TIME Race

Reparations Could Prevent the Next Ferguson

Protesters march in the street as lightning flashes in the distance in Ferguson, Mo, Aug. 20, 2014.
Protesters march in the street as lightning flashes in the distance in Ferguson, Mo, Aug. 20, 2014. Jeff Roberson—AP

The U.S. government and society need to recognize the direct connections between continuing racial disparities in this country and the wrongs that gave rise to them

Watching the events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri, I can’t help thinking about the Holocaust and post-war Germany. As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, I’ve spent years watching Germany wrestle with its dark past. It’s just one of many places that have made efforts to understand and compensate for a difficult history: For nearly three decades, countries as varied as South Africa, Rwanda, and the nations of Latin America and post-Communist Eastern Europe have been engaged in this process, often called “transitional justice.” That’s a broad term for the ways in which societies deal with the legacies of past injustice. Many believe that countries can only move forward once they have come to terms with their past in this way.

We’re accustomed to looking abroad for examples of such processes. But maybe — especially in light of racial tensions once again revealed in Ferguson — it’s time for us to begin thinking about what “transitional justice” could mean for the U.S.

Like many nations, Americans are reluctant to see ourselves in the same light as human rights abusers elsewhere. And yet our history includes a number of glaring atrocities, including the genocide of Native Americans and slavery and its aftermath. But the United States lags behind other societies in its efforts to confront and make amends for that legacy.

What, exactly would that entail? Justice means more than putting perpetrators on trial. The transitional justice process also encompasses methods focused on the victims and the wider society, such as truthseeking, memorialization, education, institutional change, and material compensation — that is, actions that seek not only to punish, but to encourage a shared historical understanding, begin to repair the damage done, and ensure that it can’t happen again.

A first step in the process seems simple: official acknowledgment. Yet societies are often hesitant to admit historical wrongdoing. Armenians have been trying for decades to get Turkish authorities to acknowledge that they were the victims of an organized crime. To understand what this means, I’ve tried to imagine what I would feel had Germany not accepted responsibility for the Holocaust. Official silence negates the experience of the victims, but it’s also damaging to perpetrator societies; it feeds denial and false narratives of history that allow tensions and resentments to persist.

Apology often accompanies acknowledgment. Both Australia and Canada have recently apologized to their aboriginal populations for decades of removing children from their families. German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s famous gesture in Warsaw in 1970, when he fell to his knees before a memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, enraged many Germans who preferred not to face questions of guilt and responsibility. But this spontaneous gesture of atonement was enormously important to Holocaust survivors. In recent years, the Polish government has reversed decades of denial under its Communist government by acknowledging the participation of some Poles in anti-Semitic atrocities during World War II. Even the U.S. has managed an apology — in 1988, after a long campaign by Japanese-Americans, president Reagan apologized for the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

Yet the U.S. has never officially apologized for slavery or Jim Crow (and a 2009 “apology” to Native Americans, slipped into a Defense Appropriations Act, made little impact). Nor are there memorials to slavery or to the Native American genocide on a scale similar to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. That memorial, imperfect as it is, represents a conscious public acknowledgment by a perpetrator society of its own wrongdoing — both a rebuke to deniers and a purposeful statement that memory should not only be the job of victims.

One reason societies often resist officially acknowledging wrongdoing is the fear of being held financially accountable. Even years after the fact, victims or their descendants may ask for the return of confiscated property, bank accounts, or uncollected insurance claims, as they have in the case of the Holocaust, Eastern European communism, and the Armenian genocide. Reagan’s apology for our treatment of Japanese-Americans was accompanied by monetary compensation.

Financial reparations are in fact the most direct way to compensate victims for past suffering.

Germany was able to pay millions to survivors of the Holocaust who suffered quantifiable harm, and continues to do so (my father received a small monthly check that made an enormous difference, especially to a penniless new immigrant in the 1950s who had lost his entire family in the Holocaust; my mother, not a survivor, still receives a widow’s pension). Societies with fewer resources have offered other types of reparation: scholarships to victims’ children, affirmative action programs, and preferential housing, health care and other entitlements.

In the United States, however, we are more likely to insist that existing institutions already provide a sufficient foundation for improving conditions, as though we could erase the effects of past atrocity without undertaking any difficult changes. Except in the brief period following the Civil War, direct financial compensation for slavery and Jim Crow has never had a serious place on the national agenda. The most significant effort to compensate for the institutionalized legal, economic and social discrimination against black Americans that persisted into recent decades—a modern legacy of slavery and Jim Crow vividly described in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ recent Atlantic Monthly piece “The Case for Reparations” — was affirmative action, but it has largely been reversed by the Supreme Court. Very little has been done to directly address ongoing racial injustices such as the disproportionate incarceration of black Americans, which author Michelle Alexander has referred to as “The New Jim Crow.”

