It’s true. I listen to too much talk radio. And then I get upset. Particularly when sports talk radio (my indulgence of choice) hosts talk about things other than sports.
Things like the decision to not indict the police in the the Eric Garner case.
Or in the Michael Brown case.
The fact that I listen is on me.
But I rationalize it because this gives me a window into the thinking of a specific but prevalent section our population, albeit mostly male.
And recently I have heard a lot of conversations about particular aspects of particular cases. Any overarching patterns tend to dissipate (dare I say, defensively dissipate) into minute and concrete points of righteousness. Conversations where sentences like following are heard from callers and hosts:
“But what are the cops supposed to do with a 400 pound man resisting arrest?”
“But didn’t Michael Brown charge?”
“These are people who had already broken the law.”
You get it.
And who am I to say? I wasn’t there. I can’t pretend to know what was going on in specific people’s minds during these incidents. (Though, to be completely honest, I have some guesses.)
What isn’t being said is anything about the broader pattern that these particulars occur within.
The fact that between 2006 and 2012, a white police officer killed a black person at least twice a week in this country.
Since Travyon Martin’s death on February 26, 2012, (remember, Travyon was shot- and then demonized– attempting to walk through a neighborhood after buying Skittles) and March 27, 2102, 29 black people were killed by security/police.
More black men are incarcerated in the U.S. as of 2010 than were held in slavery in 1850.
In schools, African-American boys are suspended at a 20% rate compared to a 6% suspension rate for white males, even though, “…according to the Office of Civil Rights, research shows suspension disparities don’t seem to be caused by more frequent misbehavior among students of color, leading to concerns of discrimination.”
“…white men of all classes reported far more troubled behavior than anyone else in the study, but black men suffered uniquely harsh, lasting punishment for their mistakes. Among men who’d dropped out of school, for instance, 84 percent of whites were employed full time at age 22. For black men, however, only 40 percent were employed at that age. And while black and white men from low-income families had similarly high rates of criminal convictions, those convictions mattered far more to the lives of the black men. At age 28, 54 percent of white men with a record were employed full time making an average of $20 an hour; among black men with records, 33 percent were employed, making just over $10 an hour, or half that of their white peers.” (Emphasis added)
I could go on and on.
It makes me wonder: Is clinging to these specific, concrete points of righteousness a way to avoid the important patterns that connect?
I suggest then, that what is important is not only the particulars of the case of Eric Garner, of the case of Travyon Martin, of the case of Michael Brown, of the case of Tamir Rice, of the case of Renisha McBride, of…..(how long?), but the overall systemic patterns which are not being talked about.
We need, for instance, to not only debate the protests related to each of these cases, and the violence of a few of the protesters, but the underlying systemic causes that lead to the mass protests in the first place.
We need to address the idea that the violence of the oppressed (yes- I said it- even in America- oppressed) is the language of those whose words aren’t heard. And that peace requires the listening of those in power.
We need to address the larger pattern of race in America; of how we view race, of how race is avoided and hidden as a factor in virtually all aspects of our lives. Of how this pattern reflects a system, yes- still, of white supremacy. Of how, as Ta-Nehesi Coates argues, white supremacy remains “one of the central organizing forces in American Life.”
In this important essay, Coates continues. “There is no evidence that black people are less responsible, less moral, or less upstanding in their dealings with America nor with themselves. But there is overwhelming evidence that America is irresponsible, immoral, and unconscionable in its dealings with black people and with itself.” (emphasis added)
This is what isn’t being talked about.
Which can make it hard to breathe.