In a commentary that first appeared in the Sunday edition of the Connecticut Post, Anthony Bennett, pastor of Mount Aery Baptist Church, writes about the poor condition of race relations in America, asserting “black and white fears are compounded with blue fear as lived out by many law enforcement agencies.”
In the aftermath of Freddy Gray’s murder, I find myself once again in a quandary regarding the poor condition of race relations in America. Although media reports described the subsequent activities as “riots,” Baltimorians defined them as protests against the constant disrespect of lives at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve.
It is clear that uprisings in Baltimore and throughout the country were not specific to slain victims, but underscore the fear that structural racism will continue to divide our country and a faith that race relations can improve.
The fear is that America’s perception of black and brown bodies still impact their welfare and safety. No matter what we teach our children about personal responsibility and how respectable we present ourselves, we–African-Americans–could be gunned down by police officers and subject to harassment simply because of our skin color.
And this fear is reinforced by the media. Millions of African-Americans have resolved that black and brown lives, regardless of educational or economic status, will be viewed and treated with contempt. Even in a city like Baltimore, where both civic and law enforcement institutions are headed by persons of color, the system of white supremacy and privilege are reinforced and meted out in continued exploitive manners.
Black fear is conversely connected to a white fear of acknowledging and owning their privilege. Rooted in a sense of threat to their security and way of life, white privilege shields them from the reality of the horrific and sinister “thug-like actions” perpetrated by government and private sector, which many whites have come to dotingly adore and assume is treating everyone equally.
The symbol of this fear is seen in black and brown bodies, primarily male, yet at times the black female body. This fear of facing their historic role and continued benefit within structural racism is both complex and contagious.
A few years ago, during a conversation with a public official, he remarked that, me calling him a “racist” was parallel to him calling me a “nigger.” I recognized how historically ignorant his statement was as it spoke to the profound sense of fear in facing the implications of what the word `racist’ meant for many whites. To confess the terms `racist’ and `white privilege’ is to own the fact that much of this country’s wealth and infrastructure was created by the free labor of Africans, African-Americans and indigenous people during slavery.
What is lost on most whites is that the economic dividends of that free labor continue to this day. Embracing the terms `racist’ and `white privilege’ would mean an acknowledgement that American–white–history has been built on a foundation of occupation, exploitation and stealing of land and culture from others. Yes, much of what we celebrate as the American way is in fact what George James calls “A Stolen Legacy.”
We see the collateral damage of this legacy in decades of urban underdevelopment in cities like Baltimore, Bridgeport, Patterson and throughout the country.
Rather than face that harsh reality, many whites deflect the conversation, criminalizing black America as a way to justify their dominance and exploitation. This deflection, however, does not erase an even greater fear of those who actually know how treacherous white American history has been. They fear the retribution of black and brown as they rise in affirmation and recognition of their humanity.
Now, black and white fears are compounded with blue fear as lived out by many law enforcement agencies. A part of that fear stems from their difficulty in distinguishing legitimate public outrage and protest from citizens with unjustified and nonproductive actions of a few, i.e. looting, destruction of person and properties. This fear is manifested through “stereotyping” and “profiling,” particularly with men and women of color.
The blue uniform covers the fears of black and white as though the uniform will give them immunity of their personal fears. However, many black and brown police officers will admit that the blue uniform does not stop white officers from viewing them through the same lenses they view men and women within urban communities. So, collective fears feed into a volatile mix that in this season has erupted in Baltimore.
In the earlier part of this essay, I spoke about faith that race relations can improve.
Recently, I sat with more than one thousand persons from varying races and backgrounds where we heard the rallying call of Dr. Cornell West, several of the local organizing faith leaders and other prophetic voices.
In that space, I heard a collective voice saying our fears cannot have the last say in America and we must not capitulate to them. Rather, we must work and walk by faith and confront the fears of our lives. It is our faith in the fact that ultimately love, not fear, will triumph. That fuels me to not only pen these words but to continue to be a part of communities to do the same.