Transitional justice demands recognition that fulfilling responsibilities to the past requires more than merely lip service from a perpetrator society. Crimes against minority groups in any society bring benefits to the perpetrator group, and compensating for them can necessitate material sacrifice. But remorse often ends where personal sacrifice begins. Marco Williams’ 2006 documentary, Banished, tells the story of several black towns in the American South that were ethnically cleansed in the early 20th century. A black family from one of these towns sought to have a father’s remains reburied near their new home and was met with sympathy from the white residents of the town — until they asked the town to pay the costs. As in Germany, where polls over the years have shown significant minorities that deny an ongoing financial responsibility towards the victims of the Holocaust, many fail to see why they should be held individually accountable for the acts of their parents or grandparents. The benefits accrued through the injustices of the past are not always apparent.

One of the most important aspects of successful transitional justice, therefore, lies in illuminating not only the victims’ suffering, but the ways in which an entire society continues to bear the burdens of history. This helps elevate an important point: correcting injustice may require affirmative steps. The U.S. government and society need to recognize — and educate citizens on — the direct connections between continuing racial disparities in this country and the wrongs that gave rise to them, and to talk far more about the responsibilities we all share for repairing the damage. Perhaps Ferguson – which has revealed what can happen when we suppress these conversations – will finally motivate us to think about how to address the harms, whether through material reparations or otherwise. If we’re willing to start talking, we’ll find no shortage of role models for transitional justice throughout the world to help us take the next steps.

Belinda Cooper is a Senior Fellow at the World Policy Institute and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights and New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. This piece originally appeared on The Weekly Wonk.

 

TIME Race

Negrophobia: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and America’s Fear of Black People

Demonstrators march down West Florissant during a peaceful march in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, near Ferguson, Mio., Aug. 18, 2014.
Demonstrators march down West Florissant during a peaceful march in reaction to the shooting of Michael Brown, near Ferguson, Mio., Aug. 18, 2014. Lucas Jackson—Reuters

Phobias are extreme aversions embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. Some people are afraid of black people.

Phobias are lethal. This summer’s series of prominent killings of unarmed Black men, Michael Brown being the most covered, have forced me to come to terms with my own fear: I am an arachnophobe.

A few nights ago, I noticed a dark spot in my periphery. Suddenly it twitched. My stomach dropped. The dark spot was a five-inch spider, looking as if it had muscle and bone. There was no possible way I could sleep soundly until the behemoth was neutralized. I scrambled to find a shoe, then swung it with all my might. With a clap of thunder, the big dark enemy was no more; flattened to a wall stencil. Relief.

Phobias are extreme aversions. They are embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. For me, spiders trigger overreactions. For others, it can be people.

Black people.

Before there was Michael Brown, there was Eric Garner, a dark spot in the periphery of the NYPD—a trigger for their phobia. There was no possible way they could patrol confidently that day without assurance the behemoth was neutralized.

Garner’s 400-pound anatomy forms an object of American Negrophobia: the unjustified fear of black people. Studies show that Black people, particularly Black men, are the group most feared by White adults. Negrophobia fuels the triangular system of oppression that keeps people of color pinned into hapless ghettos between the pillars of militarized police, starved inner-city schools, and voracious prisons. And this summer there weren’t only Garner and Brown; there were John Crawford, and Ezell Ford, and many others who will not be eulogized in the media.

Even the most well-intentioned people sometimes have difficulty avoiding discourses that reinforce problematic notions of Black physicality. A few months ago, I got into a conversation with a mentor of mine, a Stanford administrator. This individual told a story of a visit to a penitentiary where there was a stellar performance of Shakespeare’s Othello by a cast of inmates. My mentor’s description of the lead, a brawny African-American male convict, will always fascinate me. In this person’s words, the thespian was a “large, beautiful, intimidating Black man.”

This stream of modifiers—large, beautiful, and intimidating—is normally reserved for majestic, predatory beasts like tigers, bears, or dragons. It describes something both appealing and appalling, but not typically a human. You can see classic buck and brute tropes echoed in various corners of modern popular culture. These types of perceptions of historically marginalized groups can, in the wrong circumstances, foment phobias—and dangerous overreactions.

But misperception is nothing new. The bestial depiction, and treatment, of Black people follows a linear history from the times of pickaninny children to the current United States president.

I hate to think this is what the police see when they approach any unarmed Black person—a predator that has escaped captivity and must be tranquilized before he or she wreaks havoc. And yet. An officer quelling Ferguson protests can be heard screaming on live television, “Bring it, all you f****** animals!” to the predominantly Black demonstrators.

Back to the spider once more: my perception of the fear and the ability of that spider to actually produce the threat I have mentally assigned it were completely disproportionate. It was just me spooking myself into fury. Phobic people hyperbolize a threat that is not actually present, and trip themselves into aggression. We as Americans must learn to see each other properly and not through the lens of phobia.

