I read an excellent writer last week who opined at length on widespread systemic racism in America’s police departments. He said white cops routinely, sort of automatically mistreat non-whites, even to the point of shooting and killing them.
I’ve worked with the mentally ill for many years; that is, I was paid to care for people who were struggling with emotions, not just putting up with distressed co-workers. Of course, we all struggle with emotions from time to time, some seeming much more severe than others. We all have broke parts in our hearts, so to speak, that never healed just right – like boxes of sadness, they sit largely unattended in the back rooms of our minds, hidden away even from ourselves. The basic idea in working with suffering people is to be gentle – whatever the moment says that is – and not scare people more than they are already. We try to reinforce self-esteem, not tell people how wounded and helpless they are. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a best practice these days in treating mental illness. It tells us to get to the true facts, that mental distress can be eased by sorting out fact from fiction. There is a universal need for us to find the true facts of our situation. I know that explaining to people how mistaken they are is mostly a waste of time. We don’t like being told we’re mistaken about – well – anything. And I hate to task people. We all carry enough without others adding to it. Still, I feel I should write on this difficult subject of race.
The writer I mentioned tied in the Ferguson, MO incident in which the black teenager, “Big Mike” Brown, was shot to death by a white policeman. The writer acknowledged that all the facts weren’t in. Still, he used the incident to claim that the Ferguson police had excluded blacks from their police force.
It was a strong piece, the charges too ugly and grave to take lightly. Indeed, such charges are already assumed by many to be widely true. But are they? I’m an old man and I grew up in Chicago. I’ve seen racism and I know the charges were once true. But are they still true?
Growing up, I had many friendly contacts with people of color. I also had knives and guns brandished at me by people of color. I see the easy invitation to hold onto the stupid idea from the past that a person’s color means something about that person. Of course, it doesn’t. And I’ve met no one in many years so stupid as to think (or say) that it does. So I think we’re getting somewhere. But getting and keeping our minds right on this means getting the true facts and not letting out-of-date urban legends dominate thinking. To this end, I say there’s sound evidence that:
a.) When police lower qualifications to hire minorities, they get less qualified officers, which leads to more death and crime in the minority community. There are many totally qualified minority individuals, of course, but they tend to not apply for police jobs. Go figure. We could draft them, I suppose. Or be more effective recruiting them. Point is: it’s not simply white racism that suppresses their numbers.
b.) In a prestigious study out of NJ (see study), blacks were counted speeding (proportionally) more than whites and at higher speeds. I would not have been shocked or disappointed if the study had found Baptist women speeding more. The significance in this study is merely that traffic stops of blacks by NJ police, in this instance, were not, in fact, simply racial profiling. The fact is more blacks being stopped for speeding than whites doesn’t always mean they were racially selected.
c.) The mean streets of Chicago taught me that teenage males are the most dangerous animals out there, regardless of their color – although currently, young black males are doing most of the killing. Could anyone be demanding that a white officer having his face battered by a 300 pound black ‘kid’ (who’s trying to seize his gun), should let himself be battered unconscious – maybe to death – and allow the batterer to run off with the gun to shoot whoever – all to respect the teen’s race and make up for historic white privilege? I feel sure the writer did not intend such.
I have a multi-racial multi-ethnic family myself. At family get togethers, Jews, Italians, Polish, Hispanics, blacks, African-Americans, if you prefer, (I really dislike the PC push to define people in racially meaningless terms), Irish, Germans, and English all mill together non-violently. I have real skin in the game. I’m not angling for any social or political advantage. I want to see racial and ethnic conflicts work out for the best for all. Maybe I want a bit more good for the tykes in my family, but this bias can only be served if race and ethnicity are let go of altogether as clubs we use on anyone – ever.
In fact, I think there’s much less racism today than any time in our history. I think ‘real’ racism is now a relatively rare sign of knee jerk stupidity, a call for help. I think raising false charges of racism is as stupid as racism itself and helps no one, surely not the little guys in my family. Ginning up weak charges of racial unfairness only provokes distrust and retaliatory hostility. We must see racism, and respond to it, only where it actually occurs.
I don’t see how it helps to strike a bright line separating white people (who in general were historically privileged) from black people (who were in general historically less privileged), when the true fact is, all people do well or poorly as individuals, not as groups and surely not in dollar terms. Our pain and nightmares are our own – very personal and individual – and most of us, white, black, brown, red or yellow, are suffering enough. We need to see our common humanity, not permanent disconnects. Let’s use our strength to help any in need, regardless of color.
Some years ago, when my nephew, James, was tiny, I used to lie down on the sofa and put him up on my chest and softly pat his back – he’d take his nap this way. James will never be a color in my eyes. He will never be a black person. He will always be James. And if he gets caught up in the political madness of our age, I will concentrate all my power to be patient with him. I know he will never permanently forget that he’s loved.