Helpful hints and discussion about mental health and mental health issues as it relates to
news, popular culture and day-to-day life.


Monday 18 August 2014

Michael Brown: Prejudice, race relations and tensions -- How to handle?

With what has recently happened in Ferguson, Missouri in the United States it is no wonder that there are now protests in that city following the death of Michael Brown, a young black youth, who was unarmed, yet was shot.

When I thought about this the other day, I could only think that this is nothing else but a "hot mess", as the expression goes. There is no elegant way out of this mess. Not for Darren Wilson, the man who shot Michael Brown, not for the city of Ferguson, nor the state, nor the protesters, nor the lawyers who will be involved, nor the governor of that state and most certainly not for Michael Brown's family.

So this post, today is to help address perhaps some of the complicated issues -- or at least try to understand them. I claim no authority on sociological issues, nor race relations in the United States. I am not an American citizen. I am not a "person of colour", unless of course "white" is -- from a point of view of physics --- a combination of all the colours of the rainbow when put through a prism, but I do understand some of the difficulties of prejudice. And I understand something (I think) about human nature and psychology.

So, perhaps it might be useful to take this scenario apart and examine its parts and from there maybe see what we little people -- meaning people who are ordinary people going about our daily business can do to help prevent prejudice and racial tensions in little ways, everyday?

To begin with, what exactly happened? Michael Brown, a young black teen was shot multiple times in Ferguson, Missouri. And he was stopped apparently by the police officer, Darren Wilson for jaywalking. There was also some news information that seemed to suggest that Brown and his friend who was with him at the time, Dorian Johnson, and who witnessed the event that Brown (and Johnson) may have robbed a convenience prior to the shooting death of Brown. Apart from Johnson, a bystander -- a woman by the name of Piaget Crenshaw -- witnessed and took photos of the event, stating that she saw Brown run from the police car with his hands in the air.

 Now, suppose Brown and Johnson had just robbed a convenience store (which they apparently they hadn't) and suppose Brown struggled with the police officer (which apparently he hadn't). One wonders if this is justification for having been shot? I suppose it would depend upon whether or not the officer was in need to defend himself from being attacked by Brown.

I won't get into the details, because one can go back and forth on who said what and who saw what and who did what, where, when, etc. etc. This is for the courts to decide.

However, judging by the human outcry by what has since happened Ferguson, it is likely unjust that Brown was shot to death.

Given that the community of Ferguson is mostly (from what I have read) black and that the police department (from what I have read) is mostly white, it would seem that this might be a racial concern/issue.

Now, for most police officers, policing is a stressful situation: one has to rely on quick-thinking, split-second decisions. They have to put their lives on the line to save people, even people who are on drugs and intoxicated, from themselves and others. Moreover, the officer is sometimes not aware if the individual he or she has to confront is armed or concealing arms, etc., etc. Police work is stressful and dangerous.

However, sometimes these types of situations are exacerbated by anxiety, hyperarousal, and acting before thinking. Moreover, if one is of a different colour or race it puts a literal, visual barrier between one individual and an ordinary citizen who may look  suspicious, but is actually doing nothing harmful.

It is a recipe for paranoia. And anxiety.  If you feel like the police may be after you, because you are black and therefore "put upon" and followed around on the street or in a department store or wherever you may go, then likely you will act paranoid. You will naturally be looking over your shoulder!

Now think about it.

If I am feeling distrustful of someone or something, I will look over my shoulder. I will be hypervigilant. If then, someone else sees me -- looking over my shoulder, what exactly will he (or she) think. To put it in simple terms:

Your mother knows you like to sneak cake out of the fridge. You get punished for it when you do.

Now she sees you "sneaking" but for what, she doesn't know. What do you think she is going to think.

AHA! You are sneaking cake out of that fridge again!

.....But maybe you weren't.

But if your mother is so... and here is another fancy word "PUNITIVE", you may just want to hide from her the fact that you are sneaking something else. Maybe in fact you are sneaking money out of the fridge or freezer (what you call "COLD HARD CASH") to buy your mom a mother's day gift or birthday present.

But what is she going to think????

Exactly. She will think you are sneaking cake again.

Now, I wish dear friends that it could be this simple and innocuous, that poor Michael Brown's situation was all just a silly confusion over stolen cake out of a fridge -- but it's not.

It has more to do with assumptions and prejudice.

What people assume about white people. What people assume about black people. What people assume about anyone who is different from themselves.

Now one can say, well and good. And one can take the time to examine prejudices and see that most people are just like everyone else. We all want the same thing (mostly). However, when one has certain ingrained ideas about other people hammered into you constantly, day-in and day-out, again and again. Even if you consciously try not to believe clichés or stereotypes about other people, they will invariably seep into your consciousness.

So it seems that race and racial prejudices still rear their ugly heads in the United States, especially in the south.

Now! Hold on just a second there!

Do not think for even a moment, that racial (or other) prejudice does not exist in other areas of the world. I regret dear friends, that up here in Canada, for example, that we Canadians have the view that we all live in one great big jolly non-racial, non-judgmental, non-homophobic, non-prejudicial paradise. Ha! I wish.

Prejudice exists EVERYWHERE. Let me say that again.

Prejudice exists EVERYWHERE.

