The One Where I Talk About Race, Among Other Things

I’ve stayed away from this.
I’ve avoided throwing my two cents onto the race/police brutality table.

As I’ve stated before, and expanded on here, my general disposition toward society is something like detachment. It’s halfway between not caring at all and being bewilderingly astonished. Between this and not knowing if any words could have an impact, I’ve stayed out of it.

Anarchist bikes in Amsterdam. Don't stereotype – they're good people. Shot on Kodak 400TX 35mm.
Anarchist bikes in Amsterdam. Don’t stereotype – they’re good people. Shot on Kodak 400TX 35mm.

But the time has come. I think the more honesty that gets added to this situation, the better.

I think it’s obvious why I’d be uncertain any words might have an impact, or if, coming from me, they would even be legitimate.
I’m not a police officer.
I’m not black.
Any questionable encounters my friends and family or I have had with police have been relatively non-dramatic and explainable with the classic, “Police officers have a tough job and deal with a lot of shitheads.” I’ve never felt racially profiled. I’ve never had to chase criminal suspects.

As for my generally detached perspective, my feelings on this have been what haughty, annoying people might call “realistic.”
Police officers do deal with a disproportionate number of shitheads. We pay them with our taxes do so, because we don’t want to. We don’t want to deal with the danger and plain shittiness of dealing with said shitheads.
Because of these expected dealings, we (as a country) arm our officers and train them to act defensively and with an eye to cutting short any dangerous situations. Given this set of conditions, we can expect police are going to end up killing people.

Seems pretty straightforward.
Additionally, because black people are apprehended at higher rates, we can expect more black people are going to get killed by police. Is this, itself, an issue? Probably, but I’ll get back to that in a minute.

If you do some very cursory statistics-searching (I won’t even cite here because who knows which numbers are reliable… Just keep in mind that I’ve rounded these numbers and offer them only as a ballpark example), you’ll find police make up about .25% of the population and account for about 7% of gun deaths each year (The ratio of police-involved gun deaths to both the entire U.S. population and to just the black population in the U.S. are near-zero percentages, by the way). The disparity there can probably be accounted for by the fact that they encounter way more of those shitty situations than other people. However, that shouldn’t make them immune to scrutiny.

That’s my first point:
There are people proclaiming that all police are bad and others proclaiming that all police are beyond reproach. It seems obvious why both sentiments are stupid. I’d think if you had any experience thinking critically about anything at all, you wouldn’t touch either of those statements.

I’ve already shown why we can’t can’t consider all police bad despite evidence of misuses of power: they have taken a risky job and are going to face situations where they see a choice between dying, or letting other people die, and killing a suspect. As long as we have a domestic security force, we are going to see deaths occur at their hands, and some of those deaths will be mistakes.

As for all police being good… well, are all priests good?
Should police be subject to review and evaluation despite being put in risky situations?
Think about how violently people react when the quarterback of their favorite NFL team throws a bad pass. Listen to sports radio the next day and you’ll hear countless calls for him to be cut/traded immediately.
That’s a fucking sports team.
I’d think the police force, having a bit more responsibility than an NFL quarterback, would be subject to a higher standard and thus, even more scrutiny.

So, we will always have unnecessary deaths resulting from police use-of-force, and that itself proves the police are imperfect and subject to criticism. We have to expect those deaths, but in no way are calls for better training, stiffer sanctions, and more transparency unfair.
Enough with that.

On to the real shit.

What is most infuriating about the public dialogue surrounding this is how many people seem to think prejudice either doesn’t exist or isn’t relevant to policing.

It should be well-known by now that black people are arrested at much higher rates than white people. Yes, the numbers indicate more crimes are committed by black people. However, the history of subjugation, oppression, segregation, and piles of other legislated racism have all but guaranteed such a reality.
Yes, in the same way a police badge doesn’t exonerate criminals who wear it, being black isn’t a criminal defense, BUT THE HIGHER INCIDENCE OF CRIME AMONG BLACK PEOPLE DOESN’T MEAN ANY ONE BLACK PERSON IS MORE LIKELY TO COMMIT A CRIME.

If that statement doesn’t seem logical, you don’t understand logic. I don’t know what else to say.
To assume a group trend necessarily reflects a characteristic of each individual in that group is a textbook logical fallacy.
It’s called stereotyping. You’ve heard that word, right?
You probably didn’t think you stereotyped. You probably didn’t think you were prejudiced. Too fucking bad, because we all do, and we all are. Even our hallowed police officers are human and they stereotype as well.

Every single person on this planet is prejudiced.
If you don’t think you’re prejudiced, you’re fucking high.
We’ve all learned to assume some set of personality characteristics when presented with an external characteristic (black, white, latino, gay, christian, jewish, etc.). It’s a built-in mental shortcut. But it’s fed by isolated, unrepresentative encounters. It doesn’t work.

I’m prejudiced.
I’m prejudiced against black people.

It’s taken me a while to accept this because it feels like such an assault on my character. I want to think I’m a good person, and I am hopeful real equality (racial, gender, sexual-orientation, religious, and otherwise) will be reached in my lifetime. Because of this, I assume a defensiveness about racial prejudice and tell myself things like:
I’m not prejudiced, I’ve worked with black people!
I’ve taught black kids!
I have black friends!


All I’m confirming is that I’m not racist. I don’t have any delusion that skin color denotes any kind of superiority or inferiority (If you think such notions are not delusions, go read Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond).  But I still have prejudices.
By the way, advertising that you have black friends as a defense against being prejudiced is pretty counterproductive. It sounds like you’ve collected them to show off. It’s fucked. And again, I’m not innocent here.

