Reluctant Townie: It's time for listening, not prejudging
A lot of people have asked for my take on what's been happening in Ferguson, Mo.
Actually, that's not true — nobody has asked for my take on what's happening in Ferguson, Mo., and for good reason: I don't live there, I've never been there and all of my information on the subject comes from the same sources as everybody else.
This column isn't a great place to comment on evolving real-time issues — the situation in Ferguson is fluid, and I write this column on Wednesdays to publish on Sundays, so for all I know, aliens will have landed and intervened to save the future of mankind before this goes to press.
Nonetheless, I will say that I am torn on the issue:
On one hand, I have a bias because my dad has been a cop for all of my life, and he's one of the best people I know, so I get a little defensive when folks try to paint all cops as fascist, power-abusing racists (because I know that most of them are not).
But on the other hand, I have a hard time trusting white people from Missouri — and the video feeds coming out of the first few nights of rioting and crowd control looked like deleted scenes from "Escape From New York," which is not comforting.
Of course, not every white person who lives in Missouri is racist. Not even every white person who lives in Missouri and listens to Rush Limbaugh and thinks Obama is ruining America by turning it into a secret Muslim communist nation. But some of them are. I know this for a fact as I've spoken to a few at length.
One in particular threatened to knock my teeth down my throat. I would have offered to return the favor, but it seemed unsporting to rob him of the few remaining in his head.
I don't know what it's like to be a minority in this country. Period. I was born white. For the record, I didn't ask to be born white, or at all, but here we are. I am a white guy living with white guy privileges in America. I can't pretend I would prefer it to be any other way. Like the Louis C.K. bit goes, if I had to re-up every year and choose what race I was going to be, I would choose to be white, because white people have it easier in this country than anybody else, without contest. I don't need any extra struggles; my white guy struggles are hard enough.
It would be nice if everyone had the same privileges, but I suppose it's naive to think such a thing is possible at this point in time.
I don't think I'm better than anybody else because of my skin color. People who think that way have small minds and caveman brains. White people who hold themselves in high regard because they were born with a skin color that burns up and cancers if it's left out in the sun for too long make me embarrassed to be part of the club.
I hope you don't judge me because I look like that pasty KKK guy over there; I've never worn my bed sheets.
But that goes both ways. No matter who you are, you are being prejudged because of how you look, and depending on your ethnicity, the consequences can be fatal.
I think the truth of what happened in the death of 18 year-old Mike Brown will ultimately fall somewhere between the story told by the Ferguson police and the story told by Brown's friend who witnessed the shooting.
Neither side seems interested in facts or circumstances that might contradict their particular narratives. Logically speaking, if the police officer who shot Mike Brown executed him simply because he is a racist pig, then why did he wait six years into his spotless career to fly off the handle? What was the inciting incident that occurred that day?
Did the cop shoot Mike Brown as he was running away, as some eyewitnesses have reported, or did Mike Brown charge the cop?
Facebook is both the best place and the worst place to talk about an issue like Ferguson. Your newsfeed on Facebook works by way of a complex algorithm that, over time, cultivates the news items it thinks you want to see based on things you have "liked" or commented on in the past, so eventually you will be receiving a skewed perspective of world events, as filtered through your own predetermined bias.
Some people look at this situation in Missouri and can't see past the people looting the convenience stores. Other people look at this situation and can't see past a white cop shooting a black teenager.
Where we should all be looking is toward the future, and to how we're going to come together and bridge our differences.
Clearly, racial and cultural divides still exist in America. But I think we're getting better at confronting them. At least, I hope we're getting better. Progress is slow and painful. And there are a lot of stupid and stubborn people out there, on all sides, trying to impede it.
I guess all I'm trying to say is that no matter what side of the Ferguson debate you're on, you should take extra care to make sure you're hearing what the other side is saying. We need to listen to each other, we need to make an effort to internalize the opposing viewpoint and find empathy — because without honest communication, there is no way for us to move forward.
Ryan Jackson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.