Though laws might be enacted to stop racism and homophobia, and "fill-in-the-blank"-phobia, it unfortunately exists. And probably always will.

So, most areas of Canada for example do not have a preponderence of black people to white people as in the United States, however, there are other visible minorities that nonetheless, take abuse from the "dominant culture": Chinese, East Indian, First Nations (or Native Indian), and even French-Canadian or Québecois., etc. etc.

And yes, prejudice can go two ways.

And Canada (and the U.S.) are not the only countries where there is prejudice. In Great Britain, they have problems with race too, with Jamaicans and immigrants from the African countries and former colonies of Great Britain, like India and Pakistan and more lately, Eastern Europeans. In Ireland: well, it's a Protestant/Catholic thing. In France, it's about the Muslims from Algeria and the muslimification of France. In Italy, again immigrants from the African countries. And in Germany, that country where Hitler once reigned?

Ask the Germans about "Wessies" and "Ossies". A Wessie is someone from West Germany who stereotypically works hard so that lazy "Ossies" can freeload off the German state welfare system. And then of course, Germany also has the difficulty with nationalized, German-speaking, fully socially integrated Turks. These Turks were once "Gästarbeiter" or Guest workers who came to Germany to help build up the Germany economy and business, yet these same people sometimes have difficulty with integration into the society they helped to build!

What I am saying, friends, is that prejudice and problems of prejudice exist EVERYWHERE.

Now the funny thing is....

Sometimes these prejudices will manifest in the most bizarre ways. For example, during the Second World War, some German Nazi Officers would take Jewish mistresses in secret. In the deep south of the United States, as I am sure is common knowledge, white slave owners would also have black slave mistresses. It has been known that there is also some degree of attraction of Germans towards naturalized Turkish citizens of either gender. And of course there is also the common obsession with some Caucasian men taking Asian girlfriends as they are so "exotic".  Clearly, in this instance, the "prejudice" get subverted and taken inwards. Whereas some of these men may abhor other men who are "the wrong kind", i.e. different, etc., they certainly place on a pedastal of the same. Obviously they are making these women into a fetish of sorts. The women are turned into objects of lust. They are truly objectified. Just as their male brothers are also objectified. They are turned into something other than full human beings with emotions and feelings and... everything else.

But the other side of prejudice is.... wait for it.

Prejudices can actually be a good thing.

(I can hear the stunned silence!) Gasp! Shock!

Okay, so what do I mean by this?

What I mean is that prejudices are "prejudgements" or assumptions that we have about people or places or situations.  And sometimes this can, in fact be a good thing.

What I mean by this is, all of us and I mean absolutely all of us, prejudge ANY situation, based upon what we have been told or experienced in the past.

Now the ONLY thing, as far as I can think of where prejudices come in as useful, are in situations or dealing with people who send up our warning signals to beware.

So, one time, a very astute young man, railing about the aversion to "prejudices" rightly pointed out that:

        "Like, supposing you see, like some Charles Manson-like dude, coming up your driveway with a limp and covered in blood and with a bloody axe in his hand. Sure in hell no way, you're gonna stick around to see if the guy is "a nice guy" and maybe you just, like, have some prejudices about him!"

So sort of somewhat like the image from the film The Shining with Jack Nicholson. Note: I will NOT add in an image here. It's rather too gruesome. But for those of you who wish you can watch the film.

So, then I wonder? I just wonder, is it in fact perhaps possible that, without excusing anyone's actions, that heightened anxiety, hyperarousal of fear and the presence of prejudice and a firearm all "neatly" combined to produce the tragedy of poor Michael Brown and his death?

I would hazard to guess.

So, finally what to do?

Do we abandon all prejudices?

Quite clearly from the Jack Nicholson/The Shining Character example -- the answer is no. Clearly no.
But with race, we are not talking about monsters. Monsters and psychopaths exist in every race. However, perhaps the objectification of people, when they come with monstrous prejudices attached does turn them into being viewed by others as a Jack Nicholson character???

So then, again what do we do.

Perhaps, if indeed you are a person who has prejudices.... and we all do.
Test them.
That's right. Test them out. See if they are indeed valid in all cases. And then if they are not....., which they probably aren't, then you need to discard your old way of thinking and throw them out.

And if you are someone who is struggling with (racial) prejudice towards a particular group... process your feelings and concerns. If you have a black friend, talk to them -- CAREFULLY -- mind you, but talk to them. Express what you feel and what you struggle with. Of course you have to be careful what you express, it may get you in hot water.

And the same would go for someone who was struggling with Asians, or Muslims or Jews or Queer people or "fill-in-the-blank" type person. See them as real.  See them as individuals.See them with their flaws and see their humanity. Do not see them as a cliché or stereotype.

If you are troubled by what you have seen in Ferguson, process it with a friend. Talk it over. The best way that you personally, on a small, individual level can defend against the tragedy -- and this kind of prejudice happens EVERYWHERE in the world, is to connect and join in solidarity with someone from the other side of the so-called fence.

Take care,


I welcome comments, questions for clarification and dialogue respectful to this post and any others.

If you are interested in this or other posts, why not click on the Google + button or submit your email, either way, and follow this blog?

No comments:

Post a Comment