Is Feature, Not Bug

Every now and then amid the celebrity gossip and news of the weird I find something over at Gawker that resonates on a deeper level. Albert Burneko’s post on the Eric Garner case is one of those times:

The Atlantic‘s Ta-Nehisi Coates has written damningly of the American preference for viewing our society’s crimes as aberrations—betrayals of some deeper, truer virtue, or departures from some righteous intended path. This is a convenient mythology. If the institutions of white American power taking black lives and then exonerating themselves for it is understood as a failure to live out some more authentic American idea, rather than as the expression of that American idea, then your and my and our lives and lifestyles are distinct from those failures. We can stand over here, and shake our heads at the failures over there, and then return to the familiar business, and everything is OK. Likewise, if the individual police officers who take black lives are just some bad cops doing policework badly, and not good cops doing precisely what America has hired and trained them to do, then white Americans may continue calling the police when black people frighten us, free from moral responsibility for the whole range of possible outcomes.

The murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Sam Shepherd, and countless thousands of others at the hands of American law enforcement are not aberrations, or betrayals, or departures. The acquittals of their killers are not mistakes. There is no virtuous innermost America, sullied or besmirched or shaded by these murders. This is America. It is not broken. It is doing what it does.

More later. But yes, these are not aberrations. This is how our system is set up.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “Is Feature, Not Bug

  1. Mary Wilson

    SB, this is truly the most profound statement I have read on race and racism in this country! We who have lived a few years, especially those of us who really cry out for equal justice, should have realized this TRUTH by now. I remember the Watts riots of the 70s, all the well intentioned “commissions” formed after another outrageous misuse of law enforcement. NOTHING has been done to improve this horrible situation. And as old as I am, I believe the last 6 years of open hatred of our first Black President, the disrespect, the insults and ‘critiques’ of his Family, prove that this country is on a path of established hatred of people of color that won’t end until white haters become a small minority.

    • The Watts riots were in 1965, they sparked by a police brutality incident….as were other riots of the late ’60s. I feel like 50 years have passed and we’re still playing the same movie.

  2. Moira MacGaothin

    Amen. This white privileged woman remembers the day her dad, a DC native, drove her through the streets of Washington as the city smoldered from days of riots and mayhem following Martin Luther King’s murder. And she remembers with frightening clarity — as we girls sat quietly in the back of the woody station wagon, staring out the windows at National Guardsmen with rifles, people sleeping in sleeping bags in alleys, shattered glass and burn marks on myriad buildings — the moment her father said, “This is what happens when people are angry and nobody listens.” That was the spring of 1968. Nothing.has.changed.

    • CB

      No, at the root, nothing has changed. After Nixon’s and Reagan’s election strategies, some learned that all you had to do was speak in the appropriate code; it wasn’t necessary to change your beliefs. When the Black Man DARED to campaign for the presidency, and then WAS ELECTED, all bets were off, for all but the most civilized among us.

  3. Kathleen

    Excellent article. I must admit as “savvy” as I think I am discerning undercurrents and root causes, a part of me has been in denial about what the author contends. Unfortunately too many African Americans do not have the luxury of being in denial about anything in this culture.