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My mixed reactions to the Ferguson verdict has made me realize that there is something very contradictory about being a black person reacting to news of black death. One second I am angry, vengeful and hateful. I find myself in support of looting stores because rioting provides catharsis at a (relative to Mike Brown’s death) low cost and it seems to be the only way that black people can have their voices heard. The next second I am sad and reflective. I realize that looting also has a human cost and I am focused on finding peace amongst the chaos that Darren Wilson has caused. I know all of my feelings about this situation are rational. But the results of these contradictory emotions cause irrationality. It causes paranoia and fatigue. In one minute my emotions can range from raw to numb, hateful to understanding, violent to peaceful. It is the severity and differences between these emotions that make me question my sanity. I have wondered sometimes (after I have spent hours obsessively looking at social media and articles about black death) if I am too invested, since my outraged white friends do not seem to be grappling with these emotions.
However, I am beginning to realize that these intense, contradictory feelings are a result of the duality that blacks must inhabit as The Observer and The Effected when it comes to black death and racism overall. Outside of Mike Brown’s family and friends, the black community is not directly effected by the death of Mike Brown. Still, Mike Brown’s death causes a trauma that every black person feels personally. In the case of black death, this Observer/Effected role is unique to blacks. For example, Mike Brown’s death shows that only blacks watch Mike Brown’s death with the sadness of a distant observer but also with personal emotions such as fear. Only blacks fear for the life of their black siblings, their black parents and their black selves. Admittedly, in the case of black death, other people of color also have the capacity to experience this duality. I speculate that this capacity comes from the fact that every person of color inhabits the position of The Oppressed (relative to their relationship with white people). Each race of color has an issue equivalent to black death, that causes them to take on the role of The Observer and The Effected. Thus, non-black people of color have the ability to carry their own Observer/Effected experiences into the Ferguson situation.
No white person could ever understand the complicated feelings that blacks have surrounding the Ferguson grand jury decision. This is because a part of the white experience is the fact that whites are uneffected by racial targeting, as any amount of prejudice towards white people is only at the individual level rather than the systemic level. Thus, the white identity is not constructed based on the experience of systemic and individual racism. Whites are able to look at tragedies that happen to their own as an event that only effects the victim rather than the entire race. Even if a white person were the victim of a racially motivated hate crime, the effect of this crime on the white psyche would be different than a hate crime’s effect on the black psyche. While the hate crime might induce feelings of unity amongst white people, this unity is a result of the fact that the hate crime’s intention has brought their race into the conversation. In addition, the unity that white people would experience as the result of a a hate crime is not equivalent to the unity that black people would experience. This is because blackness in America is defined by racism against blacks. For black people, race is always a part of the analysis of a crime involving black people–regardless of whether race was explicitly stated as the crime’s intention. In the instance of a hate crime against a black person, black people would react to the current hate crime with the anguish of the present, as well as the anguish of America’s racist history. White people cannot experience this. Therefore, white people will always play the role of the Observer. They will never have to analyze the effect of a crime committed against white people, based on their white race. This realization that black people are alone in feeling the complicated emotions that come with being The Observer and The Effected makes me feel even more insane. My emotions shift to a new low, as I continue to ride the emotional roller coaster that only blacks seem to be on.
Right now, after reading countless articles about Mike Brown and Darren Wilson, I am in the angry phase of my processing of the verdict. I am on Facebook looking at the statuses of my white friends–all pledging support for Mike Brown and the black community. They use the hashtag “Black Lives Matter”, which I know that they believe completely. Yet, that is a part of the problem. They have the privilege to write “Black Lives Matter” without having to think about what those words actually mean. Thus, I view their assertions that “Black Lives Matter” as disconnected, rehearsed and ultimately hollow. “Black Lives Matter” seems like something liberal white people can use to only engage with Ferguson on the surface level. It prevents liberal white people from being vulnerable and feeling what it is like to be a black person responding to the Mike Brown verdict. It prevents liberal white people from wrestling with the hard questions that black people are faced with when they encounter black death–such as, the questions I ask when I see the hashtag “Black Lives Matter.”
