Deafening White Silence?

White Silence White Consent

“In Times Square, a crowd of at least 200 people chanted, “No indictment is denial. We want a public trial.” Meredith Reitman, a 40-year-old white woman from Queens, held a sign that said, “White silence = white consent.” She said the decision not to indict shocked her, even though some might think she was being naive to expect an indictment. “We should hope for justice and be surprised every time it doesn’t happen,” Reitman said.” [SILive]

There are a couple of problems here, not the least of which is that some segments of white society have been anything BUT silent.  Bigotry has been raising its head in several – all equally despicable – versions.  There are some questions white Americans perhaps ought to put to themselves.

Are you among those people who will countenance ALL misbehavior by police officers, no matter how egregious, on the assumption that you are for “law and order?”

If so, you’ve missed the point.  However, so did the Fraternal Order of Police when they vociferously complained about the nomination of Debo Adigbele to serve in the Justice Department’s civil rights bureau because he had once defended  a cop killer:

“We are aware of the tried and true shield behind which activists of Adegbile’s ilk are wont to hide – that everyone is entitled to a defense; but surely you would agree that a defense should not be based on falsely disparaging and savaging the good name and reputation of a lifeless police officer. Certainly any legal scholar can see the injustice and absence of ethics in this cynical race-baiting approach to our legal system.” [TownHall]

Hiding behind the “shield?  That shield is the Constitution of the United States of America and those “activists” are carrying out the provisions of the 7th Amendment, “and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”  No one “savaged” the officer’s reputation – the appeal was predicated on the idea that every convicted person has the right to a sentencing hearing free from Constitutional error. [HuffPo]   Are the police officers telling us that a defendant has 7th Amendment rights, except when the victim is a police officer? 

There’s another highly selective reading of the U.S. Constitution on display in the SLPOA reaction to the Rams’ “Hands Up” gesture:

“Roorda warned, “I know that there are those that will say that these players are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. Well I’ve got news for people who think that way, cops have first amendment rights too, and we plan to exercise ours. I’d remind the NFL and their players that it is not the violent thugs burning down buildings that buy their advertiser’s products. It’s cops and the good people of St. Louis and other NFL towns that do. Somebody needs to throw a flag on this play. If it’s not the NFL and the Rams, then it’ll be cops and their supporters.” [KSDK]

Aside from the obviously threatening tone of the missive, there’s a serious misreading of our founding document – the First Amendment protects us from government intrusion into our freedom of expression.   Once again, are the police telling us that we have First Amendment rights, but if we exercise them in ways a police department might find objectionable – then we don’t have the protection of the First Amendment?  Have the police, in this instance, forgotten they’re a function of government? [Jenkins, WaPo]

If you proclaim yourself to be a protector of the U.S. Constitution, then all provisions pertain to all people, not merely the ones approved by the police department – to believe otherwise is to give approval to the Police State.

Are you among those people who have internalized the stereotypes associated with African Americans?

Do you grant credence to the rantings of former politician Mike Huckabee who said:  Michael Brown would still be alive if he hadn’t behaved like a “thug.” [TPM]  The Thug imagery is convenient for those who believe that all young black males are potential felons, and the rest of Officer Wilson’s testimony to the grand jury demonstrates he didn’t like the area (mostly black) and he feared “the big one” – who was a “demon,” and a “hulk.”  This characterization is straight out of “The Birth of a Nation.”

The author was explicit in his intent: “My object is to teach the North, the young North, what it has never known-the awful suffering of the white man during the dreadful Reconstruction period. I believe that Almighty God anointed the white men of the South by their suffering during that time . . . to demonstrate to the world that the white man must and shall be supreme.”

The portrayal of the  African American male as “Gus” the murderer of “Little Sister Flora” isn’t the least bit subtle, but it certainly has some staying power.

Are you among those who believe that whites need protection and service while blacks need policing?

If so, again there’s a point being missed.  But “what about black on black crime?” Or, in Guiliani format: If blacks weren’t criminals then the police wouldn’t need to be there.  [Slate]  There’s a difference between being killed by a civilian and by a member of the police force, and it’s telling that an African American youth is 21 times more likely to be killed by a law enforcement person than a white youth. [Pro Publica]  African Americans do want safe neighborhoods – they’d just prefer not to be shot by the people who are sworn  to protect them.   The study from Pro Publica offers more disturbing details:

“There were 151 instances in which police noted that teens they had shot dead had been fleeing or resisting arrest at the time of the encounter. 67 percent of those killed in such circumstances were black. That disparity was even starker in the last couple of years: of the 15 teens shot fleeing arrest from 2010 to 2012, 14 were black.  Did police always list the circumstances of the killings? No, actually, there were many deadly shooting where the circumstances were listed as “undetermined.” 77 percent of those killed in such instances were black.”