Just because I can meet black people and get along with them and make friends with them doesn’t mean I’m not prejudiced. And just because I interact with my black friends and associates the same as everyone else, and don’t consciously respond to their blackness, doesn’t mean I’m not prejudiced. It’s easy to get along with people you meet within familiar social/work situations. You can assume they share similar cultural values and interests.

What’s difficult is to make the same assumptions of strangers.

I’ve caught myself shying away from black strangers before.
I’ve caught myself assuming bad drivers I see on the road are black.
I’ve read news stories about criminals and assumed they were black.

I hate to even say that, but it’s the absolute truth, and I think that’s important.
The thing is, it shouldn’t be so hard to admit prejudice. Furthermore, doing so seems like a gateway to the post-racial world we all hope for.

Admitting prejudice shouldn’t be so difficult because it’s not something we consciously develop.
I didn’t decide on my own that strange black people are scary, crime-prone, reckless drivers. I learned such things growing up in a world where those things are taken for granted and exploited in journalism, television, movies, and jokes.

How many of you know the punchline to this joke?
“What do you say if you wake up at night and see your T.V. floating?”

I think the first time I heard that one I was ten years-old. Maybe younger.
You might be thinking, “It’s just a joke! It’s all in fun!” I do agree to a certain extent, but it’s only “just a joke” if you have the cognitive wherewithal to realize it plays off stereotypes and can thus be a satire of racism. If you’re ten years-old and have barely grasped the complexity of society, it becomes an implicit instruction on the nature of black people.

If you think I’m blowing this out of proportion, consider if you’ve done the things mentioned above:
Have you ever feared someone simply because they were black?
Have you ever assumed a bad driver was black?
Have you ever read a crime report and assumed the perp was black?

If no, I envy you, but I’m confident you’re among a small minority.

If yes, where do you think that came from?
Have you met every single black person in the U.S./world and decided these actions were statistically prudent? No, you learned to perform these judgements based on various media and others around you voicing similar prejudices.

Those of you who recognize and acknowledge you do have a prejudice, let’s take a ride.
Here’s the scene:
You’re a police officer.
Your job is to identify and apprehend criminals. If there are no reported crimes to investigate, you are expected to go find crimes to investigate and bring in the culprits (We’re not still pretending police don’t have quotas, are we?).
Who would you target?

Given the prejudice we’ve already identified, the likely answer is, “Mostly black men.”
Maybe, like Michael A. Wood, Jr., a former Baltimore City police officer, you’ve actually been instructed to target young black men (see him on the Joe Rogan Experience here). After all, they commit the most crimes, right? Or are they just most often nabbed for crimes?

Now let’s say you’re apprehending a black suspect.
You already think black people are more dangerous by default.
You’ve been trained to act defensively in such situations and presume danger as a way of mitigating risk to yourself and others.
You have a gun in case the perceived (which means this is a subjective judgement) danger crosses a certain threshold.
Do you think you might ever make a mistake?

Me too.

Two points here:
1. Such deaths are not murder.
They are unnecessary, avoidable, and wrongful uses of force. But they are not premeditated and not likely malicious.
2. Black men probably die at the hands of police due to prejudice.
It’s ok to admit it. It’s a reasonable conclusion given the nature of police work and the reality of racial prejudice. It’s not an indictment of racist, murderous intent against all white people, nor is it to say no black man who dies at the hands of police gives reasonable cause to use lethal force.

You might be thinking at this point, “Hey, Frank, you’re creating more gray area and making things more confusing, rather than clearing the air. What gives, you schmuck?”

Well, that’s the entire. mother. fucking. point.

When we try to oversimplify a system of events arising out of the fucked-up history of American society, we’re guaranteed to make ourselves dumber and other people angry. Then they respond with an equally obtuse version of events, and we get angry. This, of course, ping-pongs back and forth, creating an ever-dumber-and-angrier stew of chest-thumping pundits until we end up at America in 2016.

Maybe we should quit fucking up our history.

Another breed of pundits arrives at this point to say something like, “Quit talking and start walking! We don’t need more internet preachers of peace and equality and sending prayers, we need action!”

…and what are you doing?

Sorry, I know – hypocrisy is not a valid reason to discount a statement – but it’s fun to point out.
I understand the point there, but the actions usually taken in these situations are protests and awareness campaigns – things that are aimed to expand consciousness and change attitudes. Facebook posts and blogs and honest discussions can have the same effect.

So perhaps this is where I should come to a final, closing point. There will always be something more to say, but I’ll stop here for now:
Let’s expand our own consciousnesses and change our own attitudes.
We can start by admitting we’re not perfect and we don’t know everything or everyone. We will never know everything or everyone.

Let’s be honest about our prejudices so we can begin to not act on them. At the same time, let’s do this openly so others might follow suit.

Let’s control our emotions so we can have constructive, well-rounded dialogue about social issues. If we let anger, fear, and defensiveness lead the way, we end up stripping our arguments down to flailing, sensationalist, biased, half-true, and ultimately ineffective, petty digs.

In this specific situation, let’s remember that 99.75% of us are not police officers.
86% of us are not black.

This does not mean we can’t chime in, but we need to be judicious and aware when we do.

If we don’t have first-hand experience of either reality, we should listen equally to those who have either or both. We should be deliberately wading into the gray area to gather and hold up the truths from both sides; it will be hard for either party to cross that chasm on their own, because they are necessarily biased.

We’re all biased, but we’re in this together, so let’s figure shit out.

“Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”
– Sonmi-451, from Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell.
(Also available as a face-melting movie, with Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. So hot right now.)

Cheers, fuckers.
And remember, Team Mystic is the master race.

What are your thoughts?