Editor's Note: This commentary is part four of a four part series on racism and the over-policing of African-Americans and other people of color.
America is not ready for a Kumbaya moment.
And Black and Brown people who are experiencing racism can’t “get over it.” Racism is real. White privilege is real. And these ideologies and practices and structures that have shaped American culture for centuries – and continue today to do so – impact our lives as Black and Brown people in large and small ways.
Right now in this country, among Black and Brown people there is a very strong sentiment (with justification) that structural racism in the form of grand juries or police internal affairs appear to affirm police action for what we (as the recipient of police violence and use of excessive force) perceive to be public executions of Black and Brown people.
In no way does this allegation of police violence justify criminal behavior or retaliation against police.
What it does call for is a serious review of how police come to their jobs everyday with their own unconscious bias against Black and Brown people, and how even Black and Brown police come adopt this view of allBlack and Brown people as potentially criminal and dangerous. Necks have been broken, spines have been broken; people have suffocated and the number of people have been shot because of a police officer’s own unconscious bias that caused him/her (white, Black or Brown) to see danger where none existed.
Thus, the shooting of a young man playing with a toy gun is justified because “he looked big” or “he appeared dangerous.” If police cannot tell a child from an adult male, shame on them. Such a death is beyond tragic; it is irresponsible because police equate size with danger. Is that the real reason? No. Police equate Black size with danger and pay no attention to the young face on the large body, nor stop to ask the child to lay down the gun so they can determine if it is real or not. Instead, they shoot first and then cry later over a “tragic mistake.”
America needs a healing. America needs a healing,to reclaim our humanity.
The power of unconscious bias among America’s police officers
We must accept the reality that white police officers have been raised to believe Blacks as a group are violent, threatening and inferior. This implicit bias is a conditioning that can only be changed if it is recognized, acknowledged and deliberately worked on to change attitudes that inform responses and behavior. Putting on a police uniform does not inoculate white policemen from the social virus of racism. The deaths of so many Black men, the incomprehensible arrests and incarceration of so many Black and Latino people (especially men) can only be explained by a system of racism that interprets events differently if the person involved is Black or Brown.
Only when white policemen can acknowledge that they harbor unconscious bias can the work happen to eliminate or change this belief.
Black and Brown police officers must ask themselves what it means to put on a uniform that historically has had different treatment under the law for Black and Brown people. If they do not acknowledge the reality of racism and how it has shaped the behavior of police officers and informed our arrest, judicial and penitentiary systems, then they are morally remiss.
If Black and Brown police officers do not question the racialized system of disparities under which we all live or challenge the differential treatment of Black and Brown people then they become co-conspirators. They become complicit in the perpetuation of institutionalized racism and white privilege; they become, themselves, racists by proxy, as they adopt the same worldview in which their own people are considered de facto dangerous.
Some Black and Brown police join the force precisely because they understand that different perspectives are needed, because they know the system of justice may need them present for it to truly become more impartial and fair. But sometimes these Black and Brown police officers find themselves recipients of racism in the workspace, treated as if they don’t belong. The presence of Black police officer organizations are proof of this reality. The fact that Black and Brown police officers have been killed when working undercover is proof of this reality. Without a uniform to protect them, Brown and Black police officers are just as vulnerable as the rest of us. These examples should be sufficient proof to them that something needs to change … now.
America needs a serious healing
America needs a serious healing. It needs this healing desperately.America must heal itself of racism, if we are to survive as a country united.But first we must be honest about our century-old and new-found biases and prejudices.We must be honest that racism is real and it kills Brown and Black people, and excludes us from (collective) wealth and quality education and fair employment and equal wages. We must be honest that the current xenophobia (of Muslims and transgendered people) is a contemporary form of racism.
A start is this. Police must begin training on unconscious bias.Police must carry body cameras and be held accountable when they treat Black and Brown people unfairly.And, police systems must be assessed to see if they are maintaining inequitable systems of law enforcement, and be held accountable for change.
All of America needs a healing; a serious healing. And we must devote the money and time to practice unlearning racismand unlearning prejudices and dismantling racists systems that punish people simply because they are Black or Brown.
We must remove the implicit bias that causes a police officer to shoot a Black man who has a license to carry a concealed weapon because the police officer’s implicit bias kicks in and he can’t fathom the idea that a Black man would have a license to carry a gun, so he sees a threat where none existed and kills an innocent man.
If America does not heal;if America does not confront our own racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, religious intolerance,we will be a nation more divided and we will not thrive.
America needs a healing. America needs a healing,to reclaim our (much needed) humanity because right now, today, it is lost to us, and we will continue to suffer from its absence.
Irma McClaurin is an award winning columnist, who 2015 received the Black Press of America’s Emory O. Jackson Column Writing Award from the NNPA. She is the Culture and Education Editor for Insight News, a consultant, an activist anthropologist, writer, motivational speaker and founder of the Irma McClaurin Black Feminist Archive at University of Massachusetts Amherst. More about the author can be found at www.irmamcclaurin.com.