Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Rage Against the...

The killing of Michael Brown, 18, has sparked three days of protests and rallies that have included clashes with police and looting, along with prayers and calls for justice for the recent high school graduate and his family.
In Missouri City, Calls For Justice, And Calm, After Teen's Death
When I was younger, my father cautioned me against acts of impotent rage, no matter how angry I was. "Showing people that you're angry and fixing the problem facing you" he said "are not the same thing."

When a black community erupts in violence after a situation like this, I'm reminded of that lesson. My father is a very wise man. Showing the world that we're angry doesn't address the problem at hand. We've been angry before - that didn't do anything to save Michael Brown. If our problem is concentrated, grinding poverty, then we have to start addressing the lack of resources in the community. If our problem is that there are too few black police officers for people to feel that the people charged protecting them represent them, then we have to start teaching our children that police officer is a worthy career. If our problem is that others are quick to brand us as criminals, then we simply have to live with it - we cannot dictate to others what they will think of us. If our problem is that there IS too much criminality in our community then we have to tackle that head on.

But no matter what our problems, the solutions also have to be ours. White people have their own issues to deal with. They're not invested in fixing ours any more than we are in fixing theirs. And so abdicating responsibility to them, because we feel that they owe us, is a losing proposition. Whatever debts they have to us are unlikely ever to be paid. There is no profit in being angry about that.


John McGuinness said...

I'm going to disagree with you from the left!

First, as a recent resident of the area, these things sadden me. I have friends who are reporters covering this, and I fear for their safety. And it is interesting to see first-hand how a community can be caricatured in service of agendas.

Having said that, I think the anger and rage does serve a purpose. The problems the black residents of Ferguson face are ones (white) people would rather not thing about. Well, we're thinking about it now. And we're probably going to have to at least be part of the solution.

Obviously, there's a point where it becomes counter-productive, and it seems likely we've passed that point now. But as tired as the "need for a conversation about race" can seem, this is a reality we need to address.

As a teenager, I never feared I would be killed by a police officer, Michael Brown and others shouldn't have to either, and all of us need to help figure out how to make it so.

Aaron said...

But I was never taught, John, that I might be troubled by "a police officer." I was brought up to worry that I might run into trouble when dealing with WHITE police officers. There's a real difference there, and that's why I say that we have to quit being visibly mad, and start doing something about the situation.

It's okay for white people to be a part of the solution. But if we, as black people don't take ownership of driving for a solution, once this passes out of the news cycle, it will simply be forgotten again.

John McGuinness said...

Perhaps I'm writing from what is a bit of personal guilt. I feel like we've abandoned communities like Ferguson and the people in them, and my personal story is an example of it.

I lived in outer suburbs, and then took and offer to move out here when I got a chance.

The decisions the Ferguson police made were awful. But why were they the ones making the decisions? Because people like me had left things to them.

I know this sounds a bit paternalistic and White Man's Burden, but I think I fundamentally failed to see people like Ferguson residents as fundamentally the same as me. I was happy to forget about them, and when they caused trouble, send people like the Ferguson police in to straighten them out.

Probably not completely fair. And these people who are currently scared are not instruments for my personal growth. But I still think I and people like me need to occasionally be shaken from our complacency.

Aaron said...

Well, I took the offer to move out here when I got the chance, too. We now live, what, nearly within walking distance of each other?

But I guess what it comes down to is that I understand you have your own problems to solve. Which is as it should be. The people who left it up to the nearly all-white police department to make the decisions were people like me, John. They decided that they'd rather simply not be involved.

The root of the problems in the black community isn't white complacency - it's black complacency. If you're shaken out of yours, but we remain in ours, then we don't gain anything. We can't expect that the solution to our problems is going to be you caring about them more than we do.