I was recently reading a post by Ron Powell
and a post in reaction to it and support of it by Jonathan Wolfman
and I was commenting on Jonathan’s when I realized I had the beginnings of a post. So I took my planned comment, used part of it on his post, and kept the rest to serve as the basis for this post.
Both of the posts above are also available on Open Salon. (This post will appear on both Our Salon and Open Salon, as most of my posts do.)
Ron Powell contends that Black men are not part of America’s social contract or, to be more specific about it, that Black men are subject to the obligations of America’s social contract without having access to the rights and privileges contained in that contract. I might amend that to say “without having automatic access to the rights and privileges…” only because I think some Black men have access some of the time, though I absolutely think that sporadic access is blatantly inadequate. So, is Ron right?
In looking at the reactions I saw to recent cases where unarmed Black males were killed in acts involving at least attempted law enforcement (Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner), I noticed an odd common denominator:
In spite of the overwhelming evidence that Blacks as a group suffer from a series of structural disadvantages in the United States, there is a large number of people (and an entire national broadcast network) whose first reaction upon encountering evidence of racism that discernably damages people is to deny it rather than question it. They're not wondering: “Is there racism here?” They're not saying: “If there's racism in the system, we ought to find it and root it out.” They assume, automatically, that it's bogus. In essence, they are saying (and I'm using the example of a particular person here to represent a wider phenomenon) that because Tawana Brawley lied to Rev. Sharpton decades ago, anything that Sharpton endorses should be considered a lie until proven otherwise. So, step one when noticing racism is, to a large population: “We assume you're lying.” Given what I've seen, let's just say that I don't start from that assumption.
Now, if I report a crime to the police, they're likely to ask me a whole lot of questions but they're unlikely to assume I'm there to pull the wool over their eyes and use them to take advantage of someone else. And maybe that's the problem: Maybe the issue is who gets the benefit of the doubt and who doesn't.
A man not accused of a violent crime (or a major crime of any kind) who does not get violent and does not threaten anyone gets taken down, cuffed, strangled (blatantly against police regulations) while cuffed (so he's not exactly a danger, not that he was to begin with) and while begging for air, left unconscious on the ground while not being tended to by EMT's who are present, and dies, and the strangling cop is not indicted in spite of the fact that all this is on video. And we hear:
Look at this list. I have come across every one of these objections. In all cases, the benefit of the doubt is exactly what Garner doesn't get at any point.
Maybe this is what Ron means. There is a population who, from a large part of America's White population, doesn't ever start out with the benefit of the doubt.
If that's what he means, then Yes, he's right.