Today marks a month since Mike Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Exactly what happened the day of the shooting remains unclear. What is not unclear, though, is the fact that Brown was unarmed and Black and Darren Wilson, the officer who shot him, is White and, as of today, free. These details combine to create a century’s-long context; as long as there have been Black people in America, there have been Mike Browns and Darren Wilsons — unarmed Black men and women killed by armed White men. And whenever we are foolish enough to think we might progressed past that, there are more Mike Browns and Darren Wilsons to remind us.
This dynamic gives America a certain racial volatility; the conditions leading to the week’s-long unrest in Ferguson could have happened in Youngstown, Ohio or Charlestown, South Carolina or Oakland, California. And, for many Black people, this was not a surprise. Perhaps we were shocked at the stark visual evidence of the militarization of the police, the corrupt police department, and the generous financial and philosophical support Wilson has received. But we weren’t surprised by it.
This is America, after all. We know her very well.
What has been, if not most surprising, most disappointing, is what went on in many of our Facebook feeds and Twitter timelines and comment threads and break rooms and happy hours. Seeing people faced with this overwhelming evidence of some of the most conspicuous forms of injustice we’ve seen in a very long time, and having them still try to deny its existence or explain it away. These weren't minor quibbles over minutiae. This is you standing in the ocean, waves splashing against your ribs, undercurrents tugging at your feet, the faint taste of salt on the tips of your lips, while listening to someone tell you water doesn’t exist.
For (many) Black people, this is the most maddening and exasperating part of racism. Not the actual racism. But the denial that the actual racism exists.
Knowing this, and how frustrated so many of us are by this continuous insidious denial, I think about all of the doublespeak I’ve heard in the last 24 hours regarding Ray Rice. Some from people whose intelligence and opinion I usually respect. And I wonder how a Black person — a Black person who’s just as angry as other Blacks are when (some) Whites (and some Blacks) deny that racism exists — can actually attempt to excuse Ray Rice’s assault on his wife with a straight face.
I wonder if they realize saying “She might have hit him first” is no different than saying “Well, Michael Brown might have been high.” I wonder if they know that thinking this is all just a plot to disgrace Black men is the exact same thing as thinking George Zimmerman was just persecuted by overzealous race-baiters. I wonder if they’ve grasped that their unblinking support of Rice, even in the face of overwhelming visual evidence, makes them spiritual twins with the Staten Island teachers wearing t-shirts in support of the precinct that has seen two unarmed Black men die at their hands in the last year. I wonder if they realize arguing it was a fair fight between Janay Palmer and Ray Rice — who, along with being a professional football player, is a trained boxer — is as stupid as arguing Michael Brown was “armed” because he was 6’4 and 300 pounds.
Most of all, I wonder why some of us can’t exhibit the same compassion and sensitivity for victims of this type of abuse — Black female victims especially — that we demand White people give to us.
Of course, some will read this and completely miss the point. They’ll allege I’m throwing another brother under the bus. They’ll ask why they should even care. She married him, so she’s obviously fine with getting punched and dragged, they’ll say. They’ll cite other examples of something else happening in the world, and say some bullshit like “Why do you care about Ray Rice, but you don’t care about this other random thing that’s happening in the world that I’m only bringing up because I have no other argument.” They might even go meta, arguing if we really wanted to help Janay Palmer, we would have helped her husband stay employed.
And then some police officer somewhere will be caught on tape doing or saying something racist, and they’ll write a 500-word response on their Facebook page, calling out both the “RACIST-ASS COPS!!!” and the people who stand by and do nothing while racial injustice occurs.
And I’ll wonder if they’ll ever see the irony.