Photo credit: Sabrina Thompson, photographer, kuuphotography.com
I went to sleep with a heavy heart about the events unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri, after the shooting death of Michael Brown and the subsequent aftermath that transformed from peaceful protest to militarized police occupation of this small town in Middle America. I woke up this morning still unsettled as the violence and the occupation continued to progress, with even the National Guard being called in. We heard from the governor of Missouri; the police chief of Ferguson; the captain of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Ronald S. Johnson; and the president. I'm disheartened and frustrated. What we also heard was the anger, desperation, and pleas for the respect for black life from the people of Ferguson.
I watched President Obama's press conference the other day waiting to hear what he would say about the situation. It was interesting how the press conference covered two seemingly disparate topics. It was a bizarre parallel of the military effort utilized to rescue Iraqi citizens stranded on a mountaintop while a militarized police force continued to target American citizens here in the United States. It was the typical restrained response on race that we get from the president, but instead uttered by a more tired man with more grey in his hair. He appears to be a man who seems quite weary of a topic that is becoming all too common, yet, again, as if some shared African-American truth is desperately trying to escape his lips, freeing a pained aspect of his psyche not just as a black man but as an American and as the president of a nation in strife. You think his foreign policy is troubled? Think about the challenges of the first black president silenced by political gamesmanship and partisan tactics when it comes to openly discussing the obvious problems with this current racial quagmire in Ferguson.
So if we're calling in the National Guard and asking the question about how to deescalate this situation in Ferguson and turn the tide, we must find out how to deescalate this ongoing legacy of racism and aggression towards black men in our country. The most poignant thing that President Obama said during his Ferguson statement last week was:
[L]et's remember that we're all part of one American family. We are united in common values, and that includes belief in equality under the law, basic respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protest, a reverence for the dignity of every single man, woman and child among us, and the need for accountability when it comes to our government. So now's the time for healing.
In another statement, earlier this week, he reiterated, "Let's seek to heal."
How do you convince the people of Ferguson that we're one American family? How do you convince Michael Brown's grieving parents of our common values and equality under the law? Does the president even believe that what he said is actually true? The healing hasn't happened yet because old wounds were never resolved, and much was reopened with the death of another young black man at the hands of a police officer. The struggle is absolutely real, and we will not become post-racial unless we talk about all the issues openly. Some examples of pointed statements that I wish we heard more of are from Melissa Harris-Perry and the actor Jesse Williams. Those clips carry a passion that I wish the president could convey, and I hope they encourage others, of all races, to say and do more.
Our metric for equality and improved race relations needs to change, as the current form of racism has mutated into something quite insidious under the guise of political correctness and assumed progress. Much like a virus, as our plans and strategies for combating racism have evolved, the infectious nature of racism has adapted into something more virulent and deadly. As the videos, posts, and tweets come flooding in from Ferguson by civilians and reporters in a flood of collective first-hand reporting, much like in Egypt under its recent revolution and government overthrow, you have to finally start to believe that all of this is not just some figment of black imagination. Our lives as African-Americans are worth more than the irrational fear of us! There are things to be scared of: king cobras, deep space, the growing scourge of obesity, peanut allergies, racism. The irrationality of this phobia and presumed doom at the hands of a black man is now causing harmful and deadly reactions, bolstered by institutionalized, systemic policies of bias and double standards.
As the protests spread across the country, calling for peace, I'm heartened by the variety of faces that are present. Deescalate your fear, deescalate your discomfort, deescalate your white privilege, deescalate your guilt, deescalate your anger, and scale up your courage to take this head-on. We all need to. Just think about it! This should be a national discussion; this should be a unifying national movement. What happened to the universal disappointment and sadness felt when an American child dies or falls down a well? (Remember the media frenzy around Baby Jessica?) One might not be terribly surprised when we also consider what has happened to little schoolchildren massacred in the predominantly white suburbs or movie theaters, or when a congresswoman gets shot in the face, and we've barely changed the dialog on gun control, violence, and aggression in our nation. Armed, predominantly white, anti-government protestors defied authorities in Nevada earlier this year with limited response from law enforcement; it was nothing like what is playing out in Ferguson right now. What does it say about our country and our cultural blind spot on gun violence and the murder of our children? This leaves us all vulnerable in a way that we have never known. So when a black teenager dies at the hands of a police officer, this is the response and reaction. What if Michael Brown was your brother, your friend, or your son? So, do you feel that? Yep, that shame and disappointment for failing our American children should hit all of us like a bucket of ice water. Now let's do something about it, because this is America, and surely we can do something about racism, and surely we have to!