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  • Esther Good

Black Lives Matter: On Michael Brown and Ferguson

Updated: Jan 24

I am a racist. I was raised to believe that all people are equal, regardless of the color of their skin or the station of their birth, but that simple truth stands in stark contrast to the years I’ve spent receiving special treatment based on my race. My racism isn’t the variety of the Klu Klux Klan or spray-painted racial slurs.  My racism is the kind that, no matter how many well-educated black men with dreadlocks I know, will still be surprised to find out that the one sitting next to me at the DMV is working on his PhD.  It’s the kind that lingers in the periphery, subconsciously coloring the way I view the world. Not a racism of fear and hatred, but a racism of “us” and “them.”

I grew up as a privileged minority–a pale face in a sea of brown–and was reminded daily of my difference.  Sometimes I was reminded by an old man cursing me for sins that white men committed long before I was born. Sometimes I was reminded by a marriage proposal, based solely on the affluence suggested by the color of my skin. Usually, I was reminded by children: babies screaming in terror at the sight of my unusual color, a processional of children shouting, “Mzungu! White person!” as they chased our car down the street, or the many little hands that stroked my blonde head and plucked my arm hair.

A few years passed, and I fell in love with a brown-eyed, brown-skinned boy.  Not long after we got married, a new little life started to grow inside me.  It began to flutter, then roll and kick and stick its little elbows into the flesh under the white skin of my growing stomach.  When he was born, his skin was wrinkled and pale, as newborn skin tends to be. My subconscious mind was so busy trying to comprehend that he was mine, that it never got around to categorizing him in terms of race: black, white, or biracial.  Instead, he was my child, my son, my gift of immeasurable worth.


Holding hands, one light skinned, one dark skinned
Skin

I’m still surprised sometimes when people talk about my children’s brown skin in a way that’s categorical instead of descriptive.  It seems unimaginable that this flesh of my flesh could be in some category that separates them from me, or in any category other than that of “Beautiful Human Life.”  It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that I subconsciously racially profile people every day as I walk down the street, because when I imagine it happening to my precious little children, it feels absolutely vile.

At least, for now, they are little children.  But that little boy of mine will be a teenager someday, and then a man.  The danger of this subconscious racism is that he could be seen as a threat to be neutralized for no other reason than that he is not white. Every time I read a story about an unarmed black man being gunned down, my anxiety rises.  Every time the perpetrator goes unpunished, my heart sinks.  This is not because I long for retribution, but because it sends a message that these kinds of killings can be done with impunity.  It sends the message that black lives don’t matter.

Ferguson, Missouri is a city near St. Louis that has recently been in the news for just such a story.  Nearly 70% of the civilian population is black, while 50 of the 53 police officers are white: fertile ground for breeding an “us” vs. “them” mentality. Protests have been ongoing in Ferguson since August 9, when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager was shot six times by Darren Wilson, a white policeman.

I stand in solidarity with the Ferguson community in their outrage over this atrocity, and while I urge protesters to practice non-violence, I think calls for them to “calm down” are grossly misplaced.  Outrage is exactly the correct response to this tragic event. Outrage cannot be contained by yellow police tape.  Outrage cannot be quenched by disproportional use of militarized police force and brutality. Outrage can only be sated by affirmation, and I don’t believe the community vs. law enforcement conflict will de-escalate until the community is given hope for justice.

What the police force should do (and should have done from the start) is acknowledge that the loss of Michael Brown’s life is a tragedy, that the use of deadly force against unarmed civilians is indefensible, that justice will follow an expedient and thorough investigation, and that the police force will review and make changes to its policies to prevent similar incidences in the future.

The response to this civil rights violation should not only concern the people of Ferguson, but everyone in the country who longs to see a new precedent that defies the old one.  We want to see a precedent that affirms that black lives matter.


What you can do:

Sign the Amnesty International and/or ACLU petition urging Ferguson law enforcement not to use unnecessary force against civilians as they practice their 1st amendment rights.

Sign the White House petition requesting a law mandating that law enforcement personnel wear cameras to promote restraint and accountability.

Watch the protests in Ferguson on Livestream and bear witness to the many people who are peacefully protesting despite media attention to the few who are responding violently, and hold the militarized law enforcement accountable for their responses.

Pray for the safety of protesters and law enforcement as demonstrations continue.

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