This is a plea to those officers who are unflinching in the gravest of dangers, whose courage is forged in the crucible of our nation’s worst emergencies, yet who lose all composure when facing the grimace of a Black man. The concept of diversity, like Eric Garner, is large, beautiful, and sometimes intimidating. America will only be America once we learn how to fully appreciate it, not fear it. One day, I hope, we won’t see our fellow humans as dark spots.

Brandon Hill is a junior at Stanford University, studying political science and African & African American Studies. Raised in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, he has interned for the White House and UNICEF.

TIME Business

Equal Opportunity Is Over. It’s Time for ‘Racial Realism’

Getty Images

A shift in demographics means that, increasingly, many employers are treating race as a qualification

Californians, like other Americans, like to think that race should never be a qualification for a job, that everyone deserves an equal opportunity and a fair shake. This principle undergirds our Civil Rights Act, which turns 50 this month. And yet increasingly, many employers are treating race as a qualification, especially for people of color. Just look at the Los Angeles Lakers’ acquisition of Jeremy Lin. “We think Jeremy will be warmly embraced by our fans and our community,” said General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Putting Lin on the court is a smart economic move in the country’s largest Asian-American market.

The prevalence of this kind of hiring—particularly in California, America’s most populous and most diverse state—suggests that the Civil Rights Act needs to be updated. California in 2014 certainly looks nothing like Alabama and Mississippi of 1964, which were Congress’s focus when it passed that year’s Civil Rights Act. The main question then was how to provide equal opportunity for African-Americans. The answer at that time was Title VII of the act, which prohibited racial discrimination in employment, and later court decisions allowing for affirmative action.

Twenty-first-century employers have come to value racial differences in ways that were unheard of in 1964, and do not fit with traditional conceptions of affirmative action. Organizations of all kinds today hire and place workers using a practice I have called “racial realism”: seeing color as a real and significant part of workers’ identities, a qualification that is good for business.

As with the Lakers and Lin, employers use racial realism to make customers of different backgrounds feel comfortable. As San Francisco-based Wells Fargo explains on its website: “To know our customers and serve them well, the diversity of team members throughout our ranks should reflect the diversity of the communities we serve.”

Government employers, including police departments and school districts, have also invoked racial realism, seeking to mirror the populations they serve to deliver more effective services. For example, California’s Education Code declares the importance of hiring racially diverse teachers so that “the minority student [has] available to him or her the positive image provided by minority classified and certificated employees.”

In low-skilled jobs, racial realism is often linked to perceived variations in abilities, rather than customer reactions. One study of Los Angeles employers found a common pattern of preference for Latinos due to their perceived diligence.

While racial realism lacks the animus that characterized the racism of the Deep South 50 years ago, it is still problematic. The Civil Rights Act provides no authorization for race to be a job qualification. And the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has denied the legality of motivations like Wells Fargo’s. If employers in Alabama could claim they preferred white workers because their customers preferred white workers, the cause of equal opportunity would never have gotten off the ground. Courts have ruled that firms should have their workforces mirror their job applicant pools, not their customer bases. And California’s rationale for teacher diversity would seem to have been precluded by a 1986 Supreme Court decision, which explicitly stated that hiring teachers to be racial role models was impermissible.

Moreover, the employer preference for Latino workers, often immigrants, is often propelled by stereotypes, and often at the expense of other workers stereotyped differently, especially African-Americans. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has initiated action against employers who use this strategy, grouping the cases under a heading no one would have considered in 1964: “Hispanic Preference.”

For high-skilled nonwhite workers, racial realism can be a double-edged sword. They may have ready access to jobs—then find themselves pigeonholed in positions where they deal with same-race clients or citizens.

Why the shift from equal opportunity to racial realism? Demographics. American birthrates declined as the country became more educated, creating a great demand for low-skilled immigrant labor. Employer demand for labor brought immigrant workers here, but now immigrants themselves, and their descendants, are shaping employment patterns as consumers. Employers are feeling pressure to balance the rights of their workers and the interests of customers and citizens, including those of color, who rightfully expect the best service from businesses and especially from government.

The Civil Rights Act, as written, puts employers and employees alike in a bind. It is time to revisit the law, and make adaptations that fit our new demography—and the law’s original goal of equal opportunity for America’s most disadvantaged.

John D. Skrentny—co-director of the Center for Comparative Immigration Studies and professor of sociology at the University of California, San Diego—is author of After Civil Rights: Racial Realism in the New American Workplace (Princeton University Press).

TIME U.S.

If You Want to See Inequality in the U.S. at Its Worst, Visit an Impound Lot

For millions of Americans a towed car can lead to a crippling spiral of stress, debt, joblessness, illness and, in many cases, incarceration.

On a recent San Francisco afternoon, I returned to where I’d parked my car, but it was gone. A “No Parking” sign indicated that parking was prohibited after 3:00 PM on weekends. It was 3:15. I called the telephone number on the sign and a clerk affirmed that my car had been towed to an impound lot.

