Killer Mike, an Atlanta born rapper, took the stage at a Run the Jewels show in Missouri an hour and a half after a grand jury decided not to take the case of Darren Wilson's shooting of Michael Brown to trial. Before launching into his set he spoke, in an emotion-strained voice, about how the machine had gotten him today because he was so afraid for his 20- and 12-year-old sons. He spoke of learning about the decision and collapsing in his wife's arms, worried about the fate of his sons and what this decision means for them.
I am not Killer Mike.
I am a white male.
I can be outraged about the injustice that I see playing out before me. The outpouring of rage, sadness and fear over the deaths of people of color at the hands of the police are all genuine. Unfortunately, the racist pushback over the Black Lives Matter movement is as well. They are part of our societal fabric today. For a nation that still, on multiple levels, claims to be post racial, the deaths of so many people of color show how very misguided that belief is.
It is not only in places like Ferguson where a legacy of racism and the systemic oppression of people of color is symbolized by Michael Brown's death. It is also symbolized by the deaths of:
Darrien Hunt in Saratoga Springs, Utah.
Ezell Ford and Omar Abrego in Los Angeles.
Tamir E. Rice and Tanesha Anderson in Cleveland, Ohio.
John Crawford in Beavercreek, Ohio.
Akai Gurley in New York City.
The list could go on and on. All of these individuals were people of color who were shot and killed by police officers. The deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner are not lone incidents. They are a continuation of a tragic line of events that began long ago.
I am angry about the fact that our justice system is failing to dole out justice, the fact that the playground-to-prison pipeline continues to exist, and the fact that a young black male is 21 times more likely than me to be shot dead by the gun of a police officer. That being said, I am a white male and the privilege that comes with that keeps me from fearing for my own safety in the presence of the police. I can be scared at the idea of a racist system that perpetuates violence against minority communities, but I cannot be scared of the very real consequences of this system on a personal level. I am not the one that will be harassed, beaten or shot.
When studying and working in South Africa I was told by a black empowerment activist that the greatest service I could provide to furthering the cause of equality was come and stand in front of protesters in Cape Town as they protested against wealth inequality and government policies. Why? Because the policemen tasked with dispersing the protesters were less likely to shoot white people with rubber bullets.
When whole communities of individuals fear for their safety in the presence of those that are ensured with keeping them safe, something is badly broken in our country.
I am angry, but I am not afraid. That is an incredibly troubling thing to realize as protests against police violence move forward across the nation. White privilege is a barrier that my skin and the United States has given me from being able to truly understand those who are the victims of racial violence every day. It is a barrier to creating a sense of urgency around these issues, because too many individuals who look like me control the levers of power which can catalyze change. I can stand in solidarity with those who are protesting. I can sympathize with those whose human rights are abused by systemic racism. But I cannot completely empathize, and this is one of the greatest weapons that such a system has at its disposal.