White America Asks: Where Is the Animus?

From the Great Beer Summit with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to Trayvon Martin and now the Ferguson and Garner cases, white America has once again been taken to the wood shed for not doing enough to eliminate the racial discrimination that has plagued this country since its founding.  Problems that continue to beset black communities are the collective fault of white America: residual discrimination and disparagement from the days of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation – an “internalized” form of racism that white people aren’t consciously aware of.  This internalized racism and the problems it gives birth to are further exacerbated by income inequality and the pervasive abuse of power by white police who intentionally violate the civil rights of black Americans within a criminal justice system that is rigged against them. 

Face it, white America: you are the problem, and nothing you do to make up for your past sins will work.  You are just as bad as South Africa during Apartheid.  You are no better than, and in some ways worse than, every military junta, despot, and politburo that ever existed.  You continue to have a master-slave mentality.

In recent months, articles galore have been written about Ferguson and now Garner – of the conflict between the races and its underlying causes and potential solutions.  Day-to-day news coverage is so repetitive that it sounds like we are all stuck in a Groundhog Day replay.  Pundits comment ad nauseam about the same anger in the black community, the same failures of the criminal justice system, and the resulting – and fully justified – protests, looting, and mayhem in response to the same old racist verdicts.  And now, Eric Holder is riding in on his white DOJ horse to revisit the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases to determine if any civil rights were violated under federal law. 

And yet, very little has been written about the great white elephant in the room – an uncomfortable conversation we need to have about the unintended consequences of stinging accusations of racism despite the trajectory of progress since our founding. 

White Americans feel like prisoners stuck under a microscope, where everything they do and say is judged through the prism of color.  If a white person looks askance at a black person, it is automatically assumed to be racially motivated; if white police pull over a car driven by a black person, it is because he has been racially profiled as “DWB” – driving while black; if a white person commits a crime against a black person, there will likely be a rush to judgment based on skin color alone.  Is every deprivation suffered by a black person at the hands of a white person racially motivated – be it the loss of a job, the denial of a mortgage, rejection from a school play or sport, termination of a friendship, denial of entrance into a university or graduate school program, loss of a bid, refusal to rent, etc.? 

White people can’t help but wonder if the race-baiters – the individuals who make a darn good living fomenting racial division – might be overplaying their hand in the race game, just a little bit.  Might their demands for justice every time a white cop hurts or maims a black person backfire?  Whites want to know – where is the outrage when blacks are killed by blacks or whites are killed by blacks?  Is there only “no justice, no peace” when whites kill blacks?

I’m not at all suggesting that whites will lash out against blacks.  Rather, instead of this tactic garnering more support for the black cause, whites just might throw up their hands in defeat, thinking, I am done.  What more can we do as a society, what else can I do as a sympathetic white person to fix all the problems in the black community and quell all of their fear, anger and restiveness?  What am I truly responsible for?

There are those who will accuse me of suggesting that black people better stay in their place, keep quiet, and refrain from making waves.  That couldn’t be farther from my thinking.  I say make all the noise you need to for a cause that is true.  Fight for justice where injustice reigns.  Kick authentic racism in the teeth.  Speak truth to power.  Be proud.  Be loud.  But first:

Show me the animus.  Show me the racism.  Show me the civil rights abuse.  Show them to me, and I’ll march alongside you, I’ll chant at the top of my lungs with you, I’ll fight for what’s right with you at my side. 

But pick your battles carefully – make sure they involve truly nefarious incidences of racism, where civil rights have been clearly violated.  Just because a white cop kills a black individual doesn’t immediately and conclusively translate into pervasive racial animus in a criminal justice system stacked against all blacks. 

