Pew Research has released a new poll showing that merely 37% of White people believe that the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, raises important issues about race. (Compare to 80% of African Americans.) I know that there will always be some who “don’t see race” (supposedly), but a full two-thirds in what seems like such a clear case to me…. I’m not sure what to do with this. What is going on?
Since the poll doesn’t get into the reasons why people chose their answers, I’ve been trying to imagine why so many people say that Michael Brown’s killing doesn’t “raise important issues about race.” Maybe it’s these arguments:
- The officer, Darren Wilson, didn’t use a racial expletive, therefore it didn’t have anything to do with race, or at least we don’t really know what was in his heart. (My response: For race to be an aspect of a situation, what is in anybody’s “heart” or intention is really superficial. Do the results of Wilson’s, or the Ferguson PD’s, actions reinforce white power and privilege? Is it even possible that Wilson’s racial socialization helped shape his actions? If so, then “Yes, the situation raises important issues about race.”)
- Michael Brown was breaking the law (jaywalking) and the officer was only trying to enforce the law, but then things got out of hand, and Wilson made some poor decisions. But it’s a law enforcement issue, not a race issue. (My response: Do officers treat all jaywalkers the same? Why are you so sure that Wilson’s “poor decisions” (drawing his gun on a jaywalker) weren’t especially “poor” because of race?)
- Michael Brown was a thief and a thug and had it coming, regardless of his race. (My response: It isn’t even true that he stole some smokes. Anyone who can’t bother to get simple facts correct can’t be expected to analyze racial dynamics with reason.)
If there is anything hopeful in the Pew poll, it’s that the 37% is higher than the 28% of White people who responded similarly regarding Trayvon Martin’s killing in a poll last summer. I guess that’s progress.