On White reaction to Black complaints about racism

The truth about Rev. Wright, Rev. Al Sharpton, and even Malcolm X is that all are/were reasonable people whose experiences with racism were so consistently horrendous that their reactions make sense - many of us would probably have similar reactions and reach similar conclusions if we had similar experiences. I think that reactions to these men on the part of many Whites is based on a lack of awareness of the reality they've lived, and that part of this lack of awareness is deliberate, because acknowledging this reality has three consequences:

  • A disillusionment with America; it is not as just as you've always believed
  • An acceptance of how much work, expense, and minority-specific assistance is still necessary to make racism functionally irrelevant
  • An acknowledgment of the extent to which we, even if we are not racist, are racism collaborators

I can't come up with a better explanation as to why people who are not racist could find a way to justify the lack of prosecution in the Eric Garner case. I've had this discussion on OurSalon very recently, I do not think the person I was talking to about this is racist, and I am sure that he doesn't define himself as racist. That racism is intrinsically a bad thing is an accepted starting point for both of us. This is the difference between an argument now and a couple of generations ago - back then, the discussion would be about the merits of racism. We are, at least cosmetically, past that - the arguments now center more about whether racism applies in a given case rather than centering on whether racism is justified. 

This is far from the first time I've been in this position. Four of us once had a long discussion here on OurSalon with someone who thought racism was way less prevalent than the rest of us think (or, more accurately, than some of the rest of us know from personal experience), and that discussion triggered the four of us to write a book about racism called Talking To The Wall.  

Why would people have a vested interest in believing that a police or judicial action is not racist? The claim is made that this stand was not driven by a vested interest but reaching this conclusion involves jumping through too many tortured hoops. In some of the other recently publicized cases there are ambiguities - there are in the Michael Brown case - but the Garner case is just too one-sided:

An obviously unarmed man (his clothing did not lend itself to hiding a weapon) accused of a misdemeanor and not making any physical threats or attempting to escape is grabbed by an officer. His physical reaction is a quick sort of flicking the officer's hands away, snapping "Leave me alone." He's in cuffs within seconds and on the ground within seconds. A choke hold that is against police regulations is applied to Garner; he continuously says he can't breathe, when he loses consciousness he's ignored by med techs, he dies, this is all on video, and the coroner rules his death a homicide. 

No one is indicted for this. When this information comes out, the first reaction of nearly all observers, including even the normally one-sided Sean Hannity, is essentially "You've got to be kidding." 

My point is not to argue the Garner case. My point is to try to understand why anyone short of the Staten Island Prosecutor's mother would bother arguing this case. Preponderance Of Evidence is an understatement here. 

I was asked if I thought a White defendant in an analogous position would be treated any differently. I cannot imagine that a White defendant in an analogous position would be treated similarly. I think the police department would be frightened of lawsuits if they treated a White defendant like that, lawsuits where their odds are pretty awful, not to mention electoral consequences for police chiefs and prosecutors who permitted this. 

Again, I don't think the guy making this case to me is racist. If I accept that as a given, I am left with the question of why it is so apparently important to him to take the police/prosecutor side under such obviously damning circumstances. 

What does it cost him to agree that racism is the problem here? What is he so anxious to defend? And why does he start out by assuming in any given instance in this recent string of police killings of unarmed Black men that racism is highly unlikely to have anything to do with it?

I'm not singling him out; he's not alone and it's the category I'm trying to figure out, not just the individual. How do we categorize non-racists who are virulently driven to deny the presence of racism in any case where the faintest possibility exists that something else is at work? Why do racists deserve every benefit of the doubt when the defendants they arrest and sentence or sometimes kill are apparently not entitled to the same benefit of the doubt? 