After all that white America has done to strip away the invidious mantle of racism from society and its institutions, and to discourage and judge harshly any deeply held racist tendencies by individuals, is it ever enough?  White America has done much to assuage its collective white guilt – even for those of us whose ancestors had no part to play in America’s racial past.  White America is not asking for thanks for what it has done to help black America.  It sees clearly that many black communities are in chaos, plagued with homelessness, drug abuse, fatherlessness, poverty, crime, and abuse.  White America tries to make amends and carve out better choices by paying increased taxes to fund programs that are supposed to lift blacks out of poverty and help them buy food, pay rent, find jobs, care for their children, provide health care, obtain an education.  Many are involved with charities and efforts to improve education in poor black urban areas and bring educational choice to low income black families who want more for their children.  Many are involved with the criminal justice system to help rehabilitate young blacks who are in jail for gang- or poverty- or drug-related criminal activities. 

White America has even gone so far as to step aside and allow lower-performing black students to get into better schools than their children as compensation for past ills.  While white America is perceived as the enemy, white America marches with black America when it believes the latter's grievances have merit – when it believes and knows we can do better as a society. 

And yet, so much of the anger in the black community is directed at the very people who are trying to move beyond the racial divide.  We are told that the criminal justice system – laden with black police officers, judges, lawyers, and legislators who make the laws that are in turn administered by so many black city council members and mayors – is still rigged against black people and that racist whites are pulling the levers of injustice. 

When black America argues that we still have racism and haven’t come far enough, it confounds white America.  Black people today are successful doctors, lawyers, athletes, academics, politicians, small businesspeople.  They have made their way in the world – whether by merit or by a break – and we see them succeed in all imaginable walks of life.  They run the country, they are pundits on the news, they star in TV shows and movies, they dominate many sports, they run for office after success in the business world, they are our teachers and professors, our doctors and lawyers.  They lead our military.  Heck, over 53% of this country voted for Obama, and yet blacks make up only 14% of the electorate.  Obama could not have gotten elected without millions of white votes.  How racist is that? 

In the Ferguson and Staten Island cases, there are very strong arguments that this was all done in the course of police work and not racially motivated.  There was no evidence that Brown and Garner were targeted because they were black, or were treated at all differently from any other suspect to be arrested because they were black.  They were approached and arrests were attempted not because they were black, but because they had committed crimes. 

The Garner video – taken on its own – was very powerful.  Many people – myself included – initially thought a case could be made for excessive force, but the video cannot be examined in a vacuum.  The police had received a call that Garner was violating the law, they confronted him, and he refused to allow them to put on the handcuffs.  They called for backup; their supervising sergeant was on scene, and she is black.  Police procedure allows them to put the cuffs on Garner using force if necessary and restrain him if he is resisting – all within the law.  The choke hold was not illegal but was against police policy, and the officer was punished for it – had his gun confiscated and was relegated to desk duty.  Finally, and most compellingly for someone on the grand jury, Garner’s death was not proximately caused by the choke hold – his hyoid bone had not been broken, so he was not choked to death.  Indeed, other medical factors like his asthma, heart condition, and obesity might have been responsible for his demise.  We therefore cannot conclude that “but for” the choke hold he would not have died.  The facts reveal that Garner would not have been killed had he not resisted arrest. 

This case didn’t end nicely.  It was a tragedy.  And the officer will pay the price for this – he will probably never be a cop anywhere again.  He has to find a new career.  He will not go to jail, but he will likely be sued in civil court and possibly by the DOJ.  He will likely have a civil judgment against him and legal fees he will never be able to repay.  And he will have to live with what happened and always ask himself, What if I had tried something different?

The police, the victim, and the victim’s family all lose.  No one comes out a winner.  But the people who are hurt the most?  The entire country – by those who would cast this as racist in the absence of any corroborating evidence other than the skin color of the respective individuals. 

The responsible policemen in Ferguson and Staten Island might have indeed acted negligently, or been civilly liable for the deaths of the two victims, they might have even used excessive force – but these are very different arguments to make with very different implications from what we get from the racially motivated ones.  The former indict the individual for his personal conduct.  The latter indict society as a whole and impute a repugnant motivation to us all. 

Show me the animus.  Show me the racism.  Show me the civil rights abuse.  Show them to me, and I’ll march alongside you, I’ll chant at the top of my lungs with you, I’ll fight for what’s right with you at my side.

