The petition garnering over 500,000 signatures in support of a downed zoo gorilla reveals the damning truth about white racial sensibilities when compared to their deafening silence following the recent gruesome deaths of 2 black men at the hands of white law enforcement captured on video. Why is it so difficult for most white folk to muster empathy toward their black brothers and sisters? This lack of compassion felt toward black people was inherited from centuries-old white racial framing of people of African descent as evil incarnate. Most white Americans have been subconsciously primed to view black people in this manner; hence, they harbor unexamined racist attitudes that govern both thought and deed. This is what researchers have consistently referred to as unconscious bias.
As we listen to the media pundits speak on various news programs, it is frightening to hear law enforcement representatives speak disparagingly about black communities they swore an oath to protect and serve, often blaming them for their own problems under a cultural lens of white supremacy. However, the idea that blacks as a whole commit more crimes than whites is a false conception taken out of context to support a myth. Even more concerning, this dialogue by police administration only perpetuates the racial narrative that black people are inherently more threatening and dangerous. The "scary black man" metaphor, thus, trickles down to rank and file officers, informing individual behavior and action. As a result, police are generally given a license to operate in their capacity of power and authority without ever truly interrogating their unexamined and unresolved racist attitudes and beliefs. The "cultural competency training" that they receive, consisting of the three F's -- food, fun and festivities -- of other cultures, does nothing to disrupt the ingrained tendency for white Americans to engage in discriminatory practices during their run-ins with black people while on patrol. These badged-warriors are not given adequate intellectual tools to interrupt the reflex of branding black and brown people as a "perceived threat" to the point that lethal force is often deployed as an automatic reaction.
Simply put, most white Americans have little empathy for any other group but their own. Psychologists refer to this condition as alexithymia, which was developed through our nation's past and was socially conferred and epigenetically transmitted upon the souls of white folk. This mental disorder makes it difficult for most whites to see the suffering of other people let alone to the pain and sense of outrage felt by sable Americans made to live a less than full human existence. Just as a men can never fully appreciate what women go through day to day in a male patriarchal society, from cat calls to sexual advances to judgment based off appearance rather than merit, whites can never truly comprehend the daily racial indignities that blacks experience from sunup to sundown. But that does not mean, however, that white America can deny these atrocities occur.
My question for white people is when do you consider black death a tragedy? What do you feel as you watch the traumatic and disturbing footage of the blood and life drain out of Philando Castile's body? Did a chilling affect wash over you when you noticed the bluecoat's weapon trained on Alton Sterling bloody chest as he lay dying in the street? Did dread fill your chest when you realized no officer was administering potentially life-saving aid to either of these fathers, brothers, sons? What do you feel, white America, when you listen to the devastated voices of the victim's family? Do you feel any heartache at all? Or do you feel the same indifference as your ancestors who gathered in throngs to watch callously as black bodies swung from trees?
I ask this question because your voices were heard loud and clear when a gorilla was shot and killed at the Cincinnati Zoo. But we do not hear your collective rage now. We do not see your mass petitions this time around. The silence does not conceal your true feelings, but in fact, it confirms them. The inaction and general disregard for human life sends a resounding message to the black masses that we do not matter much in the world. The message being that African Americans are not deserving of a modicum of decency because we are deemed less than human, garnering less sympathy than a zoo animal.
You have always feared us based on folklore and fairytales that we are superhuman, overtly aggressive and overly sexed. But the reality is that we should fear you. There is a long history of marginalization and abuse toward black Americans at the hands of white men, and we are still dying at the hands of the oppressor at alarming rates. But you have somehow twisted the narrative so that we appear to be the violent and dangerous ones. As one Facebook user so poignantly wrote:
"WHAT I'M ABOUT TO SAY IS TERRIBLE! But.(sp) I'm beginning to look at cops like loose dogs. Not all dogs are bad. Most are wonderful. But when I'm walking through the neighborhood and see one. My first instinct is fight or flight. Why? Because I don't know what it wants. I don't know how it was trained. I don't know whether or not it wants to play or rip my throat out. My life is on the line. I've been approached and chased by dogs. I've been pulled over by police. And I promise you. I PROMISE YOU. I get the same feeling in my gut. THE EXACT SAME FEELING. And I shouldn't. I used to run from loose dogs until one day I saw my grandmother run a stray out of our yard fearlessly with a stick. She didn't hesitate to protect us. I never ran again. Not from anything. I do not want to look at cops like dogs. I DO NOT. I always comply. But I could still die and that's the shame." -Stefan Greenlee
African Americans have every right to be fearful of white people, as the stereotype has been historically misapplied. In the face of barbarous injustice and inhuman conduct, black folk are repeatedly expected to exercise restraint -- this, after years of denigration and outright slaughter. Not only do these senseless killings deprive families of loved ones, they have deep-seated implications as the effects ripple through families and communities, leading to further radicalization of younger black males and the destruction of any potential public confidence among black and brown people in policing. Enough is enough! And yet, change will not come until whites admit the gross inequalities heaped upon African Americans and take long overdue measures to redress past and contemporary wrongs. As Benjamin Franklin put it, "Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."