Addressing the Wounds of American Racism

The last time I wrote for The Daily was to express my grief over the acquittal of George Zimmerman for his murder of Trayvon Martin. The event that sparks my return to a column is the murder of yet another young black person that has similarly gone unpunished. Last weekend, a Florida jury could not come to agreement on whether Michael Dunn was guilty of killing 17-year-old Jordan Davis after Dunn shot into the car Davis was sitting in because Davis’s music was too loud. The jury did, however, convict Dunn of attempted murder of the three other people in the car.

My reactions to this weekend’s verdict come from a much different place. The Zimmerman verdict tore open a sore that some of black America thought was healing. One of the women I worked with during last summer summarized that feeling the best: “What’s critical for the black community is this constant re-wounding of our place in the economic, social and political order.” And having experienced a wound that cut so deeply last summer, I am not surprised or disturbed by Dunn’s verdict.

This outcome makes sense to me given the reality of our social order. As my friend said to me, we as a society have never dealt with the fundamental traumas that slavery and Jim Crow caused in this country – and the legacies of these traumas cascade from generation to generation. We have never dealt with the fact that our government was at best complacent – and, more accurately, co-implicated – in setting up systems of racism.

These unaddressed issues resurfaced Sunday evening when I rewatched “Fruitvale Station.” The film paints a very real picture of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old who was murdered by BART police on New Year’s Day 2009. The film spent the majority of its time humanizing Oscar Grant, because, as a formerly incarcerated, unemployed, young black male with a history of selling marijuana, his life tends to be otherwise predictable and expendable, his story undeserving of sympathy and outrage. Yet the film also humanized his killer and the police who were implicated in Oscar’s death. It is hard to know where to place our emotions when we realize that Oscar’s story is just one of many examples of racism and the policing of black bodies, one in which the cop who shot him was just one of many agents of the state that fail to serve and protect black people and kill them instead. Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman are just two more examples of people who take policing into their own hands.

And so I will argue that just as much as black society needs the time and space to heal from our historical wounds, non-black society is also traumatized and is also grieving. To live in a society that continuously tries to forget the systemic violence of its past is in itself a form of violence against everyone who lives within it.

No one is a winner in a world where we’re taught to fear black bodies, to define our experiences as humans with “at least we’re not black.” I am hard-pressed – and I challenge readers – to come up with an example of a non-black Oscar Grant or Trayvon Martin or Marissa Alexander or Renisha McBride.

I challenge readers to prove me wrong and I charge that the reason it is so hard for us to do this is because blackness remains the thing most feared in America. Non-black people do not get shot for walking through gated communities late at night or for knocking on someone’s front porch and asking for help. This is not to minimize the experiences of other racial/ethnic groups, but to ask for an honest acknowledgment that we all retain a fear of blackness. It is a fear that black people ourselves fall into; it is a fear that I myself fall into.

I do not think Americans will ever be “free” (whatever that means), until we deeply examine and tear out the roots of our ugly history – not just against blacks, but indigenous people and immigrants of all varieties. It is an unpleasant past and present, which means the process will not be comfortable or convenient, but it seems absolutely necessary for building and ensuring a future that is just for all of us.

Last quarter, the black community held a panel on the policing of black bodies with Oscar Grant’s mother, his lawyer, the director of “Fruitvale Station” and one of the primary organizers working for Oscar’s justice in Oakland. The words of Dereca Blackmon ’91, the Oakland organizer, really stuck out to me and still resonate today. Recounting a conversation from her time as an undergrad at Stanford, she recalled having a self-identified rich student ask her, “Why should I care [about poor people]?” in a class on communicating across differences. Appreciating his bluntness, she responded: “You’ll never be safe – you’ll never be able to build enough fences to protect yourself from the people you don’t care about.”

So as remote as the murder of a black 17-year-old might seem from the Stanford campus, I encourage us to recognize the many fences we have around us: whether between Stanford and East Palo Alto, between residential clusters on campus, or between us as students and the people who keep the University functioning through maintenance and service. It is our responsibility as people deeply embedded in power to think about these things. We will never exist in a truly safe world until we take the time to care about and protect those who are on the margins.

