We cannot have more black men die on the streets....

By Ken Midkiff

COLUMBIA, Mo 9/25/14 (Op Ed) -- My father (may he rest in peace) was torn. 

On one hand, he was a fundamentalist Christian, and the Good Book firmly declares all men are brethren.    He believed there is no difference between black and white.   On the other hand, he was born into Kentucky's Southern culture, which firmly declares that blacks are not equal to whites.
I, consequently, was taught that 1) all men (and women) are brethren but that 2) some