When we say black lives matter who are we saying it to? Are we saying it to blacks, affirming their belief in their right to live? Or are we saying it in response to Darren Wilson and other whites who have ignored the value of black life? Perhaps we are saying it to white people in general, in a request of white people to be more active in stopping racism. Furthermore, are we saying that “Black Lives Matter” as an opinion or as an irrefutable truth? Because years of racism have shown us that the universal rule is that black lives do not matter. No matter how much black people tell themselves and tell white people that they are important, this rule can never be broken.
And suddenly, after looking at one hashtag, I am exhausted. I feel bitterness start to form in my chest as I realize that only black people could be this tired. Only black people have to grapple with this inner conflict while having to show an outward appreciation for the support of white people. Because no matter how problematic “Black Lives Matter” is, this hashtag is all that we have. But this support is not enough. And while these statuses come from people who share the same skin color as our slave masters, our lynchers, our police officers and our past presidents, this is not poetic justice. This will never be enough to heal the wounds that Darren Wilson and years of racism have caused. So in this moment, after my dizzying inner monologue, after reading countless voyeuristic articles written by white authors who never truly get it, and after looking at Facebook statuses pledging white solidarity, I have come to the realization that I hate white people. I hate all allied and non-allied white people, because no matter the amount of statuses they post, they will never be able to understand what it means to be a black person watching black death. No matter how many statuses they post, they cannot disassociate themselves from the fact that regardless of when they came to America, they benefit from white supremacy. A white supremacy that enslaved and murdered my ancestors. And in the wake of yet another black death, that fact is unforgivable, as it is the only thing that I feel and see.
I hate that my anger has gotten to this point. I hate that my white friends and my white family would hurt if they read this. Hopefully they would realize that my hatred is just another temporary emotion that I feel in wake of this verdict. Yet, it is important to publicly recognize this emotion. People always talk about the sadness, the fear and even the anger that black people experience with black death. But they never talk about the hatred. They never talk about the struggle that blacks feel within themselves–a struggle that goes beyond the white constructed good/evil cardboard cutouts of Martin Luther King Jr. vs. Malcolm X. It is a struggle that is far more nuanced. The struggle not to hate, but to also realize that hatred is valid.
Because how could you not hate someone who seems hellbent on hating you? How can you look past the small (but really, medium sized), group of racist white people and find the individual allies without losing your sanity? How could you even fully trust these allies? How could you ignore the brutal history that America is determined to forget? It is important to note that hatred is often categorized as an uneducated practice. However, my liberal arts education has introduced me to the more subtle and undefined forms of racism that has made me even angrier. It has made me realize that America’s racism is impossible to cure. Institutional racism and the special brand of white southern racism were huge factors in Mike Brown’s death. However, what really keeps me up at night is the role of a deep seated instinctive racism in Mike Brown’s death. Darren Wilson thought that Mike Brown was a threat because white people (and everyone else) have been conditioned to believe that black people are dangerous. And Darren Wilson thought this stereotype was true enough to justify killing Mike Brown. No matter how much we try to fight it, The Fearsome Negro is embedded in all of our consciousnesses–most of all, in the white consciousness. This American consciousness was what I suspect ultimately fueled Darren Wilson’s decision(s) to shoot Mike Brown. In fact, we know from Wilson’s testimony that it was Mike Brown’s “demon” appearance that caused Darren Wilson to keep shooting. Regardless of whether Wilson was telling the truth, he was so confident in the American consciousness‘ Fearsome Negro that he used it in court as a tactic that would make his actions universally understood. The prevalence of this American consciousness is why I think that if a liberal white person were in the place of Darren Wilson, they would also shoot Mike Brown.
Of course, this statement is not trying to take agency away from Darren Wilson’s actions or to pathologize white racism. Understandably, the next step in this piece would be to speculate on whether or not we can condemn white people for having a consciousness that they cannot help. My answer is yes. White people are not faultless in the creation of this consciousness. Although most white people do not have the hand that slave masters, lynchers, etc. had in creating the American consciousness’ idea of blackness, they still contribute through microaggressions and by choosing not to question the narrative that we are all fed. Furthermore, white people benefit from the American consciousness‘ characterization of black people. The negative depiction of blacks allows whites to portray themselves in an opposingly positive manner. While blacks are fearsome, uncouth, violent and stupid, whites are safe, mannered, peaceful and smart. Thus, white people should not use the unavoidable aspect of American consciousness as an excuse for not actively preventing white racism. However, it is not only the individual actions of whites that we can condemn. We can also fault the structure of American racism for being the source of the American consciousness.
