It comes as no surprise to some of us that there is a racial gap in the perception of what has been happening in Ferguson. This same gap existed in the Zimmerman trial. Saying that white Americans are largely racist isn't exactly a radical idea. But what I am more concerned about is why so many white Americans seem unable to empathize with black communities, black people who are so obviously in pain.
I could easily take a primarily historical view of this. It's well known that white people in the 16th and 17th centuries gradually convinced themselves to believe that black people didn't feel pain the way white people do. White people convinced themselves that black men and women were just fine with having their babies stripped away from them.
But I am more interested in ways to turn around centuries of racist indoctrination that generations of white children ingested. Indoctrination that tells them, that told me, that black people are caricatures. That black people don't really care for their children. That black people don't feel pain the way white people do.
There have been recent example in our society which have pushed back against that indoctrination. One of the most powerful examples was, to me, the film 12 Years a Slave. This particular scene hit me harder than anything else in the film:
In a white-dominated society, that scene seems almost radical: A black woman wanting, needing, to grieve for the children stolen from her. It haunts me.
A far more recent example of the pushback against the idea of the stoic black man and woman is the impetus for me writing this diary. Elon James White, the creator of This Week in Blackness has spent several days in Ferguson, Missouri. Unlike the traditional media outlets, he eschewed press zones and went out to talk with the activists in the area. It ended up traumatizing him along with the residents who were with him at the time. He was on Melissa Harris-Perry this past weekend, and his segment ended up being gut-wrenching to watch.
I don't know how to embed MSNBC video, but someone has already put it up on Youtube:
I've been a fan of Elon's for two years now. I follow him on Twitter, and it's been obvious to myself and many others that he was traumatized. Which is a horrifying thought as he was only there, off and on, for about a week. The residents must be in even more pain. Part of me feels protective of him and doesn't want to show the world how much pain he is in. It feels so private. And yet...after seeing white people mock his pain across the internet this morning, I decided to say screw it and write this diary.
One of the most explicitly racist aspects of how Elon James White has been received in certain sectors is how people refer to him. He was interviewed by Al-Jazeera the other day, in one of the most condescending interviews I've ever seen. In that interview, the journalist kept referring to Elon as if he was a protestor. As if he was a resident of Ferguson. Other people in the media reacting to yesterday's footage of him breaking down also refer to him as a protestor. Apparently, in the minds of a lot of folks, a black dude not wearing a suit out on Ferguson couldn't possibly be part of the media. Or perhaps it's because they are so used to media figures who show little if any emotion in reaction to the horrors they see. Elon James White is a new kind of journalist: someone who doesn't try and act as if he is objective, as if that's possible. Someone who sees the horrors he's witnessed and is horrified in response. And most importantly, someone who cared enough to try and talk to the residents on the street rather than just stay in or near the glorified media pen, and in response, the police attacked him.
Thank goodness Melissa Harris-Perry, at the least, was willing to put Elon on television to let him talk. So far, she is the only one.
Elon James White has twenty minutes of audio recording that is harrowing to listen to, and yet, according to Mr. White, no one in the media except Harris-Perry has been remotely interested in it. Part of me thinks it's not a coincidence that the media is deliberately not showing something that normally you'd think would be all over the media due to how shocking and scary it is to hear. I think it's because, to a lot of white people, Elon and the people he is with in that audio don't seem scared. To a lot of white people, the indoctrination is holding firm, and all they hear is crazy-sounding black people. I wrote this diary to try and push back against that indoctrination.
Because black people do feel pain. I felt it when I read shanikka's gut-wrenching diary. I felt it when I read a2nite's heartbreaking diary last year. Both of them opened themselves up to this community and shared their pain to try and get us white folks to understand, to try and open our eyes to the freaking tragedy that is occurring on the streets of this country.
Watching someone I've followed for two years break down on television was painful to watch. But it's something white people need to see. With the exception of the blind, most human beings respond most strongly to visual evidence. We need to physically be made to see that black people are traumatized by police violence. Really traumatized. The more white people are shown evidence that black people do feel pain, the more we can push back against the racial empathy gap Because if white people start thinking that black people can feel pain, then maybe fewer cops will be able to so easily murder black people every week.