What We Learned From Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and Ferguson (Part 2)

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In Part 1, we covered the impact of the Ferguson saga on community organizing, race relations, and police vigilance.

The following are more excerpts from that conversation, with a focus on what political activists can learn from these events. My commentary follows each blocked quote.

Let’s continue:

On the hypocrisy of the media: 
“”White people are ~65% of the population but 80%+ of various alcohol-related crimes (85% of DUIs, 80%+ of underage drinking, etc.). DUIs are typically discussed as a NATIONAL problem. DUIs kill more people and cost WAY more damage (car crashes, lost days at
work, highway cleanup, etc.) than gang violence.

How many of you have ever
 heard DUIs referred to as a ‘white’ problem? Anyone?“

My response:

I agree.

The problem is that people don’t see DUIs as violent crime, even
 though it’s reasonable to classify it as such. There’s no immediate threat 
to life and limb like riots and shootings, so people aren’t as
 worried about it. There’s also no archetype you could put as the face of
 DUIs (although statistics would suggest it would be some white male between
 20 and 40 years old).

No such problem with violent crime.

When people think “violent crime”, they
 almost always think of some non-white male. If you look over your
 shoulder at night, would you be more likely to fear for your safety if you saw two black males or two asian women?

It’s that “Availability Bias” as well, where people inflate the odds of
 something happening and being a big problem because it’s so memorable. 
People were more worried about Ebola this year than Heart Disease this
 year, even though they are much more likely to die from the latter. People
 were crossing the street when someone wearing a dashiki walked by, while 
still chugging down those diet sodas.

The media plays a big role, too. Most DUIs don’t result in fatalities, just
 property damage.“Property damage” isn’t sexy; robberies and murders are,
 so that’s more likely to dominate media views and discussion.

One friend raised an excellent point, on the folly of violent riots and protesting by clogging up major roads and (attempting) to grind local business to a halt.

 Nothing will be changed until you find an effective strategy for pulling people off the sidelines.

Example: Martin Luther King Jr.

My response:

Hot-button issues divide America into a bell-curve shaped distribution, with a small percentage of the population squarely in your corner and another small quantity of people staunchly opposed to you.

The vast majority of America resides in the middle, squarely on the fence.

The tail ends of the bell curve are usually the most passionate, so these people—and the nation at large—overestimate both the size and power of these vocal minorities. 

If you want to produce change, the people you need to focus on are those have not yet made up their minds, the silent majority sitting in the middle of the curve. These are the people who will determine how far your movement will go. Only through a change in social fashion will you amass enough clout to effect real progress.

MLK Jr., despite all of his peaceful marches and demonstrations, did not make much impact until he was able to win the hearts (and minds) of Middle America. 

You will not swing the silent majority through shows of violence, traffic jams, and other nonsense that brings disorder to the lives of average joes. You will only manage to turn off the very people whose assistance matters most. 
You have to use data, poignant stories, and reasoned arguments to state your point. Incentives drive our decisions: show people what’s in it for them.

Yes, racism is a problem, but to claim it’s as big a problem as it was in the 1950’s is dishonest. It still exists in academia, corporate america, and most corners of America; it’s just more subtle than it was in past. Overt cases of discrimination are rare; it’s not tolerated by polite society anymore.

(Not to say that there aren’t people who still harbor racist ideologies; they’re just smart enough to hide it.)

Race relations are still worth discussing, but let’s not pretend that we haven’t made progress since the height of the Civil Rights era.

Bull Connor isn’t walking through that door.

It doesn’t help when people cry “racism” in instances where it isn’t justified, which only numbs the populace to true instances of discrimination. You’re trying to convince the same people you need to recruit (read: Middle, White-Bread America) that they might be racist. You better have a strong empirical case to back up your claims; emotions and alarmist anecdotes are not going to sway people who don’t blindly swallow narratives.

If you are short on facts and logic, you’re just insulting their intelligence.

Many might also question how serious protesters are about creating lasting change, especially if voter turnout for elections, across all races, remains in the tank. You can’t complain about policy, both local and national, if you don’t take the time to vote. The right to vote was one of the causes championed by civil rights leaders of the past, and it’s largely unappreciated today. That so many people don’t bother to vote reflects poorly on the leaders of today.

Ironic, given how readily some of them invoke the days of yore.

The sincerity of certain black conservatives who’ve built careers on criticizing the black community was also a point of discussion. Shouldn’t they be spending as much time holding a mirror up to white society as they do with blacks?

My response:

I agree that some black conservatives are disingenuous.

There’s a contingent of Al and Jesse doppelgangers, more
 interested in ingratiating themselves with corporate, conservative
 interests than actually making a difference. The same
 folks who push the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mantra while
 joking about “them thugs over there” at wine and cheese parties. They are
 more interested in boosting their own self-esteem through grandstanding
 than truly helping black people.

There are some social critics, though, who see that their time is better spent focused on black problems rather than condemning the hypocrisy in
 white circles.

They’ve only got so much time and energy to expend and they 
are sincerely committed to pushing blacks forward. You can only fight so 
many battles; put your efforts into the most direct medium for change.

 No different than someone trying to lose fat who might focus on 
how much to jog every morning instead of worrying about which brand of
 shirt to wear while doing it.

Tackle what needs to be tackled first.

More on the media’s hypocrisy on crime coverage, not holding whites to the same standards as others on low-profile offenses like DUIs. One friend made a number of good points en route to a (very) sound argument on why we should be angry when some black conservatives wag their fingers at minorities while ignoring the mismanners permeating white circles.

My response:

The reason I detest the “What
 about white people? They do it, too!” line of thinking is because pied 
pipers in minority communities use it so often to pander to the masses, shining the
 light away from the nonsense happening in their domains in a bid to win votes and
 raise money.

They use it to tell people what they want to hear, instead of what they need to hear.

Not to say that there is never justification for calling out other ethnic blocs; you should pull the weeds from your own lawn before pitching a fit about your neighbor’s. It’s the intent and sincerity behind these strategies that should be questioned. It defines legacies and separates true champions of a cause from charlatans.

That cannot and should not be lost in this discussion.

A Sai can be a harmless prop from eras past or a reason to flee in terror, depending on who is wielding it.

There needs to be some method of classifying the wolves, the shepherds, and the sheep, if only to eliminate strife and self-sabotage within a community. Critical thinking, a stomach for being politically-incorrect, and a nose for intellectual dishonesty would be beneficial here.

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