I took a cab and entered a single-story brick building where a few dozen people were crowded together in a scene that evoked Kafka; weariness, frustration and anger were palpable. Some stood in line, some paced and some sat hunched on the floor. A family huddled in a corner, an infant asleep on the father’s shoulder. A woman on a pay phone wept as she begged whomever was on the line to find money so she could get her car back–she said she needed $875. “I’m gonna lose my job if I’m not there at 5.”

Clerks sat on stools behind Plexiglas. At a window, a man pleaded with an agent, “I have to pick up my kids in less than an hour. What am I supposed to do?” At the next window, another man railed loudly and furiously, yelling, “How the hell am I supposed to get my goddam money if I can’t get to goddam work?” The clerk said, “If you can’t get cash, you can pay by credit card or cashier’s check.” The man shouted, “And if I had a goddam limousine, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

A man waiting in line with me told me that he owned a landscaping business that depended on his truck, which had been towed three days earlier. “I can’t work,” he said. “The crew don’t work. Everything I need is in the truck.” It had been towed when he parked in a red zone in front of an auto-parts store. He’d been late to a job and ran into the store to buy a spark plug for a broken lawn mower. He didn’t have money enough that day to pay the $472 towing fee. After the first four hours, charges began accumulating—about $65.00 a day. (They didn’t include the $72 cost of the parking ticket.) He had borrowed $700, which he held near his chest in an envelope. He said it would take “I hope no more than a year” to repay the loan, for which he was being charged 50% of the loan amount. “I had no choice,” he said. He had already lost four days’ income and didn’t know how he was going to pay his bills, including rent, due that week.

When I reached the front of the line, I handed the clerk my credit card, on which she charged $472. I retrieved my car and drove home. I left behind the roomful of my fellow citizens, a disparate group bound together by the fact that they didn’t have the cash or credit required to free their impounded cars, a fact that threatened livelihoods, stressed families and broke budgets, forcing some people to choose between essentials and paying fees that would continue to accumulate and leave them without another essential, transportation, which in turn could lead to other calamities. If they didn’t find a way to pay the fees, they would ultimately lose their cars (the city auctions them), a loss that for some would be a devastating setback. For me, a towed car was an inconvenience. For them, it was a catastrophe.

Some cases of injustice in America are reported far and wide, such as the horrific shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed man in Ferguson, Missouri, targeted by police in what many view as an egregious case of racial profiling. However, we don’t often hear about the countless quieter injustices suffered by tens of millions of Americans on a daily basis. They experience inequities of access to opportunities, quality medical and dental care, quality education, healthful food, affordable and safe housing, childcare, credit, psychological counseling, legal representation, insurance and more. For them, events that others weather unhappily but routinely—a towed car, for example—can lead to a crippling spiral of stress, debt, joblessness, illness and, in many cases, incarceration.

The final injustice comes when they die early, which many do—and not only by violence. More often, death comes slower, from under- or untreated physical and mental illness, poor nutrition and chronic stress as it impacts health. Several years ago, Senator Bernie Sanders presented a report to the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, in which he highlighted research that showed that the wealthiest Americans on average live at least 6.5 years longer than those in the lowest income group. In 2009, the mortality rate for African American infants was more than twice that of white infants. The poor in this country have higher rates of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and depression, according to Dr. Steven Woolf, director of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. According to the Health and Aging report, “The lower people’s income, the earlier they die and the sicker they live,” Woolf said. “Neighborhoods in Boston and Baltimore have a lower life expectancy than Ethiopia and Sudan. Azerbaijan has a higher life expectancy than areas of Chicago.”

When events like the Michael Brown shooting occur that inflame people and motivate them to take to the streets to protest, we are reminded that there is not justice for all in America. We must also acknowledge and condemn the daily injustices born of a system that slowly grinds down the people who can least afford it, and, in too many cases to count, leads to their early death. In the line at the San Francisco impound lot, I overheard the crying woman ahead of me telling the clerk, “I need my car to get home to my children.” The clerk responded, “I wish I could help you, ma’am, but if you don’t have the money, there’s nothing I can do.”

David Sheff’s latest book is Clean: Overcoming Addiction and Ending America’s Greatest Tragedy, the follow-up to his New YorkTimes No. 1 best seller, Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction. Follow him on Twitter @david_sheff.

TIME U.S.

Oscar Grant’s Mother: ‘We Have to Be Relentless in the Vindication of Our Slain Sons’

US-CRIME-RACE-POLICE-SHOOTING-FUNERAL
Michael Brown Sr, yells out as his son's casket is lowered into the ground at St. Peter's Cemetery in St. Louis on Aug. 25, 2014. Richard Perry—Pool/Getty Images

In 2009, police shot and killed an unarmed African American man at a California transit station. His mother, in a letter to the Brown family, writes about the need to shake the consciousness of America. His story was the basis of the film Fruitvale Station.