Those interested in the national conversation on race might be interested in hearing Dereca Blackmon moderate a conversation between civil rights icons Elaine Brown and Jesse Jackson this Wednesday in CEMEX Auditorium.

 

Contact Kristian Bailey at kbailey@stanford.edu.

About Kristian Davis Bailey

Kristian Davis Bailey is a junior studying Comparative Studies in Race & Ethnicity. A full time journalist/writer and occasional student, he's served as an Opinion section editor, News writer and desk editor for The Daily, is a community liaison for Stanford STATIC, the campus' progressive blog and journal, and maintains his own website, 'With a K.' He's interested in how the press perpetuates systems of oppression and seeks to use journalism as a tool for dismantling such systems.
  • Howard Sachs

    Re: Addressing the Wounds of Racism:
    http://www.stanforddaily.com/2014/02/18/addressing-the-wounds-of-american-racism/

    From: Howard Sachs/ hsachs@starpower.net

    Date: 2/18/2014

    Dear Ms. Bailey:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the Stanford community and us outside as well. My comment is given with respect. It takes courage to express your views in public. In general, the University environment is quite intellectually narrow. In my opinion, unfortunately, for the most part, it’s a place of Leftist ideology communication and indoctrination. How sad, especially for sixty thousand a year. Therefore, I obviously understand you will likely see my views at least odd if not abhorrent. They are not meant to shock and awe. They are normative American views I think. By the way, Mr. Prager (reference below) lectured at Stanford years ago and his ideas were well received by many students. Invite him again. Learn something beyond the bubble. Good luck to you. You and our country will need a lot of it if you hold Leftist vs. American values.

    **************************************
    Comment: I see you are mastering at least a third of the toxic ideology of Leftism that has replaced Americanism at our Universities Its trinity is race/class and gender.

    CLASS: I will fight against the most moral economic and political system in the world, capitalism and conservative constitutionalism. I will thereby forfeit much of my liberty and money to the Leviathan state.

    (Talk about oppression. Obamacare is now tens of thousands of pages of laws regulating every part of our bodies from our heads to our toes. In California many now work January through July and are forced to give all their money to the State so it may distribute social justice. Talk about oppression.)

    Accepting all this Leftist class trope, I will plant and nurture the seeds for my own economic ruin because Leftism has taught me the rich are oppressing the poor in America.

    GENDER: I will fight to obliterate male/ female distinctions. I will thereby harm our children and families by sending the strong message Mothers and Fathers are meaningless. I will also harm our young women telling them if they don’t act and feel like men and long to marry and have a family, they are damaged.

    RACE: I will see the now least racist society in the world as racist. I will walk around feeling ever the victim. My victim-hood will weaken my spirit and see my neighbor, coworker, employer, the other, the white man, always as my enemy instead of my American partner. I will support the wealthy, powerful, and highly destructive race industry that tears us apart each day, American against American. And instead of facing the major problem Americans with dark skin have, namely, boys raised without fathers and women with no husbands, I will waste huge amounts of time and energy looking for racism where it is not.

    Thanks again. I presume everything I’ve said is likely considered racist, greedy capitalistic, homophobic and sexist from the Stanford bubble world view. Take care: HS

    ******************************************

    Check out :

    5 minutes: The American vs. The Leftist Trinity

    5 minutes: American values http://www.prageruniversity.com/Political-Science/The-American-Trinity-2nd-Edition.html

    5 minutes: Feminism: male/female

    http://www.prageruniversity.com/Political-Science/Feminism-2-0.html#.Uvo4eyg2VS8

    Racism and the election of this President:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/article/353517/race-no-hope-or-change-dennis-prager

  • Tom Metzger

    Has Racism become the new RED SCARE ?

  • Michael DC Bowen

    It’s quite a shame that so many black youth are wasting their time in attempts to inflate the significance of incidents that are statistically insignificant.

  • Candid One

    When one murder is rendered insignificant merely by its singularity, shame isn’t a cover for such implausible denial. Statistics are insignificant in the valuation of human life. Statistics don’t stem the pain nor the injustice.

  • Candid One

    Dude, racism is more than the elephant in the living room…it is the living room.