Do we have a problem with lethal shootings in “undetermined” circumstances? If not, we should.  And, if we don’t then are we condoning police activities which go beyond the pale?

Are you among those who are uncomfortable talking about institutional or systemic racism?

Here’s a clue: If a person is listening to voices telling him that when an African American father, who happens to be the President of the United States, is “divisive” and “playing the race card” when he can empathize with the parents of Trayvon Martin, then the discussion will probably make that person uncomfortable.   What some individuals don’t understand is that their arguments reveal more about themselves than about the African American community. We glimpsed this in the wake of the Trayvon Martin trial:

“The paradox of being implicitly excluded from the guarantee of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness has been reiterated and reinforced by public policy and social malaise for centuries. President Barack Obama is not immune — as he’s become the target of incessant “white rage”: race-baiting attacks, prejudice and bias even prior to his election.” [Salon]

No, the election of a black President, or even several members of Congress as well as state and local officials, doesn’t demonstrate any “post racial” paradise.  

Here’s another clue: If a person is saying that it’s racist to comprehend the systemic disparity between whites and blacks in America, then they’re dodging for cover and ignoring the obvious.  The black unemployment rate has been about twice the white rate for the last 50 years. [WaPo]  Could education be the key?  There are problems there as well, as highlighted by a DoJ Study:

“Children of color were also at a disadvantage in access to academic opportunities. Fifty-five percent of the low-minority high schools surveyed offer calculus but only 29 percent of high-minority high schools do. Similarly, 82 percent of low-minority schools offer Algebra II compared to 65 percent of the high-minority schools. Black and Hispanic students represented 44 percent of the students surveyed but only 26 percent of students in gifted and talented programs and were overrepresented when it came to repeating a grade. Across all grades, Black students were nearly three times as likely and Hispanic students were twice as likely as White students to be retained. More than half of all fourth graders retained in the reporting districts were Black and although Black students were only 16 percent of middle school students surveyed, they were 42 percent of those who repeated a grade.”  [HuffPo]

Well, “where are the parents?” Probably working, but probably working longer hours for lower wages:

“More Hispanic and Black working parents work in services occupations compared with any other race and ethnicity: 24 percent of Hispanics and Blacks work in services, compared with only 12 percent of White working parents. Hispanic working parents are most concentrated in blue collar occupations (34 percent), whereas non-Hispanic White and Asian working parents are most concentrated in professional and specialty occupations.” [DoL]

Combine wages below the poverty line, with restricted employment opportunities, add a dash of educational disparities, and we have a toxic mixture which simply serves to keep the downtrodden continually down, all the while reinforcing the Myth of the Welfare Queen and the Myth of the Thug.  The latter bits of mythology have the added benefit of absolving significant elements of white America from having to take any responsibility for the economic and social circumstances of those less fortunate.  Put less elegantly, “If they don’t have money there must be something wrong with them, and if there’s something wrong with them then it’s not my problem.”

Perhaps the problem isn’t that the white community has been silent, maybe the issue is that the status quo supports some social pathologies.  The status quo allows the raging whites to assume all black male youths are junior felons?  Thereby rationalizing anything that happens to them.  The status quo allows whites on the cusp of economic fragility to find someone, anyone, lower on the rung – someone “other” and willing to “take” from his “hard earned income?”  Thereby rationalizing opposition to raising the minimum wage? 

The status quo allows the rationalization of racist beliefs – the white community needs protection from those “other” people – except maybe for those race riots in Rosewood, Florida and Tulsa, Oklahoma when the African American community could certainly have used some help, and just as certainly didn’t get it.  Whites who simply want “peace and quiet” and the continuation of the status quo are speaking up rather vehemently – from the former governor of Arkansas, to the former mayor of NYC, to the St. Louis Police Officers Association, to the anguished speakers from the Congress bemoaning the “divisions” they intend to maintain, to the housewife who says, “Why can’t they just be more like us?” 

Perhaps they could be – if the white community could be quiet for a moment and get off their backs?  Or, if not silence, then how about some vocal support for the pain, the personal struggles, and the unalloyed courage of families willing to endure public scrutiny for a cause greater than themselves alone.  Maybe “we” should be more like “them?”

2 Comments

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2 responses to “Deafening White Silence?

  1. One of the better comments — as expected — on the Garner shooting. For another perspective, that of a self-described ‘fat black guy’ read this piece by Elie Mystal from the NY Daily NEWS. (If you only know of the paper from the Phil Ochs song, it has changed much since those days, with the NEWS and PEST reversing positions.)

    The whole thing is a plea for cops to speak out, but here’s the money quote from the second paragraph.

    As a large, overweight black man who has lived in New York for most of my life, I’d like to say thank you to all of the police officers who have not yet found me threatening enough to kill. I appreciate you allowing me to live.

    Very much worth reading the whole piece.