To the Brown Family:

I give you my heartfelt condolences for your immeasurable loss as you bury and bid farewell to your son.

No words can ever assuage the pain we feel as parents when our precious children are taken away from us in such a violent, senseless manner. For 18 years, your son Michael has helped define the meaning and quality of your life, providing moments of joy and laughter, which are truly priceless. Those never having the opportunity to meet Michael could never appreciate his value the way you do.

Your son, like mine, was unarmed at the time he was killed by a law enforcement officer. My son, Oscar Grant, was being restrained by an officer and lying face down on a platform at the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland, Calif., when a second officer named Johannes Mehserle approached and shot him in the back. At trial, Mehserle claims to have mistakenly pulled a handgun instead of a Taser®, and was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. I will always believe that Mehserle intended to shoot my son because of a negative stereotype of African American males.

I have not seen a single sunrise or bouquet of roses that warmed my heart as much as my son’s smile. I pray that, as the days go by, you are strengthened by the positive memories of your precious son. Although my words will never replace what has been taken away from you, I hope they convey how much I understand your pain, a pain I wish you never had to endure.

While I share your pain, I also share your frustration. As parents, we accept the great honor and responsibility of raising and protecting our children until they are old enough to make moral decisions and to entrust their safety to society. At that point, society takes on the great responsibility of guaranteeing our unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Your son’s right to life was summarily and unceremoniously taken away without judge, jury or due process. Because of the immeasurable value of his life, I encourage you to push through your pain and frustration, and demand that society carry out its great constitutional responsibility and provide an accounting.

In your quest for truth, please do not let anyone distract you from the material issue. If society breaches its promise by allowing our unarmed youth to be slain at the unfettered discretion of law enforcement without recompense, the truths set forth in this country’s founding documents are no longer self-evident.

This is where we, as parents, have to be relentless in the vindication of our slain sons. Through our pain and frustration, we must shake the consciousness of America and make society answer why it empowers law enforcement to kill our unarmed children.

As parents and concerned citizens, we must demand that law enforcement be more transparent in its investigations, and that it be held to the same standard of proof that citizens are held to in claiming self-defense to a deadly shooting. We must also demand that law enforcement better utilize certain tools already at its disposal, such as the battery of psychological tests it deploys for new recruits to potentially screen out racial bias and negative stereotypes. Finally, we must continue to challenge society to see our youth as unique, beloved individuals, not merely as one among the crowd.

Here, I pledge my support to you in challenging society to live up to its obligation. The Oscar Grant Foundation will also work tirelessly with you until society embraces the enduring truth—that the lives of our children are no less valuable than the lives of the officers who are sworn to protect them.

Our prayers are continually with you.

Wanda Johnson

Wanda Johnson is the mother of Oscar Grant III, and founder of the Oscar Grant Foundation.

TIME

A White Gay Man and a Black Woman Hug It Out

Steve Friess & Courtney Jones Stevens

In the name of an open dialogue on race, two sides of a divisive opinion try to come together in an online chat

Last month, Time.com posted a piece, “Dear Black Women: White Gays Are Your Allies, So Don’t Push Us Away,” by regular contributor Steve Friess responding to University of Mississippi student Sierra Mannie’s op-ed, “Dear White Gays: Stop Stealing Black Female Culture,” also published on Time.com.

The reaction to both pieces was explosive, proving how large the racial divide remains in America and how different the perspectives are of even well-intended people of both sides.

After engaging with his dissenters, Friess asked one of the women with whom he exchanged emails to have an on-the-record chat, in the name of an “open dialogue about race.” Courtney Jones-Stevens, a 26-year-old who recently earned a master’s degree in college student affairs administration from the University of Georgia.

Their conversation has been edited for space and approved by both parties.

* * *

SF: Good afternoon, Courtney. How are you?

CJS: I’m not feeling especially peaceful today in general considering what all has transpired in Missouri, but I’m ready for some insightful discourse.

SF: So is this a good time to have a dialogue on race relations in America?

CJS: It’s a good time for white allies to get into white communities and do some educating.

SF: Well, that’s a good segue to why we’re talking in the first place. I wrote a piece that I had hoped was a way of describing the commonalities between white gay men and black women and why we ought to be allies. I felt the original writer, Sierra Mannie, singled out a pretty small group of people—white gay men maybe make up one percent of all non-black people— for ridicule and attack.

CJS: Correct.

SF: Please tell me as best you can what you found wrong about what I said.

CJS: I know the title set the tone as directive and patronizing.

SF: I agree the headline was specifically problematic. It was, however, written as a parallel to the title of Mannie’s piece. Do you see the reverse problem of tone and disrespect?

CJS: I do empathize. I can see parallels in the casting out of gay White men and Black women. But for many Black women, race and gender exists in a strange space. What resonated from Mannie’s piece was that, although you may not be one of them, there are plenty of gay White men who at least make attempts to emulate Black women. You felt she was speaking to you even though you say you aren’t one of those men, and that speaks volumes to how privilege works.

