Being Brown and Black
The shooting of an unarmed black man named Brown is an ironic and tragic twist on words as well as a societal metaphor. Public polling shows widely divergent views on the situation dependent on whether you are white or black. For many in the white community, we watch the nightly news and we don’t understand why “the blacks” are thinking and acting the way they are. Let me, as a white girl who has engaged in frank racial discussions with many very close black friends, try to explain in “white-speak” to my fellow white people how the black viewpoint can be so different. As a society we have come a long way, but if you don’t have true black friends, you may not hear a heartfelt opinion. You certainly won’t be able to have a back and forth discussion that leads to true understanding. Working with a black co-worker doesn’t qualify, you need to have someone you can go out with after work and have a beer (or vodka cocktail) with, and commiserate with on all the things going on in each other’s lives. In today’s racially charged society you need to be pretty close to someone to give an honest opinion on race and still feel safe.
As white people we see the case as an isolated incident. We observe the facts and details of the shooting. We think we should wait for all the information to emerge before we jump to conclusions one way or another. We see black people interviewed on CNN jumping to the conclusion that the white officer is guilty of premeditated, racially based homicide and the entire Ferguson police force as complicit in his act. We note that Michael Brown had just stolen from a store and had strong armed an immigrant businessman in the process. We don’t understand how this fact could be seen as completely separate and irrelevant by blacks. We key in on the eyewitness who stated that Brown charged the officer. We note that all of the bullet wounds were to his front. We can sit back and wait for a prosecutor to determine if the police officer was guilty of not. We don’t understand why people are rioting and marching. After all we didn’t riot when O.J. was found not guilty. We contrast that to the actions of the black community when the police were found not guilty in the Rodney King case and Los Angeles burned.
For the black community it’s not just about Michael Brown and this one police officer. It is about the current plight of the entire black community. It’s a large number of separate and disparate issues all rolled up into one explosive example. It’s about the larger picture. The symbolism of the shooting allows ignoring the strong arm robbery component because that is one small detail in the current plight of black America today. It’s hard to draw a picture using statistics. The statistics are bleak in and of themselves as you examine black poverty, education, literacy, unemployment, abortion, and crime rates. I’m not offering explanations of why the black community is in the condition it is in, or how to fix it, that is far too extensive of a discussion for an article. Let me take a specific example and ask you to become the man I write about in your mind for a day. Assume that you are a young black man who has done everything right. You graduated from high school staying away from gangs and crime, you managed to find a way to pay for college and you were able to land a nice white collar job. Now you walk down the street and the elderly woman crosses to the other side. You’re in an elevator and the pretty woman next to you slowly clutches her purse tighter hoping you won’t notice, and hoping you won’t mug her. You’re in a store and the salesclerk follows you around waiting for you to shoplift and trying not to be too obvious. Business clients eye you wondering if you are a token hire, or if you had special treatment in college and if you are really smart. You worry about being pulled over for DWB, (that’s Driving While Black by the way.) You worry about what you say and how you say it at work, you “code-switch” so much sometimes you forget how to talk to your high school buddies. At the company picnic you forego the barbecue ribs and watermelon because there is no way in hell you are going to let them catch you eating that! You go for the bland quiche and some salad instead. You look at that cool hoodie in the storefront window and wonder, will this get me more likely to be shot? You note how you are steered to the vehicle with the biggest, shiniest hubcaps in the car showroom. You cringe every time you hear a crime being committed, thinking: oh please don’t be one of us. When they interview black people on TV about the crime, you cringe as they invariably find the most ignorant trifling blathering idiot they can find. You notice the waitress keeping an eye on you throughout the end of your meal, expecting you to bolt for the door before paying. You hear how the conversation about President Obama’s latest policy dies down as you near the water cooler. Then you go home after all that and tell your son how he can be whatever he wants to be if he studies hard and stays out of trouble. Then you tell him how to behave so he doesn’t get shot by the police.
So yes, the constant state of “being black” in America can be stressful and certainly adds baggage to the collective psyche of black people in America. Combined with the economic and social plight of black America, a dispassionate observer should be able to see how nerves are raw and tempers short. I’m not condoning looting or bad behavior, I’m just trying to give my fellow ‘white folks,” a hint of a glimpse into what your black neighbor, or coworker might be feeling. Try putting yourself in another’s shoes, try that different perspective. Think about how you would feel if you were a black man, or woman. Only when we can see each other through the other’s eyes will we have real hope for change and improvement. There is a long way to go toward racial understanding and equality in America, and it is the responsibility of both black and white to make that happen, to address these issues, and to find solutions. God bless.