  • Michael DC Bowen

    No murder is insignificant. Every society since prehistory has outlawed it. In that regard, the permanence of the idea of justice is established absolutely. Any murder anywhere at any point in history is equally evil and all moral men must fight to avenge such evil deeds. In fact, we have grown institutions to deal with this fundamental human problem. So why is any murder worse than any other? Why are 93 murders any less painful than 7? Is there more injustice when a tall man kills a short woman? Is there more injustice when the police are not alerted to a murder?

  • Candid One

    There’s a sour, tragic sadness about de facto relegation of racism to the anti-Left…a troglodyte’s dogma. Racism isn’t a reality that can be swept under the rug. Race isn’t a card, it’s the whole deck. Racism isn’t the elephant in the living room, it is the living room. Pretentious rejection of its reality is a self-deception at most.

  • Candid One

    Where is one murder different from any other number of murders? Worse is worse than worse? There’s much more disguised in the relegation of murder on any scale to insignificance; something that’s more generally known as sophistry.

  • Michael DC Bowen

    The reality is that there are about 17,000 murders and 30,000 suicides in America every year. To pretend that the white on black murder of any dozen black youth in a year represents the horrors of racism as the focus of national attention is worse than self-deception, it is an invitation to suggest the superiority of the black victim.

  • Howard Sachs

    I know its quite easy for us all to default to childish name calling when we feel people dont ascribe to our world views. Its quite undignified. I can channel that human weakness as well as anyone. The struggle is to keep it under control. People see things often the way they want to see them. I, an American with skin cells with low levels of melanin have interacted with thousands of Americans with all sorts of levels of melanin pigments in their dermal cells. I have witnessed almost zero instances of behavior that might be classified as racist my whole life. Those Americans ascribing to Leftist values tend to see the world with the lenses of race/class/ and gender. They see almost everything powerfully through that very distorted lens. The rich are after me. The white guy has it out for me. The male is warring on me poor female. The heterosexual has it in for poor me gay guy. Its standard Leftist balkanization of society. Until the sun burns out there will be people who hold nasty prejudiced views about other groups. I don’t care what they feel or think inside . I care how they act towards others. Americans today behave generally beautifully towards people no matter the color, sexual orientation or how much money the guy has in the bank,. Thats why if tomorrow we said our boarders are open, millions of Africans with much pigment in their skin would flood into “racist” America. Thats why us troglodyte conservatives would love to have a Congress full of Americans with much pigment in their skin cells, who are gay and transgendered and incredibly poor as long as they had good conservative values and honored our Constitution. To walk around thinking America is a racist country is shameful and an attack on truth and reality. To walk around as a victim through life is to lead a very unhappy stunted life. It will get people nowhere. Thats why this Leftist President with much pigment in his skin cells has been one of the worst things for us all. He thrives on division , stirring up group against group, and seeing people according to how much pigment is in their skin, how rich they are and who they like to have sex with. Its shameful. Its not American.

  • Queer black poor female

    I can’t tell if you’re kidding.

    This is so long and frustrating to read, so I think no?

    But also it’s incredibly entitled – almost jokingly – so maybe yes?

  • Tom Metzger

    Sorry boys and girls Class and Religion are by far the most cause of hatred than Race.

  • changethenypdnow

    7 harmful practices, which reinforce the common misconception that racism is simply a problem of rare, isolated, individual attitudes and actions: Individualizing Racism, Falsely Equating Incomparable Acts, Diverting From Race, Portraying Government as Overreaching, Prioritizing (Policy) Intent over Impact, Condemning Through Coded Language, and Silencing History. >>>>You’re guilty of a few of these

  • changethenypdnow

    7 harmful practices, which reinforce the common misconception that racism is simply a problem of rare, isolated, individual attitudes and actions: Individualizing Racism, Falsely Equating Incomparable Acts, Diverting From Race, Portraying Government as Overreaching, Prioritizing (Policy) Intent over Impact, Condemning Through Coded Language, and Silencing History.

  • changethenypdnow

    7 harmful practices, which reinforce the common misconception that racism is simply a problem of rare, isolated, individual attitudes and actions: Individualizing Racism, Falsely Equating Incomparable Acts, Diverting From Race, Portraying Government as Overreaching, Prioritizing (Policy) Intent over Impact, Condemning Through Coded Language, and Silencing History. >>>> Mind telling us which ones you are guilty of?

