This is a guest post by Jaimee McGruder. To submit a guest post to Culture Shock, see our ‘Write for Us’ page.
On August 9th, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, Michael Brown was gunned down by police officer Darren Wilson and left in the streets. Autopsy reports indicate that he was in a surrender position when he was murdered. This is not a unique story. In Los Angeles, Ezell Ford, also unarmed was also killed by police while surrendering. John Crawford was killed for holding a pellet rifle in Walmart while telling officers it was not a real gun. Victor White III was killed while in the police car, which police then tried to cover up by alleging that he shot himself in the chest although his hands were cuffed behind his back. These stories of young black men being killed by white police officers go on and on.
While some people try to convince others and themselves that these are simply acts of police brutality and nothing more, there is a clear pattern here and it all has to do with race. When Open Carry Texas walked into businesses with real rifles and shotguns, they were banned from the premises, not shot down. When James Holmes opened fire in a movie theatre in Colorado, killing 12 and injuring 70 others, he was apprehended, not shot and killed either. Yet there are people who claim that Michael Brown deserved to be shot, for attempting to take the officer’s gun or for stealing from a store (neither of which are true).
In response to the brutality against the black community, and most recently to Brown’s death and the militarization of the Ferguson police, black men and women have taken to protests and venting their frustrations online, through social media and blogging sites. But when these feelings are spoken, they are often met with misplaced offense by white people, upset not by the murder of innocent people, but by the generalizations made. After making statements about racism committed by white men and women, people of color often must let the white people around them know that no, not all white people murder, lynch, or otherwise hurt people because of their race, or else earn the accusation of being a “reverse racist.” The problem with this is that it takes focus away from the actual problem in order to sooth and comfort the privileged. Talking about racism is not supposed to be comfortable for those with white privilege because it takes away the ability for them to realize when they are a part of the problem.
It is also important for them to realize that generalizations about privileged groups does not harm them. When people of color assume that all white people are racist, it does not hurt white people but does help to protect men and women of color from racism. White stereotypes are simply jokes made by the marginalized to cope with oppression. Stereotypes about people of color, however, result in violence, death, unemployment, and other serious consequences.
So when non-white people say “white people…” it’s crucial to understand that they are not necessarily saying all white people, but talking about a system of the majority. Derailing the conversation by saying “Not all white people!” makes it about the privileged’s feelings rather than the problems at hand, making their comfort more important the issues of the oppressed.
The best way to help is to actively listen while making sure not to speak over those who actually have experienced the oppression, and not invading spaces set aside for them. For those who want to help the family of Michael Brown: they have set up a fund here.
Jaimee McGruder is a Boston University COM student majoring in Journalism. She is from Southwest Louisiana and enjoys video games, nonfiction, travel, and discussing racism, feminism, and other social issues.