How long will we allow being a young black male to be an offense punishable by death in our country?
Michael Brown, an unarmed 18 year old, was shot and killed by a police officer outside of St. Louis.
Michael was to start college this week.
I'm sad and angry over Michael's death, but my feelings right now are not the same compared to what is being felt in the black community. I, as a white person, with the privilege I was born with simply because of the color of my skin, cannot personally relate to the daily prejudice other people feel because of the color of theirs.
If you are one of those white people who says they "don't see color," what the heck is wrong with you? Seeing color and acknowledging the fact there is discrimination and prejudice based on color is what has gotten us this far in securing basic rights for our fellow citizens. But we still have a long way to go.
Are we to be satisfied with basic rights? And by we, I'm talking right now to white people because WE are the ones responsible for Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and countless others. Yes, all of us, even those of us who consider ourselves progressive, inclusive, and justice-seeking. Right now our culture has two primary ways of categorizing
people of color. Either they are the enemy, dangerous, lazy dependent
"takers" or they are "no different" from us.
We desire a world in which racial prejudices don't exist, and sometimes we desire this so much that we either fail to recognize differences exist or try to convince ourselves we don't need to understand them. When we want to talk about people of another race, we struggle with what words to use. We're afraid to ask questions about even the simplest things like how our haircare routines are different because we're told it's not polite.
While many people don't ignore racist ideas, it's easy for us to ignore that uncomfortable feeling we get when we are confronted with choosing a word or dealing with our cultural differences. When a black person talks about being watched in a store or seeing someone veer off their path to avoid them, many of us automatically think, "That's terrible! I would never act like that."
And even if we, as individuals, think we would never act like that, we as a culture are very much acting like that. Not only is another young man dead, but when Michael's community gathered to seek justice and to mourn together not only the loss of one young man but to seek comfort with others in the face of yet another demonstration of extreme prejudice, they were viewed as an angry mob. Police showed up with guns and dogs.
We can't handle being different and the same at the same time. We think having Black History Month, a black President, and Oprah makes up for the fact our culture continues to revolve around us. We want diversity without all the hard stuff that comes with being diverse. We want to create a pretty picture without first looking at our true reflection in the mirror.
We have to shut up and listen. Confronting racist ideas is not enough. We have to confront everything within ourselves that makes us uncomfortable with diversity. We have to acknowledge our privilege because failing to do so is just another form of prejudice. We have to embrace the idea that equality doesn't mean people are all the same, but instead that they are treated with the same dignity regardless of their differences.
Basic rights are not enough. Basic rights are not going to prevent more kids from dying at the hands of those who might have been the very ones who would react to a anecdote of racism with the thought, "I would never act that way." Basic rights are not going to prevent headlines that read "Missouri Crowd After Shooting: Kill the Police" to stories that report no violence, only demonstrators leaving rose petals and stuffed animals in memory of their community's lost son.
Blatant racism is not the only thing killing these kids. It's our refusal to deal with being uncomfortable. It's those moments in which our desire to be politically correct overcomes the desire to correct the political mistakes we've made that have led to an ingrained fear and distrust. It's our failure to trust others when they tell us they are indeed different from us because from the cradle to the grave their everyday experiences are different from ours that have led to so many being placed in the grave.
It's time for some affirmative action. The action we must take now is to listen and to avoid making excuses and pointing fingers elsewhere. There are no excuses. We all have blood on our hands today.