From the Great Beer Summit with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to Trayvon Martin and now the Ferguson and Garner cases, white America has once again been taken to the wood shed for not doing enough to eliminate the racial discrimination that has plagued this country since its founding.  Problems that continue to beset black communities are the collective fault of white America: residual discrimination and disparagement from the days of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation – an “internalized” form of racism that white people aren’t consciously aware of.  This internalized racism and the problems it gives birth to are further exacerbated by income inequality and the pervasive abuse of power by white police who intentionally violate the civil rights of black Americans within a criminal justice system that is rigged against them. 

Face it, white America: you are the problem, and nothing you do to make up for your past sins will work.  You are just as bad as South Africa during Apartheid.  You are no better than, and in some ways worse than, every military junta, despot, and politburo that ever existed.  You continue to have a master-slave mentality.

In recent months, articles galore have been written about Ferguson and now Garner – of the conflict between the races and its underlying causes and potential solutions.  Day-to-day news coverage is so repetitive that it sounds like we are all stuck in a Groundhog Day replay.  Pundits comment ad nauseam about the same anger in the black community, the same failures of the criminal justice system, and the resulting – and fully justified – protests, looting, and mayhem in response to the same old racist verdicts.  And now, Eric Holder is riding in on his white DOJ horse to revisit the Eric Garner and Michael Brown cases to determine if any civil rights were violated under federal law. 

And yet, very little has been written about the great white elephant in the room – an uncomfortable conversation we need to have about the unintended consequences of stinging accusations of racism despite the trajectory of progress since our founding. 

White Americans feel like prisoners stuck under a microscope, where everything they do and say is judged through the prism of color.  If a white person looks askance at a black person, it is automatically assumed to be racially motivated; if white police pull over a car driven by a black person, it is because he has been racially profiled as “DWB” – driving while black; if a white person commits a crime against a black person, there will likely be a rush to judgment based on skin color alone.  Is every deprivation suffered by a black person at the hands of a white person racially motivated – be it the loss of a job, the denial of a mortgage, rejection from a school play or sport, termination of a friendship, denial of entrance into a university or graduate school program, loss of a bid, refusal to rent, etc.? 

White people can’t help but wonder if the race-baiters – the individuals who make a darn good living fomenting racial division – might be overplaying their hand in the race game, just a little bit.  Might their demands for justice every time a white cop hurts or maims a black person backfire?  Whites want to know – where is the outrage when blacks are killed by blacks or whites are killed by blacks?  Is there only “no justice, no peace” when whites kill blacks?

I’m not at all suggesting that whites will lash out against blacks.  Rather, instead of this tactic garnering more support for the black cause, whites just might throw up their hands in defeat, thinking, I am done.  What more can we do as a society, what else can I do as a sympathetic white person to fix all the problems in the black community and quell all of their fear, anger and restiveness?  What am I truly responsible for?

There are those who will accuse me of suggesting that black people better stay in their place, keep quiet, and refrain from making waves.  That couldn’t be farther from my thinking.  I say make all the noise you need to for a cause that is true.  Fight for justice where injustice reigns.  Kick authentic racism in the teeth.  Speak truth to power.  Be proud.  Be loud.  But first:

Show me the animus.  Show me the racism.  Show me the civil rights abuse.  Show them to me, and I’ll march alongside you, I’ll chant at the top of my lungs with you, I’ll fight for what’s right with you at my side. 

But pick your battles carefully – make sure they involve truly nefarious incidences of racism, where civil rights have been clearly violated.  Just because a white cop kills a black individual doesn’t immediately and conclusively translate into pervasive racial animus in a criminal justice system stacked against all blacks. 

