Response to “Types of White People Who Comment on Black Experience and Pain”…

August 19, 2014

I thought I would take a minute to comment on some feedback I have received on the “White America’s Response to the Killing of Mike Brown” piece I wrote.

First off, thank you to those who have read it and offered kind words, constructive criticism, feedback, and insight. I truly appreciate it. As we know, the killing of Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, (the list, unfortunately, goes on), are not isolated incidents, but rather symptoms of a much bigger, older, uglier systemic problem. If we can’t have productive conversations that lead to appropriate action, I’m afraid things will never change.

I do, however, know that these are not easy conversations to have. So, it’s great to see those who are committed to attempting to seeing the best in each other, dedicated to having really difficult, honest conversations about “us.”

Below I will clarify/answer/respond to some misunderstandings/questions/comments―from various corners of the Internet―that I have received (exclusively from white people) about the piece.

1. The author is racist (I assume towards white people?) and this article is ridiculous.

The piece was ridiculously long, though I know that is not what you were referring to.

Calling out systemic racism and white supremacy is not racism. I love many, many white people―the vast majority of my family is white, I have many white friends, I myself am white. These institutionalized systems of dominance have been around since way before any of us even existed. I absolutely hate the systems, but I (try my hardest to) love the people caught up in them.

I think some readers had issues with my “categories of white people,” which I will address later.

It’s really difficult to write and speak about racism without offending someone, because, though it’s a systemic issue, it is also a social ill that is perpetuated by individuals, negatively affecting other individuals. It is often a charged topic that sparks heavy emotions for most people involved. Incidents like the killing of a black teenager by an older white male often send these dialogues about race and racism into a downward spiral of destruction, leaving the polarities further polarized, and everybody more angry and (feeling) unheard. It makes me so sad. I don’t want that, but I was aware that some readers would be angered by this piece.

With that said, in the piece, I did explicitly say that, in response to people speaking out in situations like Mike Brown’s killing (and, I will add, against racism in general), some common responses from certain white people are:

YOU’RE the racist one!”

“You hate white people!”

And that happened again. So, that’s interesting.

In the piece, I also spoke about how dehumanization is necessary for the perpetuation of racism. With this idea in mind, it was interesting to see some people’s responses to what I wrote. People who know me personally, who know my heart, who know my intentions in writing pieces like this, who know I was not writing with hate or malice, those people were able to hear my heart, they could probably literally hear my voice in their heads. Even some of those people expressed that what I wrote “challenged” them, but they did not feel attacked because they know me. On the other hand, when it came to some strangers, I realize they don’t know me at all, which allows for dehumanization and misunderstanding of my “voice.” Even the way many of these readers spoke about me personally, it felt like they really couldn’t stand me―like, some of them really seem to hate my guts. And that’s ok.

2. By making “categories of white people,” I am “being racist,” “generalizing and doing the same thing to white people that I am accusing white people of doing to black people,” “an idiot,” “confining all white people to four small categories and being unfair,” and “leaving out other groups of white people.”

First, I think it’s important for me to say that these “categories” are archetypal representations, specifically of white people who comment on black experience and pain. That is a very specific thing. Not white people in general. Not all white people. And not four categories of white people that all white people must fit into. Rather, just, types of white people who comment on black experience and pain. It would be like if I were able to take all of the different tweets white people have tweeted about Ferguson and Mike Brown, put them in some fancy machine coming from an 80’s movie’s idea of the future, and asked it to create four general archetypal descriptions of common types of white people who comment on black experience and pain, this is what it would spit out.

Though they are admittedly not all-encompassing, I also did not just randomly pull them out of thin air. These are categories based on behaviors and patterns I have witnessed over many, many years.

My anti-racism work did not begin when Mike Brown was shot by Darren Wilson. I grew up in small town, Tennessee. I was confronted with my own racism-demons and battles with white supremacy from early on. Later, I lived in Cape Town, South Africa for ten-years (Apartheid had only ended five-years prior to me moving there), working with youth and communities who were directly, negatively impacted by racism and the legacy of systemic racism, white supremacy and oppression from Apartheid. I organically got involved in anti-racist work in Cape Town out of necessity, because those issues of systemic racism and white supremacy were intrinsically linked to other social justice issues I was dealing with, working with the demographic of youth I worked with. I now live in East Flatbush, Brooklyn and am daily confronted with issues of systemic racism and white supremacy here, too. I have been dedicated to this fight for a while.