Is the issue that law enforcement officers shouldn't be held accountable because of the danger of their work, even though the odds of survival are lower in other occupations such as fishermen, loggers, and even trash collectors? Even if that were the case, this argument doesn't apply to prosecutors. Why be anxious to protect them? If we go to the Michael Brown case, whether or not we run into a problem at the police level, we certainly run into one at the prosecutorial level. Prosecutors convene grand juries to help them indict; there is no point in convening one and then making the case to the jury that they shouldn't indict, which is what was done in Ferguson. If, as a prosecutor, you don't want to indict, the method for doing this is very simple and time-honored:

Don't indict. Yes, it is that simple. 

The prosecutor could have gone in front of the cameras and said:
"I've looked at the available evidence and from what I've seen, including what ambiguities there are, I don't think I can establish guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in court. [He could go into details of evidence here as needed.] Given that, I see no point in wasting the State's time and the taxpayers' money pushing a weak case we're unlikely to win."

I've given my theory. I think it's about what in my college days as a sociology major we used to call Cognitive Dissonance - people are inclined to avoid admitting, even to themselves, especially to themselves, that they are holding internally contradictory viewpoints. I am in favor of justice, I am patriotic, if my country isn't just then maybe my patriotism isn't justified. My answer is: In that case we should try to fix the country. But that's not everyone's answer; some apparently believe that acknowledging the problem is somehow disloyal. My own take is that failing to attempt to address the problem is disloyal, but that's me - I care more about function than about international appearances and, frankly, I think visibly addressing problems actually improves our international appearance. I love my daughter unconditionally but I certainly don't think that attempting to correct her errant behavior is disloyal; on the contrary, as a parent I would not be fulfilling my responsibilities if I did not attempt to correct her and, analogously, regarding my country, as a citizen I would not be fulfilling my responsibilities if I did not attempt to correct her. 

It's a theory. I'd welcome anyone else's take. What makes a sizeable population of people who presumably are not racist so reluctant to admit that structural racism is ever a factor in police using inappropriately excessive force and being given a pass for such conduct by prosecutors?

Views: 1458

Comment by alsoknownas on August 18, 2015 at 6:31pm

I think you are incorrect to presume they are not racist.

It's the fallacy in your post.

Why take that stance?

Comment by Myriad on August 18, 2015 at 7:33pm

I'm inclined to agree with AKA.  The positions they take can only come out of racism.  To give the benefit of the doubt, possibly unconscious racism, or internally unacknowledged racism.

This is a particularly frustrating kind of racism - endlessly rationalizing, always polite and "reasonable".

Comment by JMac1949 Today on August 18, 2015 at 7:54pm

There is a difference between racism and unconscious racial preferences in that racism is an conscious expression that is willfully manifested by action or inaction.  Unconscious racial preferences are common to virtually every human being over the age of three.  They are manifested in quick decisions and emotional responses that in the case of law enforcement and interaction with law enforcement can contribute to poor choices with tragic results.  I'm working on a post about racism, slavery and history and before I publish it I'll be sending you and Lezlie a preview so you let me know, me if I've wandered off the reservation.  R&L

Comment by Myriad on August 18, 2015 at 8:25pm

How does unconscious racial preference work in watching the Garner video?  Or that one of the policeman tackling a teenaged girl at the pool party?  Or endlessly defending the Trayvon Martin thing?  (Unconscious racial preference for the creepy-ass cracker, or whatever that phrase was, over a teenage boy strolling home from the 7/11?)

And this white preference for one's fellow whites trumps (I'm watching tv pundits punditing about you-know-who) any preference for justice or decency?

Comment by koshersalaami on August 18, 2015 at 8:36pm
JMac, thanks. I'll look.

