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[personal profile] glishara
So, I have been not-talking a lot about #BlackLivesMatter and #ICantBreathe and the host of issues surrounding them, not because I’m not following them and not because I don’t care, but because in this moment, and in this time, I feel like the best thing I can do is to signal-boost actual black voices.

But I have a couple of things I want to say specifically to white people, things that have informed my journey to the very imperfect place I’m currently hanging out, somewhere in the land of “I’m more conscious of exactly how fucked up my perspectives are,” far short of “I’m actually enlightened,” but past the marker of “I understand that enlightenment is somewhere over there.

I really wanted to find the study this fact comes from, but my google skills failed me today. A few years ago, I read a study about racial injustice. The study showed people an act of racial injustice, and then asked them to rank the severity of the act. The trick, in this study, was that before they asked for their ranking, they offered participants the opportunity to confront the person who was being racist.

There were three conditions in this study – the control group, who never had the opportunity to protest, those who were offered the opportunity and took it, and those who were offered the opportunity and did not take it, remaining silent.

Is it a surprise to anyone that those who were offered the opportunity to confront the perpetrator and did not ranked the severity of the incident lower than the other two groups?

To me, the obvious conclusion of this study was that every time we back down and silence ourselves, we justify it by telling ourselves that the world isn’t really that bad. We blind ourselves to real injustice because it lets us feel better about ourselves and about our unwillingness to right the wrongs that surround us.

Every time we say, “These men should have cooperated with the police,” as a response to “These men shouldn’t have died,” that is what we’re doing. We’re seeing an injustice we don’t want to fight and finding ways to make it less. If your son, or daughter, or brother, or father had been engaged in a non-violent criminal act and had been shot dead, you would not be saying, “He should have cooperated.” You would be railing against the unfairness of it.

But pointing out the criminal act makes it okay. “We’re not saying , ‘Black lives don’t matter,’ we're saying 'Criminal lives don’t matter'…"

And we’re ignoring the fact that they DO… when they’re white criminals.

I also want to say that it’s OKAY to not want to pillory the policemen in this case, and still to say there’s a problem. My hand to God, I do not know how I feel about Darren Wilson. I wasn’t there. There are a lot of different accounts of what happened. He had a second, and he thought he was in danger.

But the REASON he thought he was in danger was almost certainly informed by the fact that Michael Brown was black.

In How Our Brains Perceive Race, by Bill Moyers, he talks about the "Weapons Identification Test".

“Images flash rapidly on the screen, and your task is to push the left shift key if you see a tool (a wrench, or a power drill, say) and the right shift key if you see a gun. You have to go super fast — if you don’t respond within half a second, the screen blares at you, in giant red letters, "TOO SLOW." But it’s not just guns and tools flashing on the screen: Before each object you see a face, either white or black. The faces appear for a split second, the objects for a split second, and then you have to press a key."

Spoiler alert: when the black face appeared, people were more likely to misidentify the object that appeared as a weapon when it was actually a tool.

We hear about this story a lot, too – a black man (or child, in the tragic case of Tamir Rice) who has a toy gun is shot because it is believed to be real. Or a man reaching for a wallet (Levar Jones) is assumed to be reaching for a weapon.

Did Darren Wilson believe his life was in danger? I don’t know, but I believe the answer could be yes. Just like it might be for Timothy Loehmann, for Sean Groubert, and for many other officers involved in these shootings. I fully believe it is true for at least some of them.

In a way, the argument reminds me a bit of the discussion over babies forgotten in hot cars. It takes a split second error, and the results are tragic and horrifying and irrevocable. Darren Wilson fired those shots, but it could have been any of a number of officers. It could be any of us.

One of my issues with the prosecute-the-officers perspective is that it feels like a reverse of the issue I talked about earlier – by blaming the individual men, we overstate the contribution of the individual and understate the general societal evils. We want to believe that most people aren't capable of doing such an appalling thing -- but most people probably are.

I have a lot of other thought, in varying levels of cogency, and I may talk about them at some point. But for right now, I just want to say this: Something is wrong, and it is, for better or worse, wrong with me, and probably with you. If you had bad vision, you wouldn’t keep getting angry with people for pointing out that you were misreading things. You would get glasses. We need to acknowledge that we, white America, need glasses. And we need to take people seriously when they offer suggestions on what those glasses might be.
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December 2014


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