Why White People Don't Want Darren Wilson to be Guilty

When a nation can't forget its past, it turns it into folklore.

Imagine for a moment that Darren Wilson isn't guilty. For some of you, this won't be difficult. Imagine that his encounter with Mike Brown happened just as he testified: a belligerent, young thief charged at him after clear instructions to stand down. Ferguson, then, becomes a cautionary tale (maybe even a future nursery rhyme) about not only obeying the law, but not looking suspicious.

Now imagine that Darren Wilson is guilty. For some of you, this won't be difficult. Imagine that his encounter with Mike Brown happened just as Brown's friend, Dorian Johnson, testified: a young, unarmed black male was walking down the street when a white police officer confronted him and subsequently shot him after he had surrendered. Ferguson, then, becomes an outcry of social injustice as racism returns to center stage in the hearts of Americans.

For the most part, Americans are divided on this down racial lines. Which couldn't be more appropriate because race is the key. White people don't want Darren Wilson to be guilty because they don't want to believe that racism still exists. So long as there's no indictment, there can't be any racism and we can all go back to our everyday lives knowing that another social bigfoot sighting has been debunked. But if Wilson had been indicted, then racism is more than just a mythological creature from our nation's history; it's a present-day monster. And a crafty one at that.

Let's be honest: Darren Wilson most likely didn't shoot Mike Brown out of any clan-member rage. Some of us might even prefer that because then Wilson is just a social aberration that can be ignored as extreme and distant. The scarier thought is that Wilson shot out of fear--a fear fueled by subconscious prejudices. And if we accept this then we have to accept that racism might include more of us than we'd like to admit.

Most white people have a pretty narrow view of what constitutes it in the first place. You can hear it in our stock excuses: "I'm not racist. My family never owned slaves." Or, "I'm not racist. I never supported separate bathrooms or refused service to anyone." While these are certainly good examples, racism is more than slavery or Jim Crow-like discrimination.

Racism can manifest itself in subtler ways like locking your car door while a black person walks through the crosswalk, or by assuming that all black people like grape soda. It can also play itself off as prudence like being wary of young, black men because they're statistically more likely to be criminals.

These aren't arbitrary examples; unfortunately, I have first-hand experience with them. And in all of these cases, black people cease to be people and simply become statistics and stereotypes. They're faces with numbers instead of names because we've never interacted with them.

It wasn't until I actually talked with my black friends about their experiences with law enforcement that I understood what Ferguson was really about. Indictment or not, Mike Brown's death is just another reminder that racism in this country is not dead. And if racism isn't dead, then it has to exist somewhere. Even in places you'd least suspect like Christian radio where listeners have called in and complained to me personally about playing "jungle music" (i.e. urban music).

Racism is our problem, not theirs. Black people don't need to stop being stereotypes; we need to stop seeing them as stereotypes. We need to stop denying that racism exists and take responsibility for our indifference towards how unjust their everyday lives are. And for the record, using Darren Wilson's lack of indictment as proof that modern racism is a myth is like trying to disprove global warming with a cold snap.

If you still don't believe me, do yourself a favor and ask one of your black friends if they've ever been pulled over for no reason. I guarantee you won't want to hear their answer.

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photo credit: Josh Sinn via photopin cc

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