White people talking about racism and #Ferguson

Do most white people want to just stop talking about race? That’s what this week’s Pew Research poll seems to show. While 80 percent of African Americans “say the shooting in Ferguson raises important issues about race that merit discussion, whites disagree, with 47 percent saying “the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.”

The 37 percent of us white folks who think that we must keep on talking about race and must keep on protesting the police shooting of Michael Brown (and Kajieme Powell and Ezell Ford and John Crawford III and on and on) have work to do. We have education to do in our communities and families. In this highly-segregated country, that 47 percent includes people we see every day, people who are our Facebook friends and family members and neighbors. We need to reach out and talk to them.

Ashley Nicole Black posted a great article this week — Discussing Race and Racism With Your Black Friends: Do’s and Don’ts. What may be even tougher is discussing race and racism with your white friends and family, who happen to be exhibiting some of the symptoms of that nasty, national disease. Here are a few suggestions, and I’d welcome your ideas, so please comment away. 

1) Do begin by listening to Black voices and stories. For example, Harry Colbert has a great story in Insight News about his own experiences growing up in St. Louis – and especially his experiences as a young, black man with white police and power structure.

“As I type, I’m recalling all my incidents of being stopped by police in one of varying “cities” in North County. In all, I’ve been pulled over more than 10 times. My “crimes” include driving with no front license plate, not having a city sticker (Jennings) even though I did not live in the city in question, a cracked front windshield (this must have been the most observant officer ever, because I was pulled over at night and the officer trailed me from behind not seeing my front windshield until he walked up to my car), running a red light that was manually controlled by a Bel Ridge officer to go from green to red with no yellow (no, I’m not making this up), to driving too slow … yes, I really was pulled over for driving too slow.”

Intercept reporter Ryan Devereaux was shot with a rubber police bullet and then arrested August 18, but the most important part of his story may be what he learned from the other arrestees:

“Hermsmeier and I got out of jail this morning. None of the other people who are still there, as far as I know, work for well-funded, high-profile media organizations. Few are white. The concerns these men raised—and the intensity that they have for this moment in Ferguson—runs very deep. Several cited the disproportionate number of traffic stops of young men of color as a specific problem. On a more fundamental level, their grievances centered on a perceived lack of respect from the police sworn to protect their communities, a sense that anything could be done to them and nothing would be done in response. One young African American man from the area positively beamed at being arrested for a cause; he likened it to going to jail with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Joshua Hampton has another story:


“Joshua Hampton saw the big black police truck from down the block. He saw the lights, and the officers in military garb clinging to the sides. He wasn’t worried. It was around 2 a.m. Sunday, two hours after the new curfew mandated for Ferguson, Mo., but Hampton was sitting in his own car, smoking a cigarette in his aunt’s driveway. He thought he was obeying the law.

But the truck stopped and suddenly, Hampton says, his car was surrounded by police. “’Put your [expletive] hands up!’ he says they told him.”


2) Do tell these stories. Tell them over and over again. Tell them to friends, tell them in the bar, tell them on Facebook. The 47 percent of our friends, families and neighbors who do not want to think about race need to hear these stories. They are not going to talk to Black people about race. So we need to talk to them.


3) Do arm yourself with facts. Look past the latest headlines to get at truth. Maybe you heard that Brown was a prime suspect in shoplifting a couple of cigars? That was the news release from the Ferguson cops, but it’s misleading and deceptive — the store owner and his employees never filed any report of shoplifting, and the shoplifting story, whether true or false, had nothing to do with the cop shooting Brown because he didn’t even know about it.


4) Do not let racism pass without challenge. Silence is consent. Call out the racist comments, Facebook posts, and conversations.


Make it personal. Talk to your friend or family member about what they just said. Tell them that it’s hurtful to call names or to post cartoons of the president as a monkey or to put a Confederate flag bumper sticker on their car.


When you see a racist photo / post on Facebook, you can ask Facebook to hide it from your feed. Just click on that little downward-pointing arrow in the top right-hand corner of the post. Then the options continue – you can report it to Facebook as offensive. Facebook probably won’t do anything, but they live by numbers and they will know that one more person objects. You can also send a direct message to the person who posted it, asking them to remove it and explaining why.


Finally, because I think this is the most important thing we can do: keep on listening. We as white people need to do a whole lot more listening about race, every day. I have friends who are, and who have been, in treatment for cancer. Listening to my friends’ accounts of chemo or radiation does not mean that I know what it’s like to have cancer, but it does mean that I care about them and about their pain.


Talking about race and racism is just as important, and in a similar way. We need to hear the stories of how racism affects going to the store, and reporting the news, and raising children, and driving a car. We need to care.


1 Comment

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One response to “White people talking about racism and #Ferguson

  1. Bart Vanzetti

    Something which certainly needs to be done. Encouraging white progressive intelligentsia to avoid being patronizing and condescending to the white working class could help matters further.


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