We hear from politicians every time another police shooting occurs about the latest “tragedy.” We see details unfold on the news about the sad “incident.” We share among millions the empathy for the “individual” victims and their families. But as a nation we are reluctant to see the picture that these unending events keep painting for us. And we are reluctant to accept the obvious conclusions about how deep and pervasive are the problems we face. So it isn’t surprising that those with the voices and the power to act are (so far) only sharing their “thoughts and prayers” or holding “moments of silence,” falling far short of doing something capable of changing our course.
Numerous barriers to change exist, such as the history explained by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s worthwhile discussion on reparations, and the challenges of structural change David Niose details in “Fighting Back the Right.” I also see two types of racism as particularly inhibiting progress.
First is the most obvious form of racism, the percentage of white America that truly sees non-whites as inferior. These are the Trumps and David Dukes who see swaths of our society as only good for various kinds of menial labor. These are the Mark Furhmans and Wayne Roots who believe that the fault lies with the victims. These are the Rush Limbaughs who say things like “I think it’s time to get rid of this whole National Basketball Association. Call it the TBA, the Thug Basketball Association, and stop calling them teams. Call ‘em gangs.”
I once optimistically thought this group was being replaced by more socially aware generations who refuse to even abide such bigots. But sadly we are reminded of these types in the news stories and talk shows, in the anonymity of online forums, and in the depths of humanity seen in regressive politics. This backward way of thinking isn’t about to disappear and actually commands enough morally blind followers to choose candidates in major national elections.
The other type of racism is almost more invidious since its ailment is carried by those who might even see themselves as anti-racist. I hear, even in some humanist circles, talk of all lives matter, questions about whether or not some particular victim was worthy or not of punishment, focusing narrowly on isolated occurrences. The fact that these people are well meaning does nothing to blunt their tendency to derail discussions on root problems and prevent the consensus building needed to build a big enough demand for change.
Whether or not the evidence suggests Michael Brown’s hands were in the air the moment he was shot by a police office isn’t relevant to our nation’s need to address the extensive overuse of force against black bodies. Whether or not the first black man was elected president we have to realize that we must progress beyond “firsts” to equal representation. Those who hope to achieve a society where race isn’t a factor in determining someone’s chances for success must come to understand that prerequisite to a struggle for equal rights of all is seeing the world for how it is, then dispelling the ignorance, uncovering the privilege, and moving toward agendas for change.
Part of that includes accepting that change doesn’t come easy, for the powerless to gain power, those in power have to share it. We need to reconsider how we train our police, how and when we equip them with weapons, and how we watch the watchers to ensure justice is distributed equitably. These are questions that can’t be solved simply by investigating one corrupt police department. Instead, we should look at reversing the militarization of our police departments, which have disturbingly become more like a new branch of the armed forces with U.S. citizens in their sites. It’s past due time we reconsider long established norms around how we approach justice.