Who was it that declared America to be “post-racial”? I don’t know where this term came from exactly, but I can tell you where it comes from in general: from the minds of white people who want to ignore the racial past and present of this country.
I am white: always have been and always will be. And for lack of a better word, this fact colors practically everything about the world I live in today. To deny that–or to pretend that all the racial implications that fill our society today are somehow not really there–is not only impractical, but foolish as well. And this denial is what’s keeping us all from moving to a better place when it comes to race relations.
The quickest way to put something behind us is to “forgive and forget.” And when somebody says a hurtful thing, or causes pain to another through their words or actions, we want to believe this will happen, and the sooner the better. But the act of forgiving, while entirely noble, must not be coupled with a convenient case of amnesia. If we burn our hands by touching a hot stove, we need to remember the pain this causes, or else we’ll touch that hot stove again.
In the case of race relations in this country, going post-racial would be a great benefit for those who have never confronted our ugly racial past. No, my white brothers and sisters, you have never personally owned a slave, and neither have your parents or your grandparents. But going back further than that, can you really know for certain? That’s a lot of ancestry to consider, and chances are that somebody, somewhere in your past felt themselves qualified to own another human being. To treat them as less than human. To beat them at their leisure, and carry out the other indignities that were routinely visited upon slaves. Can you really say, with absolute certainty, that none of your ancestors profited in some way from the degradation of another human being? I can’t say that, when I know for a fact that my ancestors did, in fact, profit in this way. It pains me greatly to acknowledge that, but to do otherwise–to wish it away like I often wish homeless people on the street away–is wrong. I won’t do it.
But let’s take another approach to it. Can any white person in America today deny that they do not benefit from their skin color, every single day of their lives? Doors open for white people quicker than for anybody else. To deny this is foolish, but some will do it, anyway. It’s much easier to deny the obvious than it is to accept it.
Would a white teenager, anywhere in this country of ours, be shot dead in the street, as Mike Brown was in suburban St. Louis a week ago? You and I both know the answer to this. Would Eric Garner have been placed in a fatal chokehold if he were white? Again, we both know what the answer to this is. And yet somehow the election of Barack Obama is the magic moment that washed away centuries of racial degradation and made everything all right. Shame on anyone who takes that message to heart.
Legal, systemic, institutional racism in the form of slavery existed for hundreds of years in this country. In fact, it existed here before America itself did. And this racism didn’t end the day that slavery did, either. Jim Crow laws existed for another century after that, and the residue of this can still be seen in racial profiling, in disproportionate incarceration rates between African Americans and everyone else, and in the murder of an unarmed teenager in the light of day.
Not only was Mike Brown killed for, apparently, the crime of annoying a police officer, but his body was left out in the midday heat for hours. The pictures that have surfaced on the internet show an appalling sense of disinterest in tending to his corpse. A simple respect for the dead–of whatever age or color–would never have allowed him to lay in the street like that for so long. Those who knew and loved him were kept away from his body by yellow crime scene tape. That is worse than any crime Mike Brown could have committed on that day in Ferguson, Missouri.
The simple truth is that we’re not post-racial in this country, nor will we ever be. In Ferguson Missouri, white police officers were hired to protect a largely African American community, and one of them did anything but protect Mike Brown. And the rest of them showed no sign of respect for him or his community, after his life had been snuffed out in broad daylight.
Anyone who sees this as anything other than Exhibit A for how racism is alive and well in this country needs to look inside themselves and ask why. Is your own racial privilege so powerful that Mike Brown deserved to die in the street, and then lay there for hours like a discarded piece of garbage? What crime could ever justify that?