I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
Scanning the headlines on the latest developments in the wake of the grand jury’s failure to indict officer Wilson for the killing of Michael Brown, I came across one that asked why it was so difficult for white people to understand Ferguson.
I didn’t read the article, so I haven’t prepped myself as to what those reasons are according to that piece, but here’s my personal thesis:
Many white people, myself included, are afflicted with a condition called “colorblind racism,” defined as the notion, typically held by members of ethnic groups that have traditionally suffered little or no racial persecution (like whites), that in modern America, racism is far less prevalent—and to the extent to which it exists is equitably distributed among all races rather than being a predominantly white phenomenon—than is being alleged by many members of ethnic groups with a significant history of racial persecution (like blacks).
Colorblind racists put in their racial lenses less often than, perhaps, they should. They tend to view blacks and whites as far more equal in far too many respects than is warranted by the evidence as presented by those who’ve issued themselves a cleaner bill of health with respect to their discriminating color vision.
Therefore, when it comes to the Michael Brown shooting, my primary—indeed my only—question is, what exactly happened? Did Michael Brown assault officer Wilson so forcefully that the latter reasonably feared for his life and limb, in which case the shooting was justifiable self-defense? Or did Michael Brown do nothing of that sort and Wilson shot him just for kicks or for some other irrational reason?
So in order to identify the bad guy in this case and determine whether or not justice was served by not indicting the officer, I need to know the nitty-gritty crime scene minutiae. Otherwise, I am at a loss to pass my verdict one way or the other. I can’t just conclude that an “unarmed” teenager was “murdered” without knowing exactly what transpired in the moments leading up to those shots being fired. Knowing who’s black and who’s white doesn’t help me when it comes to assigning blame in a given situation. (I could make a probability assessment based on available statistics, but that’s rather useless in determining guilt or innocence with regard to a specific case.)
Racism, after all, dates back to our days in the East African savannah, a time when all humans were black and survival decreed the assumption that the “other” (such as a guy from another tribe as indicated by the unfamiliar shape of his nostrils) potentially posed a mortal threat. In a wider sense, all human traits, good and bad, originated in blacks (the true master race as in having been here first—our mother race, as it were) and then dispersed around the world as people left Africa and different races began to form as a superficial adjustment to the various climatic conditions that obtain on planet Earth.
Ergo, the proclivity to view the “other” as a threat, although it clearly varies from individual to individual, is evenly spread among all races. It couldn’t be any other way, evolutionary biologists tell us, for not enough time has passed to wreak radical changes in the human genome relative to our erstwhile stint in the savannah (where most of us still live, biologically speaking).
The (perhaps erroneous) conclusion that colorblind racists like myself draw from this is that since the behavior of either or both parties to a conflict between or among members of more than one race may be motivated by racism—fear or hatred of blacks may have been what prompted officer Wilson to shoot Michael Brown, just as fear or hatred of whites (uniformed or otherwise) may have been what drove Michael Brown to launch an unarmed albeit ferocious assault on officer Wilson (should such an assault have occurred)—we might as well, at least until we hit a wall in our efforts to understand what happened, subtract race from the equation altogether and try to evaluate any given dust-up as if it involved two or more Martians locking horns.
So, what us colorblind racists may have trouble comprehending on a deeper-than-merely-intellectual level is that for many people, blacks in particular, the precise circumstances of the Michael Brown shooting are entirely irrelevant except for the fact that a black person was killed by a white person, and a police officer at that. To them, that circumstance alone constitutes a blatant injustice that brings their tempers to a boil. They couldn’t care less about the small print, such as whether they would regard as justifiable self-defense an otherwise identical shooting of one civilian by another civilian of the same race, or of a white civilian by a black police officer.
Instead, they see the grand scheme of things, taking the historical view. Colorblind racists, by contrast, get hung up on the details of whatever specific case lies before them without paying due attention to the ethnicity of the individual actors.
Back in the America of yore, a black person that had laid hands on a white person found himself strung up on the nearest tree in short order, no further questions asked. The classic white racist of the non-colorblind variety couldn’t have cared less whether the black person that had injured or killed a white person acted in what would otherwise have been considered justifiable self-defense. It may or may not have been. Card-carrying white racists didn’t bother to worry about lowly details like that. They were too busy foaming at their mouths.
These days, there seems to exist a subset of blacks that display an eerily similar mindset. If a brother or a sister gets harmed at the hands of another, in order to assess culpability, all they need to know is the color of that other party involved and—zip-a-dee-doo-dah!—here’s the verdict.
Which goes to show that human nature has remained largely homogenous across all races.
And this insight, in turn, reinforces the colorblind racism of people like myself.