After yet another killing, we realize that the changing of the American consciousness in addition to the changing of American institutions, is the key to fighting racism (if it can even be fought). However, this realization hits us at a time when we are a little to weary and a little too frustrated. The awareness that we now have the task of changing something as abstract as the American consciousness, only adds to this feeling of fatigue and anger. It makes us realize that no matter how much legislation we past, how many black presidents we have, or how many of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthdays we celebrate, these achievements are all at the surface level, as they will never be constructive as we would like. Because we have still yet to even touch the American’s consciousness. But even if we did manage to touch the American consciousness, dismantling the American consciousness requires work by the person whose consciousness is being changed. And how can we trust people to take the time to think critically about their racist consciousness? Especially when the words “racist” and “racism” are one of the scariest words that you can call/say to white people. Suddenly, all of the tools that we have created to fight racism seem dull and in the grand scheme of everything, ineffective. Because Obama is president, but black children are still dying. This realization hurts. Even more, it burns. So why not do something that will provide catharsis? Why not indulge in unproductive anger rather than unproductive peace? If you were in my skin, could you fully resist hate?
I wish I could offer a closing paragraph that would allow me to simultaneously justify and condemn my temporary hatred for white people. A paragraph that would analyze how black hatred would disrupt the healing process of all races and how my hatred would only give racists ammunition in their hate of black people. Perhaps I could write a step by step guide of how white people should respond to the verdict. However, as I have written many times throughout this piece: I am tired. I do not want to hold anyone’s hand. I do not want to use the distraction of a guide to make white people, black people (who are understandably nervous about me getting too real with white people) and myself, feel better about the fact that I temporarily, yet currently, hate white people. Because right now, I do hate white people. And it would not matter if white people wrote “Black Lives Matter” on their Facebook statuses or if they stayed silent. I would still be angry and I would still be offended by their presence. Perhaps white acceptance of this fact rather than immediate outrage is a part of the work that white people need to do in the wake of this verdict. Maybe white people need to go beyond the hollow hashtags, be vulnerable and realize their inevitable role in black hatred. Only then, would vulnerability lead to empathy, which hopefully would lead to understanding.
I will admit that black acceptance of my temporary hatred of white people is also important. I realize that some black people will be more receptive of my examination of hatred than other blacks. There are many reasons for this, and I cannot possibly address every concern that blacks might have when reading this article. However, I can write this: black people who find my article too radical have to realize that although they may not experience hatred of white people, black hatred in response to this verdict is a valid emotion. A valid emotion that cannot be easily preached away with the rhetoric of nonviolence or rationality. The graceful “bigger person” mask that black people have constructed and have been made to wear for years is not enough to soothe this hatred. Thus, if you, black people, find yourself being asked to give “A Black Opinion” for the benefit/sanity/understanding of a white person, think before you shut down my views. I understand that you need to keep your white friends. I understand that you would like to protect yourself from experiencing hatred by denying the validity of my hatred. Maybe you just disagree with me. Maybe you read my piece at the wrong time of the day, when you are taking a break from the horrors of Ferguson and you have started to hope again. I know that if I read my own words during that period, I would think my piece too radical. Yet the specific context that is needed to read my piece, does not make the hatred expressed in this article unreal or invalid. Because in a few hours I will return from my break from Ferguson news and I will once again be hateful.
Right now, in writing this, I am trying to be vulnerable. I do not want to be hateful–much less let my hateful state of mind be shown in front of my small, predominately white campus. But my temporary hate has to be shared, with the hope that white people will realize what its like to be me, a black person, looking at the Mike Brown decision. Most importantly, I hope that my white classmates will realize that blacks should not be the only ones examining their own hatred. That even though this decision does not effect them as much as it effects us, they are still expected to put in work. Because this hatred will always exist. For even if racism were to magically end, the history of racism will always be present and it will always be a justifiable source of hate.