Standing Out From The Crowd

After so many days of reading about the shooting of Mike Brown by police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, after so many days of feeling unqualified to speak about the killing of a young black man by a predominantly white police dept., I finally feel that I am able to contribute.

I am white in a predominantly white community. I do not know the feeling of fear when confronted by the police. I have not suffered that prejudice. The closest I ever came was as a student when I was stopped in the street and searched because allegedly there had been a nearby burglary.

The luxury of my white privilege gave me the confidence to believe that I would emerge from that confrontation unharmed because I knew I was innocent. But there was another incident in my life where I felt much less secure.

I didn’t know at the time, but I am autistic with problems in social interaction. At the age of 14 I was flying home alone from Orlando, FL to Manchester, UK. I suffered a nose bleed on the flight from Orlando to NY JFK, and on landing with blood on my hands and face I was terrifyingly aware of the presence of cops with firearms all through the airport.

It is hard to describe the fear of that time. The fear that because of the way I looked to other people I would be targeted. That I would be pulled from the line and asked to step aside. The thing is,… even then I did not fear for my life. I cannot imagine how it might feel to know that there was a chance that I might be killed for being different.

To imagine that I might comply with police instructions, raise my hands, show that I hold no weapon and pose no threat… and still face the threat of being killed. How can anybody argue that what happened that day in Missouri did not contravene the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution: “nor shall any person […] be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

Mike Brown was an unarmed man shot dead by the police. I have seen no convincing excuse as to why the police officer discharged his firearm in this case. Except that as a white man he felt threatened by the fact that the victim was black. He was afraid of the color of his skin.

As an English woman I cannot claim that my own country is any better. There is widespread, casual equation of Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani people with Islamic terrorism, despite the fact that many of them are not Muslim but Hindu or Sikh, and the vast majority of Muslims are as opposed to terrorism as the majority of Christians or any other religious group.

The unpalatable fact remains that a significant number of white people feel uneasy in the presence of non-whites. They feel threatened. They feel afraid because non-whites are different. Fear causes irrational responses such as drawing a weapon on an unarmed teenager and shooting him dead.

That fear is wrong. It is unjustified. It is also at the heart of the problem. One cause of that fear is lack of integration between groups in society. In a community where whites go to one church (or synagogue, or mosque) and black folk go to another, how are they ever going to get to know one another? How can they move beyond that fear of the unknown?

I believe so strongly that the only way to an inclusive society where we all know and trust each other, where we recognize that everybody else is just a person (as are we), is to find ways that we can all participate in shared activities. Let us reach out and find our common ground.

It might be a shared love of craft beer, collecting Kenyan wood carving, or being a fan of Doctor Who. IT DOESN’T MATTER! At the heart of it all we are all human. We are all different, but each of us has something in common with somebody else. It might not be our beliefs — I know I’ve got close friends whose beliefs differ from mine — but that doesn’t stop us being friends. We connect on a level that owes nothing to religion. We are of the same species, sharing the same planet, and we found that we are more alike than different.

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9 thoughts on “Standing Out From The Crowd

  1. One of my favourite posts. “More alike than different” is the key. Accepting this means less fear (and less greed, which includes the fear of loss). Thank you for sharing this. Bob

  2. It’s a terrible, terrible thing this fear and prejudice, isn’t it Alex? And I do believe that it really all starts with the parents or carers of our children. Carers need to force themselves to hold their tongues, even when they cannot bring themselves to let go of prejudice, in order to allow their young to find their own way. South Africa as you know, has a horrific history; we were taught fear and prejudice (and my parents were left-wingers, so can you imagine what the right wingers were taught!).

    But it CAN change!
    Many years ago a friend of mine asked her pre-schooler if there were any blacks in his class… ‘what are blacks?’ the child asked; he had not noticed!!
    As post-graduates, my daughter and her friend were accepted into a varsity house, which turned out to have only black persons staying in it. The friend found herself unable to make the move: ‘we will have to share utensils with them’ she said. My daughter came home in tears: ‘how can she be my friend?’. Imagine my relief in knowing that I had succeeded in not passing down what I knew was wrong intellectually, but still struggled with emotionally (brain-washing is a terrible thing too). I tried to tell her to understand where her friend was coming from, and that the best she could do was to stay friends and show her, through living, how wrong she was. I am happy to add that my daughter announced recently that her friend had changed.

    Prejudice and fear are taught, and we as carers have no right to inflict this on the children of the future!
    Thank you for a very thoughtful and compassionate post!

    • Thank you for such an informative comment. I agree. When mixing with different people is a natural and unremarkable occurrence there is no prejudice. As you say, prejudice is learned both directly from our parents/carers and also indirectly from them via our peers.

      It is encouraging that there are people who want to change and are able to overcome that conditioning.

      • I suppose the bottom line really is to LOVE YOURSELF, and then there will be no need to project on to others! And before that can happen, awareness needs to happen. It seems such a gigantic and impossible task.
        I guess we can only do our part and hope for the best. Every bit does count. 🙂

  3. Pingback: Newsletter 1st September | Spectrum Bloggers Network

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