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OPINION: Black Americans protesting racial violence is not unusual. But when people are more upset by Black people’s protests than the injustice that sparked them, it’s kinda weird.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
On Tuesday, the sheriff in Marion County Fla., arrested 58-year-old Susan Louise Lorincz and charged her with manslaughter with a firearm, culpable negligence, battery and two counts of assault in the death of Ajike Owens. The arrest came four days after Lorincz allegedly shot Owens in front of multiple witnesses, including Owens’ young children, sparking a social media outcry and local protests.
Then white people got weird.
What are the consequences of this selective media coverage when reporting, or not reporting the races of perpetrators and victims? The editors, reporters, newscasters, commentators, and pundits who provide what they call news cannot be so naïve as to think their audiences don’t…
Unfortunately this is what happens when media makes every possible thing about racism. They’ve done a great job stoking the flames.
AP doesn't mention race here, despite a White family intentionally shot at, and racial slurs were hurled at them.https://t.co/d477tqoWtc
I have no evidence that white people have a secret email list in which they disseminate these standard Caucasian talking points and counterarguments. I don’t believe white people are so brilliant that they collectively concocted a 400-year-old strategy to oppress Black people. But I am awestruck by the predictable consistency of white people’s response to Black protests.
I thought we all agreed that violence and racism were bad.
Aside from a brief period during my youth, when I contemplated a career as a ninja, I have always been firmly opposed to murder. Whether it is a mass shooting, a police officer firing at an unarmed Black person or a gangsta in a driveby, I generally believe killing people is a bad idea. But I must admit, I do not think killing is weird. In a country with more guns than people, one can’t be shocked that a lot of those people kill other people. Every year, the U.S. produces twice as many firearms than it does human beings. America’s largest retailer is also one of its most prolific gun dealers. Killing is not weird; it’s American.
The same is true for racism. Regardless of their individual feelings, this country’s founding document endorsed race-based human ownership, violence-induced forced labor, and the political devaluation of those subjected to the institution of slavery. In a nation where some form of racial subjugation has been perfectly legal for three-quarters of its existence (1776-1965), America not being racist would be extraordinarily thing. Racism is not weird; it’s American.
I’ve always assumed that killing was at the top of everyone’s list of red flags, so it’s weird to see people more upset about the mention of white people’s race than they are about a human being losing their life. I assume that people on Twitter are aware that this country’s history is filled with examples of white people getting away with racial massacres, terrorism and the lynching of Black people. The white people bellyaching about the “divisiveness” probably understand that Black people — especially those on the internet — are aware that violent crime exists.
What’s weird is how many white people refuse to acknowledge the lack of justice is what prompted the protests and the outrage. It’s weird that someone could respond to disgust over a white woman not being arrested with an article about a Black man whose alleged crime against a white child prompted a manhunt by the local police and the U.S. Marshals Service’s Fugitive Task Force.
Violence is bad. Racism is bad. Protest is good.
When a video of Daniel Penny allegedly strangling Jordan Neely to death, most people thought it was bad that a man was killed on a New York City subway. According to New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2.4 million people ride the city’s underground rail every day. Since 2020, at least six subway riders have been killed each year. Unfortunately, people kill people. Sometimes it happens on the subway. That’s not weird at all.
According to Juan Alberto Vazquez, the man who filmed Neely’s death aboard a New York City subway, Neely did not seemingly intend to harm the other passengers before he was placed in a chokehold until he could not breathe. Witnesses on the train alternately described Neely’s behavior as “aggressive,” “hostile,” and “erratic.” No one in law enforcement has accused Neely of threatening anyone. Neely has never been accused of trying to kill someone.
So, it was weird when the cops reported Neely’s arrest record but refused to release the name of the man who killed him. It was weird how the same people who talk about “law and order” defended an alleged killer. It was weird that Penny was on the loose for 11 days before police could determine that he should be arrested. It’s weird how everything that this country supposedly stands for — liberty and justice for all — does not matter when it comes to Black people. More than anything, it’s weird how many white people are not outraged when this happens to Black people.
Even though I am often accused of hating white people, I don’t think that white people are bad. I must admit that the history of slavery, segregation and my mother’s preference for her kids being treated with humanity has limited my meaningful interactions with my caucasoidal brethren. Besides the time I went to a Run-DMC concert with some white friends and the white roommate during my first semester of college, my perception is mostly informed by social media, encounters at grocery stores and episodes of “Yellowstone.” Still, I do not presume that white people are pro-killing. I cannot say their silence is evil. I cannot characterize their contrarianism as undoubtedly racist.
It’s just weird.
Conversely, white people’s interactions with Black people are even more limited. According to demographer Bill Frey, most white Americans still live in neighborhoods that are disproportionately white. And, despite the fact that 99.9% of Black people are not killers, I cannot tell you how often white people dismiss police brutality, injustice and evidence of systemic inequality with the same white trope.
I once thought people who recycle this illogically stupid factoid were either racist or dumb. After all, what are the 99.99% of non-murderous negroes supposed to do about that .001% of Black killers? But those same people who calculate how many crimes Black people commit every fiscal year are willing to ignore 400 years of white atrocities. They refuse to acknowledge who committed the vast amount of violence, rape and murder since they stepped foot on this continent. They wonder why Black people aren’t screaming and yelling about Black-on-Black crime, but they also want us to stop protesting for gun control, economic inequality, underfunded schools and other issues that actually cause crime. According to them, we never bring up the race of the people who commit crimes in Chicago. But they also don’t want us to mention the race of the people who created, enforced and benefitted from residential segregation. The former is accountability. The latter is considered “playing the victim.”
While Black people should be outraged by the atrocities, we cannot be angered by such ridiculously absurd responses. Then again, there isn’t a single Black movement for justice, liberation or equality that white people supported. It’s not crazy to be upset about “4,084 racial terror lynchings in twelve southern states between the end of Reconstruction in 1877 and 1950.” But it is weird to justify those recurring lynching sprees by insinuating that the people who survived two-and-a-half centuries of legalized rape, torture and theft without a single significant Black-on-white race massacre are violent. In 1966, it was kinda weird when 85% of whites said nonviolent civil rights protests were “hurting the negro,” and 50% of whites said the same about Martin Luther King Jr., compared to 36% who believed he was helping Black people. But an April NBC survey showed 53% of whites believed that they live in a country where “people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Now that is weird AF.
But here is the crazy part:
Black people dislike killing — even when it is our own. We despise racism against every other ethnicity. When we protest, we do it for everyone. We ask for gun control even when white kids are victims of mass shootings. We fight for reproductive rights knowing that white women will disproportionately have access to safe and legal abortions. We have stood alongside white women who wanted to vote and immigrants who wanted safety and poor white people who need affordable health care. The only way Black people have ever achieved the small measures of justice, equity or advancement in America is by forcing white people to dial back the relentless wrath that white people have wreaked upon Black folk for every nanosecond of this country’s existence.
It is impossible to believe that those who carry the persistent delusion of a superior country, culture and skin color are so different than every other demographic in this country. Yet, this problem defies logic, geography and the passage of time. Hate is too facile an explanation. It cannot be understood by applying logic or common sense. There is only one way to describe the enduring phantasm of whiteness:
And sadly, even the most benevolent, egalitarian of the lot will read this and insert their own imaginary adjective that allows them to escape reality with clean hands.
Not all white people.
Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in September.
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