Darren Wilson was interviewed by the New Yorker and he reflected on the August 9, 2014, shooting of Michael Brown Jr. The profile gave a glimpse of Darren Wilson’s background; his mother was a thief and a crook, she wrote hot checks, stole money from everyone and anyone. Darren even had his own separate bank account to prevent his mother from usurping his funds. But in his eyes, she was a “good woman.” Michael Brown was 17 and he stole cigarillos; when riots erupted, Darren’s daughter asked “Why did you shoot him, was he a bad guy?” and he replied “yea, he was a bad guy.” But he admits that he never reflected on the type of individual Michael Brown was, he just knows that Michael was trying to kill him.
Wilson never read the Justice of Department’s report on the systemic racism in Ferguson, saying he’s not going to live in the past of what Ferguson did and “it was out of his control.” He also felt like the younger generation used the Ferguson’s racist legacy as a crutch, an excuse for their distrust and behavior towards police. In his words “I’m not going to delve into people’s life-long history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment.”
As disgusted and angered by the cognitive dissonance this white man has displayed towards a black body, it doesn’t shock me; this is a common thinking pattern that many white liberals, moderates, and conservatives hold. The cognition I describe is one that never questions the humanity in people of color, in this case black bodies and one that believes the racism of the past has nothing to do with what goes on now.
Michael Brown was vilified by the police; Wilson called him a charging demon, who seemed enraged by the bullets. In the early 19th century, when modern medicine was developing, it was routine for doctors to subject slaves to inhumane experiments without painkillers and anesthesia because the doctors wrote and assumed that black bodies did not feel pain. When black bodies became sick from the inhumane and unsanitary conditions they were living in, these doctors wrote it was because of their indolence as a slave for why they were ill-stricken.
The history of cruel and unusual experiments on people of color is extensive; the most popular one is the Tuskegee syphilis trial. Even now, minorities have a higher level of distrust towards white physicians and part of the reason is because of America’s inimical treatment towards black individuals. In 2013, Slate posted an article that discussed the Racial Empathy Gap; physicians think black patients are exaggerating the level of pain they claim to be in.
These racial attitudes have been taught for centuries and they still influence medical management today. But to someone like Wilson, he would argue that the past has nothing to do with him and he can only focus on the now. There are many physicians who argue that the medical testing, performed on these unwilling slave participants, were for the greater good. But these tests were done for the greater good of white patients, with affluence. Not for people like me.
This racial detachment to the humanity of black individuals extends way past my shallow historical account of modern medicine. This American Life had a podcast about the Normandy school district, where Michael Brown attended, and the segregation of students. The schools in the Normandy district receive poor funding and were unaccredited; there was a program in place to transfer 1000 black students to predominately white schools and white parents vehemently fought against letting black students enter their district for fear of needing metal detectors and decreasing school rankings. The parents of the white students screamed “this is not a race issue, this is about the benefit of my kids” but when students are integrated, the achievement gap is cut and everyone benefits. When you are in an environment that has subpar instruction and individuals who do not care if they are falling behind, you will consistently underperform. Likewise if you are put in an environment that is conducive to excelling, you will catch up
Black and latino children are less likely to be taught by a qualified instructor and have access to the resources their white counterparts have. Michael Brown Jr. was an anomaly, he was one out of five graduates from his high school in a district where less than 50% of black males graduate. But the parents of those white children did not see the humanity in the Normandy district black teenagers; they could not fathom that there are black children who want to learn. To someone like Darren Wilson, he would blame the issue of underperforming minority schools to their “pre-gang culture that you see in inner cities” instead of an issue of systemic racism, that no one cares to fix.
Systemic racism is no longer just lynching, police brutality, crack versus cocaine. Racism manifests in the fallacious belief that minorities are taking away your spots and getting all of the scholarships, but white people receive 76% of all merit based scholarships, even though they represent 62% of student population. Systemic racism is this belief that minorities do not work as hard as you and affirmative action is harmful, I’m looking at you, Abigail Fisher. But 68% of the sons of the 1% work at their parents’ companies. Racism manifests in white sounding names receiving 50% more callbacks for jobs and black sounding names were 33% less likely to be responded to. Racism manifests in mainstream feminism, the denial of intersectionality. Racism manifests in a movie about ancient Egypt that features a white cast; racism manifests in Emma Stone playing the role of a part Asian-woman. Racism manifests in Dylann Roof being called a shooter and not accused of domestic terrorism. Racism manifests in screaming “black on black crime” but mainstream media never discusses the terror inflicted by white biker gangs.
Most white individuals are uncomfortable about discussing race or talking about their privilege. It is unbearable for them to be cognizant of their whiteness and the liberties it affords them; instead there are whines of reverse racism. White fragility manifests because no one wants to think that they are racist. Being a racist is synonymous to being the Beelzelbub, pure, unadulterated evil. But your white privilege is real; white privilege is not an insult, it is an assessment of insulating mechanisms in place that a person of color in your exact situation lacks. White privilege is as simple and shallow as having BB or CC cream for your skin tone.
Wilson may never think about Michael Brown’s humanity; he may never think about the fact that Michael Brown stole a cigarillo but was still a good person, very much like how his mother was “loving” and “never wanted to hurt anyone.” But I charge all the white liberals, moderates, and conservatives who cry “it’s not always about race” to please think about my humanity and our collective experience. Please think about how mental health is undiagnosed in the minority community because even school-aged children are suspended for minor transgressions. Please think about how the lack of diagnosis, recognition, and treatment of PTSD in the minority community is why people end up in prison. Please think about the prison-industrial complex and why so many people are repeat offenders. Please think about Michael Brown Jr. who laid in the hot sun for four hours. Please think about Tamir Rice, the 12 year old who was shot for holding a toy gun. Please think about Sandra Bland, who was arrested for knowing her rights. If you can’t, refuse to try, or deny these inequities, I will have to think about your humanity.
Be on the right side of history. Be on the side of justice. Be someone who realizes that yes, this has everything to do with you and this is within your control.