SF: The discussion of privilege is frustrating because black people don’t want their world views, worth or ideas boiled down or dismissed based on their color. Yes, I’m white. And male. And gay. And disabled. And Jewish. Why does my perspective become invalid because of some of my traits?

CJS: Not invalid, but you can never understand what it is to be Black in America, to be forever objectified and subjugated. Mannie didn’t come from a place of disdain but exhaustion. I cannot tell you how many experiences I’ve had with microaggressions, with decent white folks who assume things about me and approach me or respond to me accordingly.

SF: You say many white gay guys emulate black women. I don’t believe there are so many, but if there are some, so what? Anyone admiring and celebrating black female culture would seem like people who are not out to harm you.

CJS: Steve, if someone says, “X is offensive and it’s not taken as you might have intended,” and your objective is to forge an alliance, your respond cannot be, “So what?” Do you know how many times I get “Whaddup sistah girl?!” and my white counterparts get a simple, “Hello.” Or how many times I’ve been asked to teach someone how to twerk. It’s just exhausting. This is from white gay men in the work place, in bars and clubs, etc.

SF: You must understand that that sounds completely bizarre and alien to me. And most gay white men I know.

CJS: Maybe it’s regional. I doubt it is. In the South, using blackness and being adjacent to black things is a cash cow.

SF: Do white straight men do this?

CJS: Absolutely. Although from straight white men, it’s more of a sexual objectification and fetishizing.

SF: So it’s a white male thing. Why isolate a very small portion of white men, the gays, for attack? Mannie accuses white gay men who “act” too black-female of being cultural thieves.

CJS: Mannie called out some folks who’ve flown under the radar.

SF: So the sense is there’s been enough written about racist behavior coming from the white world in general and that her piece was about a subset, white gays, who hadn’t been called out?

CJS: Right. The racism that’s rampant in the LGBT community and the cultural appropriation that happens in that community goes unnoticed. Nobody has a problem with gays doing the “Single Ladies” choreography in the club with each other, but there comes a point where we enter territory in which we don’t belong.

SF: One of the great ironies is that I’ve been shopping an essay for more than a year in which I react to Andrew Sullivan and others who are just stunned—stunned— by the head-spinning advances toward gay acceptance. It’s really easy and obvious; white men and women have been so involved. Whites came while having been embedded or secretly on the inside of America’s levers of power. Look at the gay movement through the lens of privilege and it’s pretty easy to see why it has been so successful so fast.

CJS: Okay. This is good. As awful as it is to hide parts of your identity, gays can and have. And to climb to a position of power with whiteness and then come out, I can’t describe it, but I don’t have the luxury of doing it. Who I am, what people think about who I am, and how people treat me on a daily basis is always visible. And that’s what’s so disturbing about folks from all walks of life who pick parts of who I am to use for their own amusement or advancement and tuck those things away when they no longer need them.

SF: Are we trying to determine whose historic burden has been worse? Because going the first 20 years or so of your life in a family that might reject you like a foreign organ is not a way to prepare anyone for a happy life.

CJS: No. I don’t play that game.

SF: But aren’t we? When you or Mannie want to describe why being closeted and fearing everything dear to you could be ruined or taken from you if your identity is known is someone a luxury?

CJS: It would be a luxury to be seen as something other than my color and gender at the outset of every interaction.

SF: For most of my life, I wore gigantic hearing aids. People always treated me as though I was mentally impaired until they got to know me. Anyone with any physical deformity, too, knows how it feels to be judged on sight. It’s not just people of color.

CJS: Yes, but do the police follow you, stop you, frisk you? Do they assume you have a weapon and shoot you? Do you see that?

SF: Yes. I do. Just because I felt called to defend very nelly gay guys doesn’t mean I can’t see the difference.

CJS: Fair enough.

SF: During the firestorm that followed my piece, I was goaded by many people to explain what I had done for black women or what all gays had done. And any time I offered any answer, I was then attacked because that wasn’t good enough or people thought, “Oh, so just because you did this you think…” It was incredibly frustrating.

CJS: I’m trying to think of the best way to say this. It’s multi-pronged. There is never enough to do when a cause is still ongoing. And I am honestly sitting here trying to think of instances where gay White men have stood side by side with Black women in solidarity. I’m stumped. And that’s not to say that it never happens, but I’m at a loss for examples.

SF: Actually, several prominent gay groups and people have spoken out about the Michael Brown death. I just sent you a press release showing a statement from 17 major gay groups condemning the Ferguson police. Are you surprised by that?

CJS: I wouldn’t say surprised I am glad to see it. It is unexpected, but I wasn’t taken aback.

