The editorial, “Who Really Benefits From Racial Conflict” and Jessica Leigh Lebos’s “Bug Blow Tells it Like it Is”, in the December 3-9 issue were important for their contribution to the much-needed discussion about race, and they prompted my own thoughts.
Having missed the Keith Passmore story in the media, I went to look into it online and became absorbed in the blogs. The majority of bloggers seemed to want to compare the shooting death of Passmore, a 12-year-old white boy, by a black man, to the shooting of Michael Brown, a 17-year-old black boy by a white policeman.
The blogs fall into the usual two categories: on the one hand, some show resentment fed by a conservative media which promotes the idea that white folks have become underdogs; and on the other hand, the smug liberals’ love of thinking themselves truly ethical and better than others.
Both positions miss the obvious point that there is a vast difference between an individual citizen-shooter and a police shooting.
This society is awash with guns and citizens kill each other regardless of race: blacks kill blacks and whites and whites kill whites and blacks. The important point is that citizen violence is treated differently from state violence.
By law, all violence is accepted within the state institutions and law enforcement generally. Whereas, all violence that occurs outside these institutions is condemned, even including self-defense.
In many states, state execution is known to be justifiable homicide, but what is not publicly discussed are the many incidences of torture and death at the hands of police at home, and military abroad. The citizenry, on the other hand, have to be punished for any act considered violent.
Whatever we are told, we can see that the rules of law apply differently in many cases. If the law considers Passmore important enough, they will find his killer. Or someone to stand in and be indicted for his killing. But, since Passmore is undoubtedly a working class boy, the police will not likely feel motivated to pursue the case.
All this has nothing to do with Michael Brown’s killing. He was killed by a policeman who will not be indicted because, as an agent of the state, he will be protected by that state.
Let us now imagine an incident unlikely to ever happen: Imagine a black policeman shoots a white boy, dead. Logically, since he is a policeman, he should be protected by the state he serves, and therefore not held accountable. But in this case I have a strong feeling that the black policeman would be penalized.
And this is why this incident won’t happen: Any black person in a position of power in the state, will lose that power if he does anything that goes against the status quo. He knows this. And that is why he can be counted on to keep his head down.
This applies not only to police, but to all African-Americans in positions of state power — from the President down to mayors and city council members. So they have to be, on the one hand ineffectual and yet more “white” than white, to prove their allegiance to the class that rules and also to protect themselves.
In this post-civil rights era of so-called equality, some of us are more equal than others. Just as Jim Crow was the response to the end of slavery, civil rights legislation was followed by what Michele Alexander calls “the New Jim Crow” that criminalizes all young black males.
This is not just a Southern problem. Prior to civil rights, black people moved north to escape Jim Crow, only to find the same racial discrimination, and these segregated northern cities are where the Michael Brown demonstrations are happening now.
But this is also not just a U.S. problem as it has its roots in European colonization, particularly of Africa. As Andrew Young put it, “the British invented racism.”
Institutional racism against African-Americans continues and will always continue for as long as raising the subject of race is apparently impolite and in fact, unacceptably rude.
Behind this veneer of good manners, violent state abuse will continue.