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Fifty shades of racism

Discussing racism is a taboo in America. In our own families, we all have something we just don’t talk about for various reasons – embarrassment, shame, pain, guilt, etc. Why is it any different as a nation? Our history books are rife with American exceptionalism but bereft of the atrocities and misdeeds perpetrated at home and abroad. As individuals we tout our achievements and hide our shortcomings. It’s not healthy but when people get hurt, we shouldn’t deny it.

How many times have we heard or said, “We grew up poor, but didn’t know it.” In the same way is it possible we grew up racist and didn’t know it? Of course, the mere mention of the word racist raises the hairs on our backs. Perhaps the label conjures up images of KKK style racism. True, that is the most heinous form, but there are many shades of racism.

The dictionary defines racism as “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.” An extension and more pertinent definition is expressed by U.S. Commission of Civil Rights in 1970: “Any attitude, action or institutional structure which subordinates a person or group because of their color … Racism is not just a matter of attitudes; actions and institutional structures can also be a form of racism.”

It is almost impossible to be brought up in this country without feeling superior over people of color. From steppin’, fetchit Amos and Andy, Tarzan, Gone with the Wind, The Lone Ranger, and Showboat to Good Times, Sanford and Sons, Star Trek, and Star Wars, apparent and subliminal messages of black inferiority seep into our subconscious and impact our racial attitudes. I have been raised in this culture, and I still struggle to right the ship.

When Michael Brown was killed, we retreated to our respective camps in the debate. The reaction of white and black supporters of Brown is understandable. After all, there is 300 years of history behind that. How do we explain the reactionary support of Darren Wilson? Could it be 300 years of moral, social, economic and political entitlement?

The Darren Wilson camp asserts the grand jury listened to everyone. That’s not true. They listened to everyone presented by a prosecutor who should have recused himself, not everyone.

Dorian Johnson was the darling of the media. How so? You mean because the media reported his story. Wilson’s story would also have been told had he not gone into hiding. Wilson singled out Brown because he was a robbery suspect. Wilson, in his initial interview, said he didn’t put the two together. Brown reached into the car and tried to get Wilson’s gun. How do you know? Police never dusted Wilson’s gun for fingerprints. The physical evidence disproved the false narrative. There was no false narrative. People gave their accounts, some more accurate than others.

Surely these are sufficient grounds for an indictment, but there’s more. Wilson immediately washed away blood evidence. The first officer to interview Wilson didn’t take notes. Investigators failed to measure the distance between Brown and Wilson. Investigators did not check Wilson’s gun for fingerprints. Wilson did not turn his gun in immediately after killing Brown. Wilson’s initial interview conflicted with his later testimony. Wilson’s bruises were mild and inconsistent with his description of the altercation.

A District Attorney has extraordinary influence over the grand jury, hence the phrase prosecutors can “indict a ham sandwich,” or not. What does it mean when you can’t even indict officer Panteleo given the videotape of Eric Garner’s homicide? Is this not example of “racism in institutional structures” as stated by Civil Rights Commission?

Just stop resisting, stop committing crimes, respect the law, and do as you are told. Mounds of evidence show compliance is no guarantee of justice for blacks. Meanwhile, whites are guilty of these transgressions regularly but are rarely met with brutality and deadly force. Why riot? “A riot is the language of the unheard” – Martin Luther King. The American Revolution was a riot on a grand scale. They were unheard, also.

The seemingly benign negative portrayal of blacks in culture is more pernicious than we know. It has made us accidental racists. That percolates up to our institutions. Most of us, including me, can take comfort in being accidental racists as long as we fix it. Accidental racists can be fixed. Die-hard racists may just have to fade away.

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