SF: The reaction of the gay community to this incident isn’t as novel as you think. Going back 20 years, I’ve seen gay organizations boycott states that passed anti-black or anti-Hispanic laws. There were columns in the gay press about what Trayvon Martin had to do with gay social justice. I want to believe that you’ve seen pro-gay writing in the black media as well that I’d never have known about. It doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

CJS: Right and because access to that isn’t as open as it should be, it’s easier to say it doesn’t exist. I guess I have to bear responsibility for not having looked. But, still, the euphoric alliance you wrote about does not exist, and I don’t know many people on either side making an effort to forge it.

SF We can’t solve this or even pretend to represent anyone more than ourselves, but I look at these two groups and I see a lot of commonality. And people were hectoring me, “What? What is there in common?” Do you see it?

CJS: Between white gay men and black women? It’s nothing I’ve ever even considered. I suppose it exists, but I’ve not had a chance to build many relationships on that foundation.

SF: Why? Surely the opportunity has presented itself.

CJS: It’s not an organic thing for me, honestly.

SF: That’s where I’m confused, because it is organic for me. And to say that sounds like I’m going, “some of my best friends are…”

CJS: I don’t feel like being a social justice educator in every single interaction, you know? Sometimes I just want to be. I know several gay white guys and I’ve built great relationships, but they weren’t based on shared experiences of oppression.

SF: Well, no. That’s not a basis, but it is something you learn about one another as you go through life.

CJS: Yes, for sure.

SF: So Mannie wrote from her experience. I wrote from mine. I live near Detroit, I’ve always had a very broad range of close friends not only of races but also of different ages. And because I see it that way, because I feel optimistic that people who get to know one another will like and want to help one another, I walked into a buzzsaw with this piece.

CJS: Yes, yes you did. Your piece seemed to come from a place where gay white men are extending the savior hand and helping us black girls come up from the depths as you all have done so swiftly.

SF: I didn’t mean it that way! I just saw two groups with a lot in common who should be encouraged to help one another. It feels like a delicate line.

CJS: It is. Absolutely.

SF: People of good intentions will step on (and in) it.

CJS: In a way, we have to walk on eggshells with each other until a foundation built on trust has been laid. I believe in treading lightly as a general rule because I never know what life experiences have altered someone’s perspective.

SF: But whenever I hear about the importance of having a “dialogue on race,” I wonder – who is supposed to do this? Who qualifies? How does anyone do it without causing controversy or being attacked? What does it even mean? If the only people who can do it are the people who know precisely how not to misspeak or those who are willing to just cede the entire argument to the other people, what good is it?

CJS: Opening a dialogue should go something like what took place with us. Neither of us started by attacking each other personally. We have very different epistemologies, but we built something before having this conversation.

SF: Take the election of Obama. No, it didn’t end racism. But it was something substantial that showed millions of white people can look beyond race.

CJS: No one wants white people to look beyond race.

SF: Wait. You don’t?

CJS: I want to be seen for who I am. I want my history to be understood. I want my cultural differences to be acknowledged and appreciated without being encroached upon or perverted.

SF: We’re going to need to wrap up. Do you have questions for me.

CJS: We were actually able to cover my questions. The dialogue delved into your thought process. That’s what I wanted to know more about.

SF: Well, let me be clear. My intent was not to issue marching orders. It was not to pretend to be a savior. It was to describe my own reality, the world I dwell in. Mine is as legitimate as that of Mannie’s. But I felt like I was describing ways of coming together and she was trying to divide groups.

CJS: You’re entitled to have a reaction. I genuinely believe in people’s reactions being shaped by their experiences. Much of the way we respond to things is shaded by what we know to be true based on the lives we lead.

SF: Also, I didn’t enjoy being run through the ringer on Twitter, but I couldn’t deny that many people were telling me something hard to hear. I tried to agree with some and explain my differences with others, and that got distorted and amplified. So after this comes out, I am going to try to keep my trap shut and observe regardless of how hurtful and dehumanizing much of the reaction can be there.

CJS: I’m definitely nervous about the response. I’m grateful for this opportunity, but nervous.

SF: Well, here’s a hint I learned a little bit too late: The “mute” button on Twitter is your friend.

TIME U.S.

Ferguson Pastor: How to Handle a Confrontation With the Police

The Rev. Willis Johnson confronts 18-year-old Joshua Wilson as protesters defy police and block traffic on West Florissant Avenue at Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014.
The Rev. Willis Johnson (right) talks to 18-year-old Joshua Wilson as protesters defy police and block traffic on West Florissant Avenue at Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 13, 2014. Sid Hastings—The Washington Post/Getty Images

Within African-American communities and families, “the talk” is too often a cautionary tale

Every parent has had “the talk” at some time or another. All of us, no matter what our socioeconomic situation, race or ethnicity, have sat across from our children and shared with them what to do or how to behave when faced with the sometimes troubling realities of life. There is no script that tells us what to say, where to stand or how to feel. Despite this, as parents know, we try to equip our children for when these inevitable yet unpredictable situations arise.

