It’s interesting how just twelve years ago it was hard to talk about institutional and individual racism, and today there is no shortage of video proof that the ugly legacy of racialized difference exists. Frankly, most of the time I don’t want to watch the videos that show me the problem I know all too well exists because it’s disheartening, especially the videos with police officers.
At the same time, it’s a good thing that people are taking it upon themselves to document incidents of racialized prejudice in the public arena. This video shown on Fusion’s Facebook page is one of hundreds posted daily in which it’s very clear that people are being treated differently based solely on the color of their skin.
What this video shows is telling. Let’s break it down. First, a man with whitish skin who felt he was right (in being offended by traffic inconvenience, apparently) pulls out a gun on bicycle couriers, who seem clearly dressed in work clothes. This simple act is supported by a long-nurtured myth that because of his skin color he has certain rights above others, because, you know, he’s superior. At least, that’s what a fictionalized, racialized myth that parades in our society as truth (in textbooks, job applications, jury decisions and judicial sentencing, and on and on) tells him.
He claims he’s a police officer, but feels no need to prove this. Again, you know, he’s superior (according to the myth). Nevermind that he’s stepping out-of-bounds by pulling his gun on people.
One of the cyclists has brown skin, maybe he’s African American, maybe he’s an immigrant from an African country, don’t know, but his skin is brown, which means that he’s inferior (as per, again, this fictionalized, racialized myth about race).
When police arrive, the brown-skinned man is arrested, not the whitish skinned man. Why? We all know it’s racism. But why is it so pervasive? Why is it so insidious that officers sworn to uphold public safety cannot assess the situation correctly and identify the whitish man as the aggressor? Here is where the private held beliefs and opinions about racial difference (which doesn’t exist), generated over generations of false education and institutionalized support (from academia to the courthouse and everywhere else in between), infect public decisions about public safety.
The unsafe people here were the cyclers, and yet the gunman is not the one taken into custody. Why not? Because the myth tells us that the color of his skin means that he’s not to be seen as the instigator of barbaric actions. No, that trait, the tendency toward barbaric action, as in violence, for example, belongs to the black race (again, no such thing exists, it’s just an imagined category we fail to understand well). In addition, he’s a police officer, so the two concepts here (and accompanying symbolic meaning) of: 1) racial traits (superiority for the whitish male and barbarism for the brown-skinned male); and 2) institutional authority (where institutions can’t be wrong but the public can) combine in an uncritical way to provide a snapshot of how the ugly legacy of racialized difference continues to thrive well into the 21st century.
We need education that shatters these ideas. In fact, we need mandatory public education that shatters these ideas. They continue to infect everyday life with situations in which people and institutions make choices about how to act towards others based solely, or primarily, on fictional concepts no one tackles systematically to undo. Don’t you think it’s time to change this?