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Learning About Ferguson

November 28, 2014
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Imagine how absurd it would seem if you wanted to learn all about the country of Latvia, but to do so you elected to speak only to Polish people and read articles on the subject from the Gazeta Wyborcza. Or you wanted to decide whether you should apply to Yale, yet you contacted only students and advisors at the University of Connecticut for their opinion. Both suggestions seem, of course, patently ridiculous. You can clearly see the gaping holes in the logic of such an approach.

Unfortunately, this clear-sightedness only seems to apply when we are positioned outside of both the target group (Latvia or Yale) and the filtering group (Poland or U of C). The faulty logic is not so clear when we ourselves are members of the group through which opinions are filtered; in other words, Polish people themselves will find no issues with basing their views of Latvia on the opinions of other Polish people.

With this in mind, consider the following: when reading about issues of race, if all of the people writing, discussing, commenting and high-fiving each other are people of a different race than the one being discussed, they are probably getting a lot of things wrong. Just as Polish people are not experts on Latvia and U of C students only know so much about Yale, white people should not be considered authorities on the Michael Brown story.

Since the Ferguson grand jury’s decision on Monday, I have been brooding and stewing and mentally pacing as I tried to figure out what I wanted to say. The evidence is conflicting; reports are confusing and contradictory; lawmakers themselves are in disagreement; how are we to separate out the facts, etc. etc.? Then I came to realize two things:

1. As a white Canadian, I am so far removed from this event as to have no hope of ever fully understanding it and its significance.

2. It doesn’t actually matter if the entire truth is ever known. Because the protests in Ferguson (and across the U.S., and worldwide) are not really about one black teenager’s tragic story.

And so, instead of adding one more white perspective to the blizzard, I present you with a list of articles to read by authors who have far more personal insight into this situation than I do.

The Gospel of Rudy Giuliani: a response to the oft-repeated statistics about black-on-black violence.

Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race TalkWhat it’s like to raise a black son in America today.

I Am Utterly UndoneWhat it’s like to exist as a black person in America today.

On Ferguson Protests, the Destruction of Things, and What Violence Really Is (and Isn’t)“The brutal and unnecessary killing of unarmed Black women, children and men by police officers isn’t called “violence” by any of these people. […] What is “violence” to these people? Property damage. Looting. The destruction of things.”

Becoming a White Ally to Black People in the Aftermath of the Michael Brown Murder

Black Kids Don’t Have to Be College-Bound for Their Deaths to Be TragicAn article on respectability politics posted last August, and even more relevant today as allegations about Brown’s role in a shoplifting incident arise. Is his death still a tragedy, even if he robbed a convenience store? Yes. It is.

Ferguson Protest. Photo by Debra Sweet via Flickr.

Ferguson Protest. Photo by Debra Sweet via Flickr.

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