When peaceful protestors in Ferguson shout, “We are human too”, it strokes only a part of a large and painful problem in American history that they suffer. The problem in America is, and has always been, “when are white people going to become human?”
The theme of articles by the New York Times, a hitherto thought-of-as a ‘liberal’ paper, have been, to say the least, disturbing, in the wake of white police brutality against the masses of African Americans across the country in more recent times – this year.
The supposed ‘paper of record’ went as far as defending an officer who shot and killed Akai Gurley, an unarmed Black man, in his own stairwell because the cop thought it dark.
Then perhaps in a rout of obvious defiance, the paper did not wholly defend the white cop in Ferguson who fatally shot Michael Brown for absolutely no law enforcement reason, but it condemned the Black boy and even blamed the poor kid for causing his own death.
Not only that, in a case that was caught red-handed on video, the New York Times sought and painted the choking to death of Eric Garner, a result of an altercation with white police officers.
All of which were carefully guided to misinform and crafted to support the white cops who perpetrated these crimes against humanity.
These motifs of blaming Blacks for disproportionate and racist police violence are egregious not only in their elaboration but in their substance as well: horrendous for journalism, savage in their dissemination, and uncouth for humanity even, when the killing of innocent men in the streets of America do not spark anger, furor, or even inspire martyrs in protest, especially at a supposed independent newspaper.
With perhaps a mellow exception, Nicholas Kristof, sought to appeal to the humanity of those whites who still, for some reason, find it difficult to understand why civilians walk out in protest of these ku-klux Killings.
In response to his attempts, Mr. Kristof received wide-spread resentment and criticism from a significant number of liberal whites even, who continue to romp up an idea that has long been rejected, even in Federal circles, that the American Judicial System is egalitarian!
Alas, for whom? For Blacks it has not been fair, it has not been just.
The root of the inconsistency between how white America, and because they are the majority, accept and reject Black lives vis-à-vis the respect accorded white ones, stokes a larger debate at the heart of the discourse in African American communities. That a significant portion of whites cannot possibly see, or rather refuse to see, or even choose to ignore a common humanity is more the problem with racism today as it was with Jim Crow and slavery.
Two readers of Kristof’s letters to white people used poems to make precisely opposite points about peaceful protests in Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere. Angel Butts, a white woman married to a Black man and the mother of two black babies, said she hadn’t written a poem in 20 years. But she lives on Staten Island, three blocks from where Eric Garner was choked and killed by a white police officer (and several white cops standing by in concert), and “this one poured out”:
As Ferguson burns,
I hear the outrage of a people with lives rendered valueless once and for all.
A people with hearts that can bleed onto the streets without recourse. And so, as Ferguson burns, I hear the voice inside me chant, “Burn on…”
Let the fires burn until every city, every town is on its knees.
Until there is no choice but for all of us to burn alone or rise again together.
In contrast, Mark Steensland, a white author, filmmaker and professor in California, wrote in distress about the peaceful protests in Ferguson as if it was a turmoil – a war zone. He claims he grew up inspired that his father had marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala., (not an uncommon bickering segway into racist remarks by racists), but he is obviously upset by what he sees today in Ferguson:
But you there
You have no right to right
If you do wrong yourself
And revenge is not justice
Just wrong turned inside out.
Mr. Kristof’s call for poetry was inspired in part because, he asserts, Susan Donnelly, a Massachusetts poet he had admired, sent him a powerful piece she wrote after Ferguson. It must have touched him:
What stays with me more than flames,
broken glass, crowds swarming the streets
after the non-indictment; the edge-of-screen
war correspondent clutching his mic,
reporting low-voiced to us outsiders,
are the tears running down
the young woman’s cheek,
that she keeps swiping, as she tries
to stay calm for the interview.
It’s like —
and she starts again:
They don’t realize we’re human.
Not the fire but the broken heart
But Kristof himself has to admit that the significant number of poems he received did not reflect the common humanity that Ayokunle Falomo, who moved to the United States from Nigeria seven years ago, feels for her fellow African Americans:
But please, hear me loud, though muffled
My voice may well be, when I say that
I, too, can no longer breathe.
Perhaps in this fight to root out racism, police brutality and ku-klux killings in America, we must fall to the foundation upon which we build this hope – that white America is capable of change, that they are capable of showing humanity – and question it.
What we African Americans ought to start doing is ask white folks “if they are human?” If indeed in the midst of the Eric Garner video, they still believe the American judicial system is fair and just, and if they must defend those lawless ku-klux men who choked Mr. Garner to his brutal death for absolutely no reason, whatsoever.
So, white people, are you human?