On Thursday, August 21, the following message was released to parents of students in Edwardsville School District 7–a district roughly 30 miles outside Ferguson, MO.
Subject: Discussion of the Ferguson/Florissant Incident
On Friday, August 15, 2014, and Monday, August 18, 2014, Dennis Cramsey, EHS Principal, and I were inundated with calls from parents complaining that some EHS teachers were biased and injecting their own opinion regarding the shooting of Michael Brown, an 18 year-old African American student, by a Caucasian police officer in the Ferguson/Florissant community. The general consensus of parents who called was that if the administration did not get a handle on this situation, there might be violence among students occurring at EHS.
As Superintendent, I will take full responsibility for not preparing administrators and staff members how to deal with this volatile situation. As a result, on Monday afternoon, the decision was made to cease discussion of the event because of the tension, emotion, and anger surrounding the Ferguson/Florissant events.
It was not our intent to ignore the educational relevance of these events. However, we felt it was important to take the time to calm a potential situation at the high school and to prepare administrators and teachers to approach this critical issue in an objective, fact-based manner. Everyone has an opinion – the sharing of which can be polarizing. Far too many facts remain unknown, and without these facts, none of us is in the best position to moderate between opposing views.
Here are a few:
I’m not “there”, but I’d still be pissed off and blogging about it.
It’s nice when white people understand their privilege. Now if only more of them did.
This will make you madder than you probably already are, because of how true it is.
Our notion of what constitutes “white” and what constitutes “black” is a product of social context. It is utterly impossible to look at the delineation of a “Southern race” and not see the Civil War, the creation of an “Irish race” and not think of Cromwell’s ethnic cleansing, the creation of a “Jewish race” and not see anti-Semitism. There is no fixed sense of “whiteness” or “blackness,” not even today. It is quite common for whites to point out that Barack Obama isn’t really “black” but “half-white.” One wonders if they would say this if Barack Obama were a notorious drug-lord.
When the liberal says “race is a social construct,” he is not being a soft-headed dolt; he is speaking an historical truth. We do not go around testing the “Irish race” for intelligence or the “Southern race” for “hot-headedness.” These reasons are social. It is no more legitimate to ask “Is the black race dumber than then white race?” than it is to ask “Is the Jewish race thriftier than the Arab race?”
The strongest argument for “race” is that people who trace their ancestry back to Europe, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to sub-Saharan Africa, and people who trace most of their ancestry back to Asia, and people who trace their ancestry back to the early Americas, lived isolated from each other for long periods and have evolved different physical traits (curly hair, lighter skin, etc.)
But this theoretical definition (already fuzzy) wilts under human agency, in a real world where Kevin Garnett, Harold Ford, and Halle Berry all check “black” on the census. (Same deal for “Hispanic.”) The reasons for that take us right back to fact of race as a social construct. And an American-centered social construct. Are the Ainu of Japan a race? Should we delineate darker South Asians from lighter South Asians on the basis of race? Did the Japanese who invaded China consider the Chinese the same “race?”
Andrew writes that liberals should stop saying “truly stupid things like race has no biological element.” I agree. Race clearly has a biological element — because we have awarded it one. Race is no more dependent on skin color today than it was on “Frankishness” in Emerson’s day. Over history of race has taken geography, language, and vague impressions as its basis.
“Race,” writes the great historian Nell Irvin Painter, “is an idea, not a fact.” Indeed. Race does not need biology. Race only requires some good guys with big guns looking for a reason.
ice in Ferguson, Missouri, released a video showing Michael Brown allegedly robbing a store and shoving around a clerk shortly before the unarmed teen was shot dead in a seemingly unrelated confrontation with an officer, many accused the department of engaging in deliberate character assassination — a tactic that some rights advocates say is commonly used against African-American victims of excessive force in an attempt to shift blame from perpetrators to victims.
Hassane A. Muhammad, chief operating officer for Black Lawyers for Justice, called the decision to go public with the footage an act of “visual provocation” that played into old stereotypes of black men as violent.
“It’s a common playbook used by police to criminalize black victims of excessive force,” said Muhammad, whose group has been active in the local protests that erupted — and at times turned violent — after the killing of 18-year-old Brown on Aug. 9 by police officer Darren Wilson.
“Instead of giving us an ounce of justice, they would rather send in troops and spend taxpayer money to defend one white man,” Muhammad said. “It shows you how much value they place on his life versus Brown.”
Rights advocates say such character assassination operates on a broad level, through public discourse that lends credence to the victim-blaming theory of poverty or in the idea that lower-income communities are responsible for their conditions because of poor decision-making.
What connects the Brown shooting with cases such as that of Trayvon Martin — an unarmed black teen shot dead by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman in Florida in 2012 — is that both shooters perceived a risk, said Yohuru Williams, a professor of history at Fairfield University.