feminism & equality, politics, world news

Ferguson & Racial Inequality as a White Person

Ferguson protestor, photo by Josh Sinn

Credit: Josh Sinn

My eyes are glued to Ferguson, Missouri. I worry for the protestors there, I’m angry over the lack of justice, and my heart hurts. I follow activists and hashtags on Twitter and compare what they’re saying and showing to what I see in the mainstream media and am baffled by the differences.

But this isn’t about me… because I’m white, and my experiences with police have been nothing like Michael Brown’s or Oscar Grant’s or most recently, Tamir Rice’s. (Even worse than those three instances on their own is how many other names I could easily list here.)

The most negative interaction I’ve ever had with a police officer is the time one was kind of jerk to me when he pulled me over for speeding back in 2007. I’ve been stopped about five other times since I started driving back in 1999 and have mostly gotten away with warnings. Even when I did get ticketed, the cops (and one State Trooper in a cowboy hat) were friendly about it and I never felt worried for my safety or targeted inappropriately. (I was speeding every single time, so when I saw the lights in my rear view mirror, I totally understood why.) The closest I’ve come to being stopped-and-frisked is by airport security. I know that if I need help, I wouldn’t hesitate to find a police officer and ask for it. I’m not sure I could find a black person in America who can say the same.

A few facts on police & race

  • An ACLU report found that blacks are 11.5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession, even though white and black people use the drug at similar rates. [source]
  • Police in Ferguson arrest black people at a rate nearly 3x higher than people of other races. [source]
  • Young black men are 21x more likely to die at the hands of police than their white counterparts, but are not more likely to commit violence. [source]
  • According to FBI statistics, “the less clear it is that force was necessary, the more likely the victim is to be black.” [source]
  • More: The Top 10 Most Startling Facts About People of Color and Criminal Justice in the United States
Ferguson protestor, photo by Velo_City

Credit: Velo_City

Simple ways to support racial equality as a white person:

  • Don’t claim that you “don’t see race.” Yes you do. Everyone does and erasing it usually just means defaulting to white, as usual.
  • Be a true ally. Stop talking so much! Make an effort to listen to people of color and follow their lead. (If you see a panel discussing Ferguson and it’s made up of all white people, change the channel and find one that’s doing a better job!)
  • Be mindful of how you participate in protests. Don’t dominate the situation and maybe rethink holding your hands up during a “hands up, don’t shoot” chant. Nobody’s disproportionately aiming at you. That’s the point.
  • Donate money & supplies! Find livestreamers, protesters, and organizations working on the ground who are in need of money for food, supplies, and bail.
  • Pay attention! If I had only watched the major news channels for informaton on the Ferguson protests, I’d be convinced they’re mostly looting and burning things. The coverage of the incredible, organized, peaceful movement that has been ongoing every single day since August is harder to find than it should be.
  • Speak up! If you’re white, don’t avoid frustrating conversations at family gatherings. Plan your talking points & set them straight! (Ex: If you’ve shoplifted, ask them if they think you should’ve been shot in the street for it. Of course they don’t! Make the connections.)

Recommended Reading on Ferguson & Race

As always, I’ll follow along and look for my opportunity to contribute to an important cause. I hope you’ll join me.