And no thanks, I do not want a cookie (as one internet troll so kindly offered).

These “categories” are merely my observations of different representations of white people’s responses to black experience and black pain that I have seen each and every single time one of these tragic events occur, even when I was living over in South Africa. I mentioned in the piece that these categories are “neither an exhaustive list of every representation of white people who comment on black pain and experience, nor are they static, as some people fluidly move in and out of categories, and some categories share characteristics. They are merely my observations in watching white America’s spectrum of different responses to the killings of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, Emmett Till, and the list unfortunately goes on.”

They are archetypes, like sibling archetypes of oldest, middle, and youngest child―though we know certain qualities that we have pinned on certain siblings, every “oldest child” might not have all of the stereotypical qualities of an oldest child, or any, at all. But, often, if you are an oldest, middle, or youngest child, when speaking with others who find themselves in the same position of sibling hierarchy, it is often possible to find commonalities.

The categories are like the major pit-stops on the spectrum of racism―with groupings of qualities―that I have observed people possess, at each stop. Some white people “find themselves” be in between “stops,” or not on the map at all.

Again, every white person does not have to fit into one of those categories.

If you don’t “find yourself” in one, that’s ok. If you did “find yourself” in some of the descriptions of the different qualities I described and that angers you, or you suddenly feel defensive, I would ask you why it makes you feel that way. This was not meant to be a personal attack on you.

3. [Do you] think beyond a shadow of a doubt that Mr Brown was gunned down while just standing there? The cop’s injuries, gunshot locations, and robbery video all suggest that the officer’s story is accurate. If there is evidence to prove otherwise, then they should indeed fry the officer. If not, then rallying behind a violent criminal while rioting, looting, and throwing Molotov cocktails at police is crazy.

We don’t know all of the facts. That does not stop many people who are responding to my piece from enacting a narrative that boasts the presumption of guilt for Mike Brown, and an automatic biased assumption of innocence of Darren Wilson.

I think it is unfortunate that Mike Brown―like Trayvon Martin and others before him―is not here to give his testimony. A picture of Darren Wilson’s injuries have not been released, if this claim is even true. As a matter of fact, though he admittedly shot Mike Brown, he has still not been booked or charged, and continues to be on paid administration leave. The autopsy, and gunshot locations, corroborated with witness accounts, one bullet entering the top of his head, meaning his head was bowed, and others on the inside of his arms, confirming he had his hands up in surrender when he received those shots. But many people are quick to dismiss the multiple witness accounts because of politics of respectability and racism that speaks to the bigger picture of the context we are living in.

The robbery video has nothing to do with the shooting. It was an unjust, convoluted, unprofessional thing for the police chief to release that video on the same morning he released Darren Wilson’s name for the first time, after six days of keeping everyone in suspense. The police chief (later that same day) admitted that Officer Wilson did not know Mike Brown was an alleged suspect in the robbery at the time he stopped him, and that Brown was stopped for “walking in the street.” Now, even in responses to my piece, many white people are justifying the killing of Mike Brown using that information―it’s obvious to see how effectively they have tainted the jury pool before the real suspect of the killing has even been arrested. Even if Darren Wilson had known he was an alleged suspect in a robbery, on-site street execution of an unarmed suspect is not protocol or due process for the theft of cigars.

Another larger problem, linked to systemic racism and white supremacy, is the media’s criminalization of young black victims and canonization of white suspects and killers. This article When The Media Treats White Suspects And Killers Better Than Black Victims deals with this occurrence. We also see an unfair and disproportionate policing and incidents of police brutality towards black people compared to white people. We’ve got white people running up into schools and movie theaters with automatic assault rifles, shooting people up, then given due process. We’ve got white serial killers―self-admitted, guilty―sitting in jail and you’re telling me street execution over stolen cigars is justified? Here is a story of a man who was wanted for burglary, and the police were actually actively looking for him. When they finally found him, he resisted arrest and assaulted a police officer. He was not shot 6 times, or even once. He “was arrested and is facing charges of felony assault and trespassing.” He is white. And yes, that matters.

When a white man kills a young black person in America…

Presumptions of guilt of the young black victims are immediately assumed and accepted, whilst presumptions of innocence of their white male killers are also assumed and accepted.

