A note before proceeding: This post is going to talk about some serious issues, and the linked article, even more so. This is a good one on which to stop and think carefully before replying, especially if it makes you angry. If it does -- and honestly, it should -- stop and ask yourself why
it makes you angry, and how this shapes your perspective, before you comment. Because the heart of this post is not to advocate any policy, or to criticize anyone, or even to state a position: it's about listening to the stories of other people, and thinking about them. I'm not asking you to feel guilty, or justify yourself, or anything else: just to listen.
One of the most interesting things I've heard said in the wake of Ferguson (and unfortunately, I can't find the source to quote properly) was in response to the statement that "93% of blacks are killed by other blacks, so why are you so angry about Michael Brown and never talking about your own problem?" The response was that this is exactly like a foreigner saying, "99% of Americans are killed by other Americans, so why are you so angry about 9/11 and never talking about your own problem?"
I think that this response is quite profound, and it speaks to the fact that not all death is equivalent. And these deaths are inequivalent in an important fashion: ordinary murder happens for any number of reasons, and in almost all cases only creates a risk to the person actually murdered. (The few cases where there is a broader risk -- e.g., mass murders by someone opening fire in the street -- in fact likewise attract our attention quite broadly) But the death of a member of a community at the hands of a member of another community, especially when that other community has a history of violence against one's own community, represents a profound danger to all and sundry. And most importantly, if that death is not promptly censured by the other community, it's likely to be taken as approval of the action -- and other members of the second community are likely to remember this, and act with more freedom and violence.
I'm saying "community" and "other community" here, rather than "black" and "white," because this is true for more than one community. My own family history has been entirely shaped by this kind of violence, but the communities there were the Jews and the Christians; around the world, there are hundreds of other examples of this kind of dynamic as well.
There is something important in common in every one of these cases. When you are a member of one of these communities, the threat of violence from a member of a different community is omnipresent and something that shapes every aspect of your life.
This is something that can be very hard to explain or understand if you haven't ever been on the receiving end of this. Being a member of a community which is considered a legitimate target for violence by another community shapes your entire life."What’d you do for your 16th birthday? Mine had me face down eating grass with a shotgun to my head."
In that context, I want to share this essay by +Ward A
. The essay is angry; it's not an easy read. But it's worth reading because it's a snapshot of what it's like to grow up in a world shaped by this. I've chosen to share it not because its story is unusual, but because it isn't: if you talk to people who have grown up black in America, or in any other similar situation elsewhere, you hear this same story, over and over, with variations.
If you read my intro, or Ward's essay, you may be tempted to respond with "but that doesn't justify [X]!," or "So obviously, what they need to do is [Y]." That's not the point of this share. It's not meant to justify, it's not meant to advocate for any policy.
The reason I'm posting this is that, if you want to understand what life is like in the United States, and if you want to understand why
Ferguson happened, you need to understand what the world looks like from this perspective. And if you want to learn what the world is like for other people, the single best thing you can do is to just listen to what they have to say, and acknowledge it, and file it in your mind.
Nothing more is expected of you here: just to think.