The Myth of The Post-Racial Society

Many in our nation are heartbroken and enraged at the killing of Michael Brown, the unarmed 18 year old black youth who was shot to death in Ferguson, MO by a white police officer.

Unfortunately, according to Dr. George Yancy, this week’s guest on my blogtalk radio show, this tragedy will occur again, and again, and again. Young, innocent, black males like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin – (whom Dr. Yancy and I discussed on my show over a year ago) – will continue to die until American society confronts its systemic racism.

We have a long road to walk. Dr. Yancy is a profoundly accomplished scholar on the critical philosophy of race with a PhD from Duquesne University as well as M.A’s from Yale and NYU; according to him, racism is embedded in our culture in a way that the majority of our white citizenry does not – and perhaps cannot – perceive. Many of us view the Michael Brown case as an isolated moment, an aberrant incident rather than a symptom of systemic violence. After all, we elected a black President, didn’t we? We are all saddened by this child’s death, aren’t we? And what if it was an honest mistake? There is video evidence of Michael Brown potentially shoplifting…

Dr. Yancy gives us the ideas and language needed to debunk the above reasoning, but it can be difficult to digest. First of all, the idea that Michael Brown’s killing is linked to potential shoplifting illustrates what Dr. Yancy calls the “niggerization” of the black body. Only a society that views the black body as sub-human, as an automatic and hyper-aggressive threat, could even entertain the justification of a child’s killing with petty thievery. But can we go so far as to say that mainstream, American society dehumanizes black people? Do we truly approach all black bodies with unnecessary aggression? Dr. Yancy gave us some historical and psychological context to process this.

We all know about slavery of course. But have you ever heard of Mary Turner, a pregnant black woman who identified her husband’s lynchers in 1918? She was tied to a tree, upside down, and burned to death. Her stomach was sliced open and, when the fetus fell to the ground, a white man smashed its skull with his boot. What about Claude Neal who, in 1932, was accused of rape? He had his genitals removed and stuffed in his mouth, was made to say he enjoyed it, and then his fingers were cut off and he was burned all over with a hot iron. Let’s use some modern examples: in 1999, Amaduo Diallo was shot 41 times while reaching for his wallet; Jordan Davis was shot for listening to music – in 2012. Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are victims of the continuous brutality toward African Americans by white people in power. White racism is a fact. And it asserts itself even in our most basic neurological patterning.

Ever heard of neuronal mirroring? Dr. Yancy referenced studies done with MRI machines that recorded the activity of mirror neurons.  If a human (or a monkey) observes another human performing an activity, her mirror neurons will fire in a way that mimics the brain of the person performing the activity.  When white people were hooked up to the machine and shown a black person performing a task, no mirror neurons fired: it was as if the person was staring at a blank wall.

If you are interested in learning more, Dr. Yancy recommends a few of his books. One that profoundly affected me was: Black Bodies, White Gazes. There’s also: “Look, a White!”: Philosophical Essays on Whiteness and Pursuing Trayvon Martin: Exploring Race in Predominantly White Classrooms, which Dr. Yancy edited with his colleague Janine Jones. Dr. Yancy also invites us to email him at: georgeandsusany@aol.com .

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