Understanding Ferguson: Electing Obama Isn’t Enough…


Ferguson Training

Like most headline news, the Ferguson story will ultimately face an expiration date for ongoing coverage. Although currently center stage, it’s only a matter of time before this one will fade into the occasional sound bite — or referenced along with a couple of words, like Trayvon Martin.

As Michael Brown’s family along with thousands of online supporters cried out over his funeral this week, we also must prepare to expand beyond the focus on Brown, Officer Darren Wilson and the riots taking place post August 9th, to the ongoing prevalence of institutionalized racial prejudice and distrust within social platforms like public education, and a “glass-ceiling” workforce also perpetuating racial prejudice beyond the impoverished streets of our nation.

It’s time to bridge the dialogue on the killing of Michael Brown with issues more tangible for the public distanced by physical proximity, race, and class from Ferguson, Missouri. We don’t downplay the death of Michael Brown; we explore how we are helping our nation internalize the significance of racial prejudice — white and non-white alike.

18-year-old Michael Brown was black, unarmed and shot six times (twice in the head) by white police officer Darren Wilson on August 9th in Ferguson, Missouri. To date, the prosecutor’s office for St. Louis County has yet to file charges against Wilson. A grand jury is reviewing evidence on the case. President Obama has released a statement discussing an internal Federal Investigation into the shooting, also sending Attorney General Eric Holder to provide community reassurances and assess the situation with aims to keep the peace among angered protesters seeking justice for Michael Brown’s death.

There’s been an outpouring of ignorance in response to this tragedy, from opportunist looters taking advantage of a vulnerable community trying to make sense of what happened — to the KKK allegedly raising funds in support of Darren Wilson’s defense. Phrases like “Over Militarized Police Departments,” “Military-Grade Weaponry,” “Racial Tension and Policing,” and “Harassment of Minorities By Police” further highlight the mistrust of local law enforcement by people of color. With more to this story still to be revealed, I wanted to hear from MSNBC Political Analyst Michael Eric Dyson, President Obama, and then, my father on the events in Ferguson.

In the August 17th edition of Face the Nation, Dyson strikes hard at President Obama’s rhetorically colorblind approach on Ferguson. According to Dyson:

“The president has a responsibility to say, look, this is one of the key points we expect of him because of his unique experience. “As an African-American male I know what it means to not have an autopsy report released. I know what it means to have a young man besmirched posthumously with no relationship that we can tell between what that was about on that camera and how he died.”

“And I’m saying to you that if he could inform American society that, look, yes, we must keep the law, yes we must keep the peace, people must calm their passion, but let me explain to you why people might be hurt, why they might be angry and why they might be upset. That is his responsibility to tell that truth regardless of what those political fallouts will be.”

While I laud Dyson’s taking the President to task when he chose not to speak from the “bully-pulpit” as a black male in the wake of this high profile racial injustice, I also couldn’t help but wonder if collectively the nation hasn’t already become too complacent regarding the prevalence of racial injustices within the black community.

I believe the President was judiciously calculated in not toning up the “race card” but instead focused on discussing the strategy to address this investigation as Commander in Chief of the United States. Obama has a responsibility as our President to address injustices to humanity, first and foremost.

Those of us (myself included) on the outskirts of Ferguson are not “off the hook” from exploring the prevalence of racial prejudice simply because this country has elected its first black president. Halle Berry and Denzel Washington both winning Academy Awards (never mind how they were depicted) doesn’t let us off the hook either. Nor do the appointments of Justice Clarence Thomas, Colin Powell, or the grand popularity and golden-touch of Oprah Winfrey.

Take our schools for example, it’s no surprise that the public education system is failing students of color in this country. We’ve heard it before. Many times. It’s ongoing. The abundance of charter schools sprouting up in order to better suit the needs of students and parents dissatisfied with the state of public education and the rising costs of private independent schools is one of its root causes. Dig a little deeper, and the tracking-system that occurs in public education where minority children are deliberately “tracked” into lower academic circuits with less organized instruction preparation is preventing some of our brightest students from reaching their full potential. This disparity in public schools is also a catalyst behind more families of color exploring the charter school movement.

Or the workforce — in news this past week, a former senior editor at People Magazine is suing the publication and parent company — Time Inc. — for racial discrimination. (This one hits the home front for me as I spent six years with Time Inc. immediately after graduating from Berkeley.) Are we perhaps less interested in this story because we know discrimination in the workplace occurs already? Are we less interested in the details because after all, this is People Magazinethey don’t hire or promote just anyone. Shouldn’t she just be thankful she’s there at all? Maybe she should have kept quiet and just left. And most importantly — never burn bridges.

Maybe. But I too was also advised to approach publications like Essence, VIBE or Southern Accents if I wanted to advance while at one of the company’s mainstream publications. Was it because my skin was brown? The managers who suggested my upward mobility would be better garnered at an ethnic publication hadn’t a clue that what they were doing was remotely prejudicial. This needs to change.

Lastly, I wanted to touch base with my father on the events in Ferguson. My father is African-American, (my mother was Irish American), and was raised in poverty and low performing schools in rural Arkansas. His flee from a segregated rural south to Los Angeles at the age of 18 was culture shock. He soon adapted as many of us of color are required to do in order to build a life here. A generation later, I was born and raised in Los Angeles. I’ve been called the “N” word, told by my 5th grade public school teacher that I would never have what it takes to go on to college (I graduated from Berkeley), and told that I couldn’t advance because I didn’t have the “right look” within a Fortune-500 company.

Whether it’s 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in 2012, or 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955, racial prejudice still informs access to adequate education, employment opportunities and advancement, well beyond the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. It’s time each and every one of us takes a good look in the mirror to see where we fit in when it comes to the persistence of these injustices.


Image Credit: Michael de Adder

(Published in The Huffington Post on 8/26/14)

1 reply »

  1. I’m a straight, white male. I apologize for that. I was raised in a multicultural neighborhood. My daughter is Hispanic, my granddaughter if African American. If you can figure that out! I was the guy that, when I heard those racial jokes by white guys, I took them to task. Sometimes that ended in violence.
    When something like the Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown tragedies happen, I get physically incensed. It is at these times I have no friends. When white guys hear what I have to say, they get pissed. When an African American who doesn’t know me sees me, they inevitably see the stereotypical older white good ol’ boy.
    I agree with everything you wrote here. What upsets me more than anything else is that I feel completely helpless to create the change I want so badly to see.


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