By: Curtiss Paul DeYoung –
As the father of an African-American son, I was shocked by the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
I never thought about the effect of race on policing when I was growing up. I am a white man, raised in a middle-class white suburb, with no personal experience of racism.
But race has been at the core of my work as a scholar who specializes in racial reconciliation. I work in South Africa with Allan Boesak, a stalwart of the anti-apartheid movement and human rights activist. I attended seminary at Howard University, a historically black college, where I learned from Calvin Morris and Bernard Lee, members of Martin Luther King Jr.’s staff. Malaak Shabazz has encouraged me in my scholarship on her father Malcolm X. And as executive director of the Community Renewal Society, a faith-based civil rights organization, I am focused on racial and economic injustice.
Yet if a police officer beckons to me, I would never think that the color of my skin is the reason — or that my life might be in danger.
The tension in Ferguson speaks to the disconnect between the differing experiences of people of color and whites when it comes to racism, in general, and policing, in particular. An August poll by the Pew Research Center found that 80 percent of African-Americans think the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by police Officer Darren Wilson raised important issues about race and policing. Only 37 percent of white respondents thought so.
I have lived in places where whites are dominant. I have lived in spaces where people of color are the majority. Having lived in both worlds, I have seen the huge gap in lived experiences that results in radically different worldviews on issues of race. How do we bridge the divide of these often diametrically opposed perceptions?
Generally, people of color have an understanding of white perspectives because they live in and among the dominant culture. But most whites have no significant relationships with people of color. An August study by Robert Jones of Public Religion Research Institute notes that 75 percent of whites in the United States have no friends who are people of color. Three-quarters of whites never discussed racialized policing with those most directly affected by it. Ignorance is breeding more ignorance.
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