After all that white America has done to strip away the invidious mantle of racism from society and its institutions, and to discourage and judge harshly any deeply held racist tendencies by individuals, is it ever enough?  White America has done much to assuage its collective white guilt – even for those of us whose ancestors had no part to play in America’s racial past.  White America is not asking for thanks for what it has done to help black America.  It sees clearly that many black communities are in chaos, plagued with homelessness, drug abuse, fatherlessness, poverty, crime, and abuse.  White America tries to make amends and carve out better choices by paying increased taxes to fund programs that are supposed to lift blacks out of poverty and help them buy food, pay rent, find jobs, care for their children, provide health care, obtain an education.  Many are involved with charities and efforts to improve education in poor black urban areas and bring educational choice to low income black families who want more for their children.  Many are involved with the criminal justice system to help rehabilitate young blacks who are in jail for gang- or poverty- or drug-related criminal activities. 

White America has even gone so far as to step aside and allow lower-performing black students to get into better schools than their children as compensation for past ills.  While white America is perceived as the enemy, white America marches with black America when it believes the latter's grievances have merit – when it believes and knows we can do better as a society. 

And yet, so much of the anger in the black community is directed at the very people who are trying to move beyond the racial divide.  We are told that the criminal justice system – laden with black police officers, judges, lawyers, and legislators who make the laws that are in turn administered by so many black city council members and mayors – is still rigged against black people and that racist whites are pulling the levers of injustice. 

When black America argues that we still have racism and haven’t come far enough, it confounds white America.  Black people today are successful doctors, lawyers, athletes, academics, politicians, small businesspeople.  They have made their way in the world – whether by merit or by a break – and we see them succeed in all imaginable walks of life.  They run the country, they are pundits on the news, they star in TV shows and movies, they dominate many sports, they run for office after success in the business world, they are our teachers and professors, our doctors and lawyers.  They lead our military.  Heck, over 53% of this country voted for Obama, and yet blacks make up only 14% of the electorate.  Obama could not have gotten elected without millions of white votes.  How racist is that? 

In the Ferguson and Staten Island cases, there are very strong arguments that this was all done in the course of police work and not racially motivated.  There was no evidence that Brown and Garner were targeted because they were black, or were treated at all differently from any other suspect to be arrested because they were black.  They were approached and arrests were attempted not because they were black, but because they had committed crimes. 

The Garner video – taken on its own – was very powerful.  Many people – myself included – initially thought a case could be made for excessive force, but the video cannot be examined in a vacuum.  The police had received a call that Garner was violating the law, they confronted him, and he refused to allow them to put on the handcuffs.  They called for backup; their supervising sergeant was on scene, and she is black.  Police procedure allows them to put the cuffs on Garner using force if necessary and restrain him if he is resisting – all within the law.  The choke hold was not illegal but was against police policy, and the officer was punished for it – had his gun confiscated and was relegated to desk duty.  Finally, and most compellingly for someone on the grand jury, Garner’s death was not proximately caused by the choke hold – his hyoid bone had not been broken, so he was not choked to death.  Indeed, other medical factors like his asthma, heart condition, and obesity might have been responsible for his demise.  We therefore cannot conclude that “but for” the choke hold he would not have died.  The facts reveal that Garner would not have been killed had he not resisted arrest. 

This case didn’t end nicely.  It was a tragedy.  And the officer will pay the price for this – he will probably never be a cop anywhere again.  He has to find a new career.  He will not go to jail, but he will likely be sued in civil court and possibly by the DOJ.  He will likely have a civil judgment against him and legal fees he will never be able to repay.  And he will have to live with what happened and always ask himself, What if I had tried something different?

The police, the victim, and the victim’s family all lose.  No one comes out a winner.  But the people who are hurt the most?  The entire country – by those who would cast this as racist in the absence of any corroborating evidence other than the skin color of the respective individuals. 

The responsible policemen in Ferguson and Staten Island might have indeed acted negligently, or been civilly liable for the deaths of the two victims, they might have even used excessive force – but these are very different arguments to make with very different implications from what we get from the racially motivated ones.  The former indict the individual for his personal conduct.  The latter indict society as a whole and impute a repugnant motivation to us all. 

Show me the animus.  Show me the racism.  Show me the civil rights abuse.  Show them to me, and I’ll march alongside you, I’ll chant at the top of my lungs with you, I’ll fight for what’s right with you at my side.