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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