American Skin

On the last day of his life, in the last minutes of his life, Michael Brown stole cigars. That's what the security cameras tell us. They say: Don't you see? It's okay that they killed him, even though some of the circumstances around his death remain murky. Because he really was a bad guy. Wasn't he?

That's the rationalization that I've heard both stated and implied over the last couple of weeks. It makes us all feel better if we can convince ourselves that we did the right thing. But, of course we didn't. Not all of us.

It's a diversionary tactic: Was Michael Brown a good kid? I don't know. He's certainly not the "thug" that some of the media have portrayed him to be. And at the end of the day it doesn't really matter. Because Michael Brown was a human being and his life has the same value as mine. At least I believe that. And so I don't believe he deserved to die.

As a white person, I've been afraid of speaking out too loudly. I worry that I don't know the right thing to say or how to say it. Will I offend my African American friends? Even from my privileged seat, I'm still afraid of other white people attacking me and not knowing how to respond. That makes me feel guilty as hell.

I'm tired of news reports and blog posts telling me that this is not about race. Of course it's about race. It's about other things, too. But, from my vantage point, these protests seem to spring from the very real systemic oppression of non-white people. Economic disparity, a biased judicial system, barriers to obtaining higher eduction: these things are real; they are not manufactured distractions. This outpouring of emotion has spurred and should spur conversations about larger issues - conversations we need to be having. Claiming this is not about race is an absurd, elitist argument from those who are (perhaps willfully) oblivious to the realities in front of them. Tensions and protests like those seen in Ferguson spring from lifetimes of discrimination and racial profiling. The Civil Rights Act turns 50 years old in 2014 and WITNESS our progress:


(Image courtesy of The Good Men Project)

You can say I'm oversimplifying the issue. Maybe so. But, as a white woman, I know what happened to Michael Brown would never happen to me. It would not happen to me. It wouldn't happen and I'm upset because I don't know what to do about it. The media are hitting the refresh button and our attention is already turning elsewhere. So many people say they are tired of talking about it, tired of hearing about it. But, we're all still living it. Some of us just have better seats than others.