Musings on Ferguson

By Detrich Peeler (Senegal)

14837360707_f0572c9217_oI am really saddened by the news I am reading related to Ferguson and other senseless violence against black people in America. From where I sit in Dakar it has been thrown into stark relief how divided America still is, in ways that are hard to explain to non-Americans. The image of white police forces facing off with black protesters reminds people of the Civil Rights Movement, good in the sense that people are fed up and ready to confront power, but sad that little has changed in 50 years. As a black man who has been to quite a few places I can tell you racism and prejudice exist everywhere, but I can also tell you that it has been a relief to spend the last 9 years not having to deal with American-style racism. There is a weight lifted that is hard to explain, but it is a freedom that I am loath to give up.

America is a great place full of amazing people, and at times I miss it so much, but I know America can be better, and I want America to be better. I sense that America is falling behind as other parts of the world are leaping forward and that fear reveals the tenuous peace that exist between different communities. I read a black person saying how it feels to always be a suspect, to have to teach your children how to not get shot by the police (interestingly many of these boys were following their parents advice when they got shot), and what it feels like to live in a police state where you are constantly harassed (the colonist revolted against the British for less than this). These are conditions that the white majority would never accept in their communities. And then to read a white man saying the media should realize how dangerous it is to be a cop, as if these things are mutually exclusive, with total disregard for what your fellow citizens are trying to tell you about their every day existence. In their communities it’s “my taxes pay your salary buddy”, in the black community it’s “please don’t shoot, I don’t have a gun”.

So when people ask me is America still racist, I have to answer, yes, extremely. There is no scenario where two large groups can have two diametrically opposed views on the world and have two separate lived experiences when it comes to power and the state without those groups, for the most part, living completely separate lives, and for no other reason than skin color. However, what inspires me, is that there are so many good people, of all races, faiths, national origins, sexual orientations and economic background who see this elephant in the room, and in big and small ways want to change a system that finds it so easy and justifiable to take black lives.

Evil happens when good people do nothing. It is possible in today’s America for people to say they are not racist, and be sincere. But the racism that may or may not be in someone’s heart is not my concern, was not the concern of the Civil Rights Movement and of little concern for most black people in America. You cannot police people’s hearts. The problem is the system of power that oppresses black people which is mostly still intact. From chattel slavery, to Jim Crow, to redlining to subprime mortgages, there is a system of power, often invisible to those who benefit from it, and all too obvious to those on the receiving end, that needs to be addressed.

I recently heard a good quote from Jane Elliot: “Racism exists because accurate history is not taught.” I will leave you with that succinct phrase, because that accurate history too unwieldy to unpack here. But I implore you to read Ta-nehisi Coates article, it’s long, The Case for Reparations, and check out this documentary Blue Eyes Brown Eyes, which is eye-opening (pun intended).

This post originally appeared on the blog A La Franco-Americaine.

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