrongdoing in the eyes of the law, the fact remains that his actions led to the death of Michael Brown. Hence I choose to call Darren Wilson a killer.

The recent issue of the New Yorker gives us one of the most complete pictures to date about Wilson and what stood out most for me in reading the piece was that if Wilson had been a Black guy with his background, he wasn’t very far removed from the very people he was sworn to protect. His mother had a stealing issue and almost certainly her white skin kept her from a long-term jail cell. Wilson himself, after his mother’s untimely death in his teens, took a short-term detour down the path of trouble. Hanging with troublemakers and skipping school before eventually deciding to become a cop.

In world where people like to say that class and not race is the larger issue, Wilson’s background should have given him greater insight into working in impoverished communities of color. Instead, as the piece states Wilson had trouble working within such communities.

The piece did the most curious job of almost softening and humanizing a man who frankly admitted that he really never thought about Michael Brown and never thought about him as a person.  Even the author of the piece stated that Wilson’s tone was striking, given that Wilson’s own upbringing wasn’t all that far removed from Brown’s. Yet Wilson a year later still cannot see the humanity of Michael Brown. He didn’t see it the day that he took his life and despite the impact on his own life, he still can’t see it.

The New Yorker in choosing to humanize Darren Wilson gave us a glimpse into how whiteness in America is performed. You can literally kill a Black person, have your own life upended by that decision (as Wilson’s has been) yet you can still choose to live in the silo of whiteness. Where you freely interact only with like-minded people, to use Wilson’s own words.

If anything, this piece is a somber reminder that while class equality is a serious issue, racism is about race and nothing more because for far too many working class whites, the only card they have to play is the race card and they will play it when need be. Michael Brown’s death opened up the dialogue on race but we need a far richer and deeper dialogue before we can do the work of dismantling the structure of racism and finding our shared humanity.

Blessings to the Brown family as they seek to find peace in a world where they must fight for their son’s humanity even after his death.
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4 thoughts on “A Year Later and the Killer is Humanized or How Whiteness Operates

  1. Brilliant as always. I’d not read the New Yorker piece. Not surprised by the take but fear that it will take several generations of hard work to rid the world of all the Darren Wilsons…….

  2. Again you always have a dog to kick and obviously white America has chosen to kick the Black person instead. I suppose that while a dog can bite back…. for a Black person to do the same is a death sentence. White America is “Darren Wilson” !

  3. Hello, there, blackgirlinmaine! I thank-you so, so much for this very right on, on point, and very pertinent article! You are so right with your very many valid points! I love how you said that Darren Wilson is a killer because this is the exact right word to use for this terrible man! Our hearts are just so broken and hurting over all of these vicious and inexcusable deaths of very many, many black women and black men at the hands of some police and others. How sad and infuriating this is that these vast racist atrocities continue to happen! You have such a gift with your great speaking truth to power writing! Thank-you so for being there and for your very superb and strong voice calling out the truth about how racism even still continues on so viciously in our society! Your voice is so important and powerful! Thank-you so, so much! You are our blessing, blackgirlinmaine! Blessings To You For Always, Sherry Gordon

  4. My takeaway is wondering how to make people with “communication” challenges accountable for their defiance of the odds that they won’t end up killing somebody they are sworn to protect because they are a poor communicator. The rules of the game are rigged so that the white guy who “can’t” so well is EXPECTED to pursue his policing career even when he doesn’t qualify for it. The author seems to cover everything as if to point out the systematic failures that help “poor communicators” stay that way but really fails to stress that these “poor communicators” are then used them to perpetuate a perpetual “season of terror” in poor neighborhoods. Michael Brown had to be absolutely furious that his hand had been shot up; it had to hurt like hell and I have no doubt that he was as enraged at himself as anyone. But the poor communicator is also, it seems, a poor visualizer. He doesn’t see a teen aged man’s face in the throes of horrible realization, he sees a demon. I can’t help but wonder if this traces back to what some racists used to say about Black entertainment, that Black people were ok as long as they just stuck to entertainment. The poor communicator / killer enjoyed going into Black neighborhoods because people would make him laugh, it was entertaining for him. The Irish cop seemed to think mission accomplished, that Wilson had established a rapport, until his “colleague” killed Mike Brown. Being entertained by the kindness of strangers is not rapport. It is exploitation. People who entertain professionally get paid to share their sense of humor. Families that joke around pay each other in hugs & love. A cop who finds his constituents entertaining is a racist. Racists do not belong on the police force.

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