As a pastor and community leader in Ferguson, Missouri, I have tried to keep protestors out of harm’s way. Within African-American communities and families, “the talk” too often has been a cautionary tale of how to respond to the police – how to navigate the precarious relations between citizens and those who are supposed to protect and serve the community.

Like many young men, when I was beginning to drive, my father sat me down and told me what to do if ever pulled over by the police. I was to present myself respectfully and do whatever was asked of me in order to remove myself from the immediate situation—to get out of harm’s way. He also taught me to be observant, and to get a badge number or an officer’s name if possible so that there would be a means to protect myself should it come to that. Unfortunately, I have had to use my father’s instructions throughout my life. I have been stopped while driving as a teen, as a university student, and just weeks ago.

My own experiences with the police are not much different from that of anyone else. I have been pulled over for just cause. Who hasn’t? But the reality is that you do not have to have done anything wrong to be stopped. Most recently, an officer followed me for about a quarter of a mile before turning on his siren lights. I was stopped for not having two license plates and got off with a warning. But throughout this encounter, I replayed my father’s instructions in my mind.

Anytime I am pulled over, I turn down my music and sit still. I make my hands visible. While I look in the direction of the officer, I rarely make eye contact. I usually have my ID, registration and insurance card ready. But if I don’t, I ask permission to reach into my console before doing so. Through my body language, I try to show deference to the officer. And I will often share that I am a pastor, to try to diffuse the situation. However, even that has the potential to be received as dangerous. A sharp mind can be considered a threat to the police.

Most people think you must have done something in order to be stopped. But that is not always the case. My father’s advice and the advice of many parents is don’t give the police probable cause. Don’t even put yourself in the situation where police can get handcuffs on you because they will put them on as tight as they can. Because if they stop you for anything, they will find something.

The talk my father gave me as a teen was a natural progression of regular talks that began as a small boy. The earliest version of this talk was to simply follow directions. His advice helped shape my encounters with police, and I have drawn on his wisdom in my own conversations with my children, especially my teenage son. And I know it will not be the last conversation I have with either my son or daughter on the subject. This is our reality.

My conversations with my children focus on ways in which they might be able to succeed and thrive in a challenging world, not just on surviving a particular situation. Our talks are about recognizing the dangers lurking around the corner, while also creating a way of being in the world. Above all else, these talks are about my desire to protect my children.

Situations like the one we face in Ferguson are not isolated incidents in our country, or even our world. For so many families across the country, these conversations are a regular occurrence. My role as a pastor and community leader is to not tell people what to think, but to encourage them to ask questions and to use the community as a resource. There is no one-size-fits-all guide. The talk I have with my children will sound different than yours. If you do not know where to begin, seek out faith communities, veteran parents, social workers and teachers in your school system. There are people willing to guide you through this rite of passage.

There is a whole lot of talk going on right now. The shooting of Michael Brown has fueled conversation at the national level. At some point, the cameras and reporters will go home and the headlines about Ferguson will recede. And parents will still sit across from their children and begin “the talk.” As a human being, and as a citizen, pastor and father, I am invested in what that conversation sounds like. I think you should be, too.

A third-generation educator, Dr. F. Willis Johnson is senior minister of the Wellspring Church in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominately African-American intergenerational urban church plant. He was educated at United Theological Seminary in Dayton.

TIME Crime

Grand Jury to Probe Ferguson Teen’s Death

As city issues call for "nighttime quiet and reconciliation"

A grand jury will begin investigating the circumstances surrounding the fatal police shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., officials said Tuesday, an incident that has sparked more than a week of violent protests in the St. Louis suburb.

A spokesman for the St. Louis County prosecutor on the case told Bloomberg News that a grand jury probe would begin on Wednesday, and that grand jurors will ask Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson to testify about the events that led to the shooting of Michael Brown.

Meanwhile, the city of Ferguson released a notice to residents urging them to stay indoors at night and allow “peace to settle in, and allow for the justice process to take its course.”

The city has been rocked by nighttime protests over the past 10 days, which police have responded to with volleys of tear gas.

TIME Crime

Watch: Protesters Hit With Tear Gas and Rubber Bullets During Ferguson Unrest

The violent protests entered a fifth day in Ferguson with little sign of slowing down

+ READ ARTICLE

As fresh violence broke out Wednesday in Ferguson, Mo., local resident Mustafa Hussein recorded night vision footage of police shooting tear gas at demonstrators.

The media have had difficulty obtaining footage of the continuing unrest in Ferguson: reporters and camera crews have been kept at bay, and the Federal Aviation Administration issued a no-fly zone over Ferguson, prohibiting private aircrafts, including news helicopters, from flying below 3,000 feet in a 3-mile radius around the town.

In the rare footage above, police can be seen blasting deafening sirens at the protesters gathered in the streets. Shortly after, Ferguson police are shown shooting teargas canisters and rubber bullets at them. The footage shown was shot around 8:45-9:00pm Wednesday evening.

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