Why many White Americans think negatively of the Ferguson Protests
What has happened in Ferguson is merely a symptom of a wider problem in America today. As a result of former officer Darren Wilson being cleared of any potential charges for his slaying of Michael Brown, further protests were sparked in Ferguson and across the country. Through it all, a damaging perception has persisted throughout the nation as peaceful protests turned into riots.
Indeed, the main contention with protesters in Ferguson has been the periods of looting that took place during the chaos. Unfortunately, the actions of these looters are broadly associated with the acts of protests. Those who view protesters as just looters are often white, conservative Americans.
The perception among many white Americans I know on social media is that of sheer disdain for the protesters in Ferguson. They simply feel it necessary to associate peaceful protesters with looters who are just there to take advantage of the situation. In their view, the Ferguson situation is just an excuse for black people to loot and pillage rather than address real grievances with the actions of police and society.
Granted, not all white Americans view Ferguson the same, and it comes in varying degrees. Some posts I see are just outright ugly, while others are more subtle. Many white people are supportive of what the protesters are doing. Yet, there is this theme that comes back again and again: Black people are just violent criminals, or “thugs.” There is almost no consideration whatsoever that the actions of societal discrimination and police brutality are responsible for what has happened.
Looting did take place during the chaos of Ferguson’s protests. Those looters should be ashamed (of course they’re not, they’re looters). But, the looting was in no way associated with the political message and actions of Ferguson’s protesters. Looters loot because they are unashamed opportunists. They come in all colors and take any opportunity available. In addition, they are often associated with organized crime.
White people looted jackets and materials left behind at the scene of the Boston Bombing, while others were volunteering to help the wounded and clean the scene. There have been countless instances of riots being started by white people, often over things as trivial as who won a sports match.
A meme surfacing social media holds a caption that I find funny and true. Basically, white people and black people riot. When black people riot over social injustice, they are branded thugs. When white people riot over losing a hockey match, they are just hooligans. Does anyone see something wrong here?
Based on social media posts from many white friends, it sound as if the protesters in Ferguson were one and the same with looters. No distinction. Why is this?
Many white Americans have a certain negative perception of blacks. This perception has to have a narrative. The Ferguson response is part of that narrative. As I said, not all whites in America feel this way. But, a significant (if not a slight majority) do feel this way and share this narrative. These white people do not think of themselves as racists, because they “know black people” and have “black friends” that they know are “the good ones.” I hear/read this often. Listen to the subtle language.
“He’s a good one.” I hear this a lot from whites in the South. “I know (so and so), and he’s not like the rest of them.” Not like the rest of them. See the narrative now? They aren’t racist, because they manage to find a few black people to get along with (without paying mind to the massive societal discrepancies between whites and blacks).
This narrative assumes most black people in America are bad or suspect in character, while small minorities of them are “the good ones.” Their culture is what is condemned, and seen as what “holds them back.” If black people could just “be like us” it would be okay.
I say again, not all white people in America think this way. I for one do not. However, many do, and far more than I care to see. Racial prejudice is not always overt, but slowly these prejudices simmer under the surface. I remember having some of these myself growing up in the Southern United States. I see them now.
Protesters are not exercising legitimate grievances, because looters have taken advantage of riots because both sets of people were mainly black in Ferguson. White Americans not on the ground observed both looters and protesters as the same.
Black people in Ferguson protest and riot because an unarmed citizen was shot several times to death by a white officer without any proof of provocation or need to kill (other than the officer’s testimony). White Americans didn’t lump those who looted material after the Boston Bombing in with people who were helping the wounded. So why would we lump protesters and looters in Ferguson as one and the same?
It all boils down to perception, and the narrative that must fuel this perception. Black Americans have real grievances against the white-dominated political/social system that keeps them down rather than lifts them up. There is hope, but many white Americans still find themselves trapped in old-world thinking. It is here that we need to make the biggest change.