NYPD Facebook Flap Is a Copout
Blacks can't make white people less racist, but there are some things we can do.
Orlando Patterson nailed this nicely in his The Ordeal of Integration, which I'll paraphrase: It's not that America remains as racist as it used to be. It's that for too many black people, the white people they are most likely to meet are cops, who are last bastions of a kind of racism that used to be common among whites of all walks.
So as repulsed as I am by the way those cops discussed black people on that site, I do not see them as "white America." They are some whites. We cannot scream to the heavens when whites imply that blacks are monolithic and then read about these cops and say, "That's white people for you," as if it were 1959.
And then the second thing: Is it our job to somehow make these sons and grandsons of Archie Bunker less racist? Well, I'm not sure how we would do that -- especially given that their problem with West Indian Day is not just that its attendees are black. Let's face it: What motivated the posts is the violence the parade attracts year after year, often leading to cops getting shot, too.
The sense that West Indian American Day means shootings is, sadly, not a stereotype. This year two cops were shot, and more importantly, three other people were killed. One was an innocent bystander; two were gunmen themselves. There were deaths or shootings at the parade in 2003, 2005, 2006 and 2007 as well, and in 2009, two men were shot dead at a barbecue celebrating the parade, which is essentially the same thing.
Now, who among us is really comfortable saying that the reason for these shootings year after year is racism? Or is it even the main lesson from these deaths and injuries that institutional racism exists?
I submit that no conception of black pride could really allow that conclusion. Clearly, we need to address the community in which this kind of thing is the norm at what is supposed to be a celebration. I repeat: The cops are hardly models of social probity, either. I have written about the injustice of what happened to City Councilman Jumaane Williams and public-advocate aide Kirsten John Foy at this year's parade. This was pure stereotyping and ignorance, and sure, racism played a part in it.
But there is no logical reason that those arrests were somehow more important than the death of that bystander, 56-year-old mother Denise Gay, who was killed -- in front of her daughter -- during a firefight initiated by black men. No one would look her survivors in the eye and say that what killed Gay was racism. And none of us could look them in the eye and tell them that we'll have to treat Gay's death as ordinary until racism doesn't exist.
We have done better than that in the past, and we should now. Even if the cops say disgusting things about us on Facebook.
John McWhorter is a contributing editor to The Root.