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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The toll of Black death…the aftermath

“I’m crying a lot and trying my best to feel safe, make my friends and family feel safe. I hope you tell the people of color in your life that you love them before they are murdered by police.”– My 22 year old son’s Facebook response to the St. Louis grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown

For several days now I have sat down and waited for the words to come but the truth is that the only thing that comes is rage and sorrow. Sorrow at the pain that Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, must be feeling. The collective rage of all Black parents and the sorrow at yet another dream deferred. A few days after the announcement that Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the death of Michael Brown, I attended a local vigil in Portland, Maine, and was struck by the collective pain in all the brown-skinned faces. A tired, bone-weary pain as I saw a young Black woman break down in tears.  The tears and sorrow on the face of the local NAACP chapter president as we embraced as Black women and mothers knowing that while we were mourning the loss of Michael Brown and the callous disregard for his life we were also mourning the hope that so many of us have had that one day we might be beyond race.

Ferguson has shattered us, and while we are a resilient people, we are also a people in pain. Yet it was in talking to my own beloved son that the pain became personal because unlike when he was a small child, he knows now that my words and promises are no longer guaranteed. I cannot keep him safe in a world that sees a 6’4 Black man as suspicious just for being tall and brown-skinned. He is a former philosophy major who is now an up and comer in the music business, garnering national attention and making his way in the world. A rising star, yet every time he is pulled over (which as of this writing was less than a week ago, and he’s been pulled over just for being Black so many times before that), he knows at that moment he could lose his life.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We are the children and the grandchildren of Jim Crow-era parents and were raised on hope that things had changed, that racism was a thing of a past, that we could go further, do more and live at peace with all. Yet that isn’t true, not when 12-year-old Black boys playing with toy guns on playgrounds are shot dead by police officers without a moment’s hesitation because a bystander can’t tell the difference between a child at play and a threat and the police somehow see a man instead of a boy.

I look into the face of my 9-year-old daughter and with each passing day realize that like my father before me, it is time…I must shatter her illusions and talk openly about race and how her skin coloring makes her suspect and how she must learn to navigate this dual existence. To raise Black children is to take a piece of their being and essence and crush it in the hopes that the ugly truths being imparted will keep them alive until adulthood and even with this crushing of the soul, there are no guarantees that they won’t end up taken too soon.

These are interesting times as I navigate racial justice work in my professional life yet feel the weight of racial oppression in my personal life. Wondering if the work that I do in my day life will manifest and create lasting justice for all…only time will tell. But I do know that for all the discussions and media buzz in the aftermath of another Black death, there is a yet another weight tied around the collective souls of Black people as we struggle to stand tall in the midst of pain and continue the fight as our elders and ancestors did.

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Uncomfortable truths and dead Black boys

“History, despite it’s wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but, if faced with courage, need not be lived again,”– Maya Angelou

As the inhabitants of the US once again face the uncomfortable reality of yet another dead, unarmed Black boy, it’s clear to me that we are all living in a warped version of Groundhog Day. We are all trapped in a cycle that we most likely will never escape because we as a nation lack the heart and courage to talk openly and tenderly about our ugly truths. Truths that exist because of people long dead, ugly truths that we all live with today.

Instead we tell ourselves that race doesn’t matter, we tell that brand new lie that we are “colorblind”; those of us who point out that racial disparities are real are told to “stop our race baiting bullshit” as a reader recently told me on the BGIM Facebook page. Or worse yet we are told that we as Black people are responsible for the ills that befall us, that our children deserve to be shot down in the streets and left out like roadkill because we did not govern ourselves accordingly. We weren’t acceptable nor respectful enough thus we bring this pain upon our own heads.

Yet how can we tell another mother, that her son earned his savage killing at the hands of the local cops in Ferguson, MO. On a week when Michael Brown should have been picking out classes, his parents will instead be picking out his final resting place and fighting the national media’s compulsion which frames Black men as either devils or saints. Never fully acknowledging the range of humanity that exists within all of us and most certainly the range of humanity that exists within Black people.

Police Shooting-Missouri

A humanity that feels so deeply, because we know that we are all just one or two degrees of separation away from this pain that Michael Brown’s family is feeling. A humanity that took to social media to hold each other and share space and yet found itself mocked. A humanity that met on the streets of Ferguson, MO to gather as Black people do in times of trouble only to be met with police in riot gear whose presence and demeanor was not one of comfort but of escalation of tense feelings which brought about the predictable script that shows Black people as savages.

Even now as I write these words, words that have become so familiar yet so painful; young men being shot and killed should never become familiar. But how can we not deny the familiarity of these scenarios juxtaposed with the uncomfortable truth that these uncomfortable moments only affects some of us?

Perhaps one day we will find the courage that Maya Angelou spoke about, a courage that will allow us to rip these tattered bandages off these seeping, raw and bloody wounds of racism. Our only hope for survival involves more than an urgent care clinic approach to a disease that has ravaged this nation for so long.

Blessings to the Brown family and to all affected in Ferguson.