Recent conversations have made apparent some major misunderstandings about racism.
Being racist isn’t always about calling black people the “N” word. Sometimes it is about making assumptions. Imagine if a 12 year old blonde white girl was shot while holding a toy gun. Would the comments to follow be about lack of parenting? Would it be assumed there was nothing else which could have been done? Would the phrases about “police just doing their jobs” be thrown around so liberally? It is not all about the facts of a particular case, it is about the assumptions which are made and the effort we exert to find a way to blame the victim or the victim’s family, or the victim’s culture.
I do understand it is difficult for police officers and police officers’ families. As a farmer I am familiar with feelings which arise when people accuse one’s career. I don’t appreciate it when farmers are blamed for destruction of the environment in a way which implies we are motivated by greed and implies we are poisoning people rather than feeding them food to sustain life. It is not fair either to imply police officers are trigger happy bullies rather than people laboring at a difficult job trying to serve and protect.
But racism these days is not often about people who would shoot someone just because of the color of their skin. It is about systemic realities and attitudes which increase the likelihood of a young person being shot if that young person happens to have dark skin. These things do not happen in a bubble. In Ferguson, for example, the context is a community divided by race. It is only logical this shooting would raise suspicions in such a context and anger would result when those suspicions were not given the honor of a complete trial.
I am a privileged white person living in a rural area so I am no expert on racism. However, I have heard comments such as “We would be better off if we didn’t have that black man as president.” If one person can have such an abhorrent attitude is it really such a stretch to imagine a police officer being a little more frightened, feeling a little more threatened when the one the officer is confronting is black? Is it such a stretch to imagine there might be some individuals who value a black person’s life less,(though I would not assume this of the police officers)?
If overt racism like this still exists how much more must more subtle racism exist? Most often these days it is not about name calling or ignorant denigrations based on skin color. Now it is about larger systems, our assumptions, and the fear these systems and assumptions beget.
I am glad for the conversations I have seen taking place regarding racism. Many are frustrating and some even hurtful but at least we are talking about race issues. Now what is the next step? Protesting brings attention to the issue but the powers that be have become too proficient at making protestors look like violent hooligans or fringe nut jobs. I am praying now for compassion, understanding, and listening and also creative leaders who will find new ways of educating and inspiring for change. Any ideas?