  • changethenypdnow

    7 harmful practices, which reinforce the common misconception that racism is simply a problem of rare, isolated, individual attitudes and actions: Individualizing Racism, Falsely Equating Incomparable Acts, Diverting From Race, Portraying Government as Overreaching, Prioritizing (Policy) Intent over Impact, Condemning Through Coded Language, and Silencing History.

  • changethenypdnow

    White people are trapped in a history they don’t understand. -James Baldwin

  • Michael DC Bowen

    That’s a nice boilerplate. But it doesn’t address the specific question I’ll put to you. If the death of 7 black youth by incontrovertibly racist perpetrators has the significance of X, what then does the death of 93 black youth by non-perpetrators mean? In other words, do you mean to establish a standard by which the race of the victim of murder makes that victim more socially significant than another? And to be perfectly clear about it are you for absolute racial equality in the matter of murder?

  • FOURTEEN

    As to your question, I would say that there are different causes for different murders. One murder can be as bad as another, but that does not mean I have to care about them equally. For example, a mother is expected to care more about the murder of her child than that of another. And if, because of my personal life and experiences, I feel more connected to the underlying factors of one (set of) murders over another, is that necessarily a bad thing? Isn’t it just my way of picking one avenue through which I can make the world better in my time here?

  • Michael DC Bowen

    No it’s not a bad thing for a person. It’s perfectly understandable to have personal, particular sympathies. However, it’s bad politics for a democracy. If you bring into question matters of public policy based on the rare exception by suggesting as some have over this matter, then you do society a disservice.

    I am particularly concerned with the implications of race, because rarely do the reality of regional and other distinctions attain their proper perspective when activist attempt to characterize one small set in incidents as something worthy of ‘a national dialog on race’. This author, within two paragraphs connects, Jim Crow in the South, Oscar Grant in Oakland and several other individuals to the fate of all African Americans.

    It’s certainly anyone’s privilege to emphasize what they *feel* like emphasizing, but that kind of talk has nothing to do with the reality of crime and justice in a nation of 300 million.

  • FOURTEEN

    There have been various studies done that do study the reality of crime and justice and race’s effect on it. I apologize for not including them here (writing in a rush), and as such, if you choose to disregard this part of my response then so be it. A simple google search would probably direct you to what I’m talking about though. Not all will be credible but some definitely will. It is to protect from these proven biases in these systems that conversations would suggest include public policy.

    As for the set of incidents vs. national dialogue argument and connecting history to the present, I think there are definitely connections between Jim Crow South, Oscar Grant, and the recent Jordan Davis case. In the Jim Crow era, blacks were still otherized even as they came closer to living in the same society as others. During this time, although no longer slaves, dominant stereotypes still persisted on how blacks were perceived. Despite having done away with various overt racist laws, and shifting the general perception of blacks away from being overtly racist, there are still issues with the quantity and types of public images we see of blacks to help shift this perception away from being negative on the subconscious level. Issues in Hollywood, the face of the prison population (partially due to remnants from the racially handled War on Drugs,m partially due to areas of poverty that were unfairly created by racist housing practices), and so on. That’s why so many stress the continuing need for national conversation – to call out systemic practices that still unfairly target blacks and invite society (black, white and everyone else) to look inside and reflect on the role they still play in these systems. We can not tell exactly how much each murder is influenced by negative subconscious perceptions of blacks that were initialized centuries ago, but we can link them to trends, statistics and research done on the issue today.

  • Tom Metzger

    The desire for Race separation or tribalism is normal. What is not normal is economic forces that insist on forced integration to maximize profits.WAR’S are an outgrowth of mercantilism and religious fanaticism not the desire for separation.

  • Howard Sachs

    Frustrating in what way? Entitled? What do you mean by that? Entitled to my opinion? Entitled to think what I’m saying has merit? Or do you mean the typical Leftist definition, entitled means “you are an American with low levels of melanin pigment in his skin cells and therefore are not worthy to engage, not able to understand the meaning of important social and political issues engaging Americans? Is that what you mean by entitled?

  • Student

    Entitled means how much time you seem to expect people to spend reading AND engaging in full with your long detailed personal opinion and your defensive feelings about being labeled “capitalistic” or whatever. It means how much you value your own words above any careful reading over anyone else’s.