Black Like Me in Missouri
August 16, 2014
There was a book for assigned reading in a college human relations class 40 some years ago that really comes to mind with all of the turmoil over the Ferguson, Missouri incident of Michael Brown’s seemingly unnecessary killing by a police officer.
The calls for criminal justice, the calls for demonstration, the calls for violence, and the calls for calm and nonviolence are all valid by those whose voices are heard. None are all wrong and none are all right. The validity or necessity of the calls for action or inaction depends upon the place in society, the vantage point, of the participants.
The book, “Black Like Me”, written by John Howard Griffin, first published in 1961, was an enlightening educational experience which, for most readers, reflected a different light on the challenges of life as a black person in a white dominated and racially prejudiced country. He traveled throughout the South disguised as a black man and documented his experiences of disgusting discrimination.
We cannot fairly judge this incident without all of the facts and we don’t have all of the facts. A police officer’s job is obviously more challenging and dangerous than most of us would be willing to endure, so this police officer’s role certainly cannot be judged by someone who has never faced these challenges. Like a close relative told me once when we were discussing how he approached his job as a police officer on the streets of Kansas City, “I just want to return home to my family every day in the same condition as when I went to work.”
If you read Black Like Me, you can easily see the other side of the story about the everyday life of a black person, an everyday life full of challenges that most of us would choose not to endure, such as discrimination in education, employment, social experiences – life in general – denial of equal opportunity and enjoyment of life at every turn.
It is easy to see that, as a member of the minority community, the enraged demonstrators have endured these experiences throughout life and have witnessed discriminatory actions against innocent and guilty members of their community and immediately assume this incident as just one more of the same – one more of the same unrelenting discriminatory actions against blacks just because they are black.
This police officer may be guilty of murder. Michael Brown may be guilty of strong arm theft or robbery and resisting arrest. There may be what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story.” Until we have the rest of the story we can’t judge this tragic incident fairly.
However, as Michael’s parents and friends would have it, we could use this incident to better understand the challenges of police officers and the challenges of being black. We could use it to change our individual attitudes about racial discrimination – simply because this incident could have been caused by racial discrimination either on the part of the police officer or on the part of Michael Brown, due to what we have caused him to endure in his lifetime. Think about this police officer and the job he is assigned to do. Think about Michael Brown’s life in the black community, where the majority are black and most all of the police officers are white.
Think about it!