Though deceased, and unjustly unable to give their accounts, young black victims are “guilty until proven innocent,” despite the fact that they were already dealt the predetermined and final sentence of on-site execution.

In the days that follow their deaths, the young black victims’ names are ruthlessly and disparagingly drug through the mud, “incriminating” pictures and background information are dug-up, and the justification of their deaths through politics of respectability ensue, whilst efforts to canonize the white male murderers materialize in simultaneity.

After that, during the trials of their killers (if the trials ever happen), most of these young black victims are found guilty of their own deaths, while their murderers are found innocent―even to the extent that we see incidents like the George Zimmerman Trial being called the “Trayvon Martin Trial.” 

From start to finish, from the devastating murder of the young black victim to the final outcome of the murderer’s court case, we see how the dehumanization of the victim, systemic racism, and white supremacy play major roles in the course of events. It is sickening. It makes an already horrendous and tragic event even more devastating, heartbreaking, and infuriating.

As for the “looters” and “rioters,” I don’t think the mainstream media has portrayed what’s going on fairly, as is often the case. I know this, because I have been watching every day and night on Twitter, people on the ground in Ferguson, tweeting what is actually going on through firsthand accounts, pictures, videos, and live streams. There has definitely been looting. But there are also masses of people who merely want to practice their First Amendment Right to organize and protest for justice for Mike Brown. Militarized police have shot rubber bullets at, teargassed, and arrested innocent, peaceful protesters. Also, there are positive stories that are not being widely shared, that I have seen are more the norm than the atrocities the media likes to focus on, like when protesters tried to stop looters from getting into stores (they have done this on several nights).

4. The author leaves out a category: White people who don’t think America is post-racial, but who do believe that it’s getting better.

As I said, the categories were not meant to cover every type of white person. And for what reason would that person not fit in the Conscious White People category?

5. Some people had problems with this line, “Gladly admitting the danger in rash generalizations, I can generally determine the approximate quantity and quality of relationships with people of color a white person has based on their reactions to incidents like Michael Brown’s killing.”

This, of course, is an insane sentence when taken out of context. However, my point in saying it is, almost every single time a white person I know has denied racism or white privilege, it was a person who does not have quality relationships outside their homogeneous race group. Likewise, the white people I have actual personal, relationships with and know, who say the most racist and ridiculous things in response to situations like the killing of Mike Brown, just so happen to not have any friends outside of their race group. And yes, I think this does play a part in their opinions, experiences, and responses to racialized media stories. Racism thrives off of dehumanization of “the other” and generalizations of “the other” based in that dehumanization, and yes, I know it’s problematic to generalize and that I did it with this sentence, but I did start the sentence with, “Gladly admitting the danger in rash generalizations…”

The point is, no matter who “the other” is, when we have authentic, loving, personal relationships with people of that group, we are more likely to empathize with their plight and understand their situation and pain. It is a totally “normal” occurrence for people to be unsympathetic to something they don’t understand. It also also normal to hear a white person who has few quality relationships with black people say things like, “All black people look alike.” Black people with few quality relationships with white people say the same thing, “All white people look alike.” Without personal relationship, it’s easy to clump everyone together in one big group, which make dehumanization even easier.  But true understanding comes from personal experience, when we no longer dehumanize “the other.” Take the example of a homophobic parent who learns his child is gay, and because he knows and loves his child, suddenly his thoughts and opinions on homosexuality change. It is not as easy for him to generalize or hate because the plight of “the other” is no longer “the other,” but his son, who he knows and loves.

6. GOVT vs AMERICANS….skin color has nothing to do with it…but it helps divide the AMERICANS don’t it?

Well, we can just agree to disagree on this one.

I will say though, the only people I have ever heard say, “Skin has nothing to do with it,” were white people.

7. I know I fit into the white-ignorant-people who comment box somewhere, but where does compassion fit in?

I mean, I don’t think this person even read the piece. I think she just saw “Types of White People Who Comment on Black Experience and Pain” and jumped to conclusions.

I would ask where is the compassion for Mike Brown, though.

8. Your face looks stupid.

There’s nothing I can do about that.


Here are some other perspectives about whiteness related to Mike Brown’s killing:

Why are white people scared of black people’s rage at Mike Brown’s death?

12 things white people can do now because Ferguson