AKA and Myriad,
There are racists and there are racism enablers. Are racism enablers racists? Maybe. Where does the perception that minorities get more than they should come from? Why aren't these people acknowledging the scale of racist obstacles that are out there? Because they aren't paying attention, they don't know, they aren't interested in finding out, or they don't care? Are these people adopting their positions out a warped sense of fairness based on incomplete knowledge of existing imbalances or are they simply using a phony egalitarian argument to push points that are anti-egalitarian, a la claims of "reverse racism?"
Comment by JMac1949 Today on August 18, 2015 at 9:05pm

Racial preference isn't always unconscious.  Mark O'Mara the defense attorney for George Zimmerman won the acquittal when he walked into the courtroom with a thirty pound chunk of concrete sidewalk and dropped it on the table:


“That is a sidewalk and that is not an unarmed teenager with nothing but Skittles trying to get home, and the suggestion by the state that that’s not a weapon, that that can’t hurt somebody … is disgusting."

While he did nothing to serve justice, in the adversarial US Court System, Mark O'Mara brilliantly served his client by instilling in the jurors "a reasonable doubt."  As for Zimmerman, he is now selling paintings of the Confederate Flag to raise money to pay his latest round of legal fees:


If there was ever any doubt about George Zimmermann's racism, it has been clarified today by his choice of business partners: Florida Gun Supply owner Andy Hallinan, who in July declared his business a "Muslim-free zone," said he teamed up with Zimmerman, who was acquitted in 2013 of killing black teenager Trayvon Martin, to sell copies of his Confederate flag artwork.

Mr Zimmerman later tweeted about his reason for painting the flag: "I painted the confederate flag backed by the American flag because I believe that anything can stand with the American flag behind it.  My confederate flag painting also represents the hypocrisy of political correctness that is plaguing this nation."

A post on the store's website said Zimmerman painted it "in honour" of Mr Hallinan "for being a true patriot and leading the country into a better, safer America".

Other than the jury's initial emotional reaction to that chunk of concrete as evidence, I can't find anything unconscious about the racism of Zimmerman or his trial.

Comment by koshersalaami on August 18, 2015 at 9:23pm

Of course real racism exists. That's obvious. And I would assume from what I know that Zimmerman falls under that category - I did originally. 

My question is whether there's a distinction between those who are racist and those who bend over backward to give the benefit of the doubt to everyone whose actions look racist. There might be, and if there is a distinction, what are the benefit of the doubt givers guilty of precisely? Before, my co-authors and I called these people racist enablers; right now, I'm experimenting with the term Racism Collaborators, people who are constantly protecting those who do not need protecting but not protecting those who do need it.

I think the prosecution was less than competent at the Zimmerman trial, from what I can see. (That may have been deliberate: Zimmerman's father was a very influential judge and he may have had a say as to who prosecuted his son.) The reason I think they were less than competent is because I didn't hear about the one question that would have really helped their case:

Did Zimmerman, at any point, identify himself to Martin?

I never heard evidence that he did. If not, Martin died thinking he was fighting with a mugger. 

And yet that aspect of Zimmerman's responsibility was ignored. There's no excuse for that, cement or no cement. 

I saw actions I'd consider racist on Open Salon. I posted about it and got into the most virulent fights I ever got into over a blog. But that's not what I'm talking about here. I see arguments about the innocence of those I think are guilty, but not race baiting. I do see what I'd consider to be knee jerk reactions, the reaction that any accusation of racism is likely to be wrong. 

Comment by Myriad on August 18, 2015 at 9:39pm

Well, it may be parallel to our chomping down on pork chops even tho we have some vague knowledge of the horror leading up to our meal.  And we wear cheap clothes even tho we have some vague idea of offshore sweatshops...  It's probably a matter of maintaining our perception of a pleasant existence that, because it affords us pleasantness and security and such, we cannot acknowledge the suffering of others on which it's based.  No - all's right with the world because of the outcome, which provides us with comfort.  (Thus - society as a whole and the serve-and-protect segment of it have to be righteous.  Otherwise - staring into the chaos...)

Comment by koshersalaami on August 18, 2015 at 9:43pm
Actually, good parallel, though we don't defend sweatshops, we just ignore them
Comment by JMac1949 Today on August 18, 2015 at 9:50pm

Myriad just described a form of racism what most white people have a hard time understanding: White Privilege.


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