By Dawud Walid
I attended a meeting with civic and government leaders this Tuesday, which was sponsored by the Michigan Roundtable for Diversity and Inclusion, that discussed events in Ferguson, Missouri and how institutional racism CONTINUES to negatively affect our nation.
One thing was clear from the discussion is that race is still the most touchy subject in America. Despite progress, there are stark differences of how whites and non-whites view race. In many ways, we occupy two different spaces within the same national borders as we have always have since the founding of this republic that ethnically cleansed Native Americans and enslaved Africans.
Prior to Officer Darren Wilson’s non-indictment by a grand jury in Missouri, a recent Rasmussen poll stated that 59 percent of blacks believed that Wilson should be indicted for fatally shooting unarmed teenager Michael Brown, while only 29 percent of other minorities and a paltry 15 percent of whites believed so. In the Roundtable meeting, black COMMUNITYleaders resoundingly stated that they knew that Wilson would not be indicted prior to the announcement, even citing the fact that the make-up of the grand jury did not properly reflect the population of Ferguson.
In other words, blacks tend to believe, through oral history and sets of lived experiences, that the criminal justice system fails them, while whites operate under the assumption that the system is fair. This typifies the difference between the historically marginalized in comparison to those with privilege.
It’s important to know that racism is not simply something which is ACTIVELY expressed on a daily basis. Racism is power plus privilege. It informs our minds as to how people implicitly categorize others based upon negative generalizations, which then affects their behaviors. This is referred to as implicit racism.
That’s why black and brown men appear to be more threatening in the eyes of many LAW enforcement agents. Wilson’s statement to the grand jury, that Brown “looked like a demon,” is a visceral expression that Brown was viewed to be other than human. In fact, Brown epitomized evil to his killer.
We’d be foolish to think that Wilson’s referring to Brown as a demon didn’t influence jurors who most likely hold similar views of black men, especially since pop culture has conditioned our society, since the days of slavery, to view black men as such.
Given how low the standard is to indict someone to go to a criminal TRIALare, hence the phrase in the legal community that you can “indict a ham sandwich,” the decision not to indict Wilson to sort out the conflicting testimonies in a public trial was highly dubious. However, the non-indictment of Wilson is not about simply the unrest in Ferguson. America isFerguson.
We must acknowledge that we INDEED still have two different Americas, and that the disproportions in mass incarceration, police brutality, infant mortality rates, educational, housing, and workplace discrimination rates are all interconnected to racism. This racism passively benefits those who enjoy white privilege, even if they are poor, and harms those who are the antithesis of it, which have historically been black Americans and Native Americans, even if they are not poor.
I’m not holding my breath waiting for the Department of Justice (DOJ) to charge Wilson with violating Brown’s civil rights. The DOJ hasn’t even announced its investigation results regarding George Zimmerman fatally shooting Trayvon Martin, another unarmed teenager. I am hopeful, however, that this moment of tension can get us to start honestly discussing the history of racism in America, and how it affects Americans’ lives today.
In particular, I’m praying that whites begin to have this conversation with other whites.