27 August 2014

What happens in Bizarro Ferguson?

In the wake of the protests and looting in Ferguson MO it's been asked: how would people react if the reverse situation occurred -- if a black policeman shot an unarmed white man? The closest thing we have currently to such a case took place in Utah earlier this month when a "non-white" cop shot down a suspect alternately described as white or Hispanic. The story hasn't been covered much apart from local and conservative media, the latter taking up the issue, presumably, to highlight how the outrage in and over Ferguson is racially selective. From the local reports I've read, the victim in Utah, like the victim in Ferguson, was "no angel." As in many cases regardless of race, a failure to "comply" was fatal for the victim. And in fact, there have been protests against the shooting, but they've been small and peaceful. But to answer the theoretical question, my gut feeling as a white person is that most white people already inclined to support the police would continue to do so. A racist minority may feel that blacks don't belong on a police force, but for the majority, I suspect, a black man turns blue once he puts on the uniform. More importantly, while some whites may be racist, fewer are tribal in any way that would assure sympathy for a "no angel" white kid gunned down for messing with the police. You're unlikely to hear celebrities or other strangers refer to such a victim as their "brother." White racism is a kind of negative tribalism defined by distrust toward others but not by any great solidarity with one's own. It may be different in Europe, but white American culture really is defined to an important extent by the "personal responsibility" ethos. White Americans are far less likely to feel the loss of a fellow white person who is otherwise a stranger personally, compared to how black Americans seem to feel when one of theirs is shot down. The difference is understandable; many blacks seem to feel that any assault on a black individual is an assault on blackness, on black America as a whole. White Americans only feel that way when criminals of color kill their kind; they're more likely to give cops of color some benefit of the doubt, and more ready to accept that a white kid killed by any cop probably brought it upon himself. Both an excess of solidarity that becomes uncritical and a lack of solidarity that becomes indifference are extremes to be avoided. The real issue, of course, remains how police should behave regardless of their or their victims' color.

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