Recently, I felt compelled to write something on systematic or institutional racism in the wake of the Ferguson and New York City incidents (unarmed black men being killed by the police). These events led to protests and demonstrations, which led to a widespread defensiveness and arguments that the police were just doing their job and the protests are tantamount to calls for violence against the police.
The notion that racism is dead seems more prevalent than ever before. No longer do people accept it when someone uses racially insensitive remarks. This is a good thing. But it does not mean racism is dead--my field, sociology and race, justice, and crime, has shown that racism is now more about institutions that differentially treat people of color than about individual, overt intentions. And so I wrote "The invisible racism: What the critics of the Ferguson protests are missing," published in the Bangor Daily News. My intention was to show people that when people say there is racism in society, the instantaneous defensiveness that emerges for white people is not really warranted. We are not saying YOU are racist. However we are saying that we are participating in a racist society and it's important to recognize this. As I said:
Again, I am speaking about structures and institutions here, which, while composed of individuals, are separate from them. Becoming defensive or claiming that most police are not, by and large, racist misses the larger structural point. It is essential, if we are to make racial equality a real and true goal of society, to recognize that these structures exist, and to move beyond debates about whether you or I are racist.Intention, in some sense, does not matter; only consequences. As Britt Bennett recently wrote, “what good are your good intentions if they kill us?”
And rather than well-reasoned, data driven responses, they are largely disparaging of the article itself and of me personally. I have yet to see a comment that disagrees with the article and uses logic and data to boost the argument. Instead, typical is the comment that simply says the article is "crap." In fact, my wife shared the article on facebook and one of her friends responded with just that single word. Nothing of why the article is crap, where I'm wrong, or what the 'truth' is, is said. The first comment on the Bangor Daily News site sums up the dissenters' views well: "what a crap-filled article!" Why? Who knows. And so we are led to believe that it is crap because the very thought that racism just might exist is offensive to some.
So offensive, in fact, that many of the comments turned personal. They attacked my looks--particularly offensive, apparently, is my red sweater vest which I wore in the picture accompanying the article. One person gleefully described how they would like to drop me off in East St. Louis on a hot summer night (where, apparently, the blacks are so ferocious that I would be immediately attacked). My favorite, however, was the commenter who felt compelled to head over to the Bates College website, where he/she downloaded my CV and then posted a scathing critique of it (not realizing, of course, that the University of Maryland, where I obtained my Master's Degree, is the no. 1 criminology program in the nation).
This is disheartening. I realize that reading the comments section on an article one has composed is a dangerous and foolhardy behavior. It is likely true that the comments do not represent the majority of those who read it. But if so, they are a vocal minority and their utter offense at the very idea that racism is alive and well is upsetting. My intention was to show that race is still an issue even if the "face" of racism has changed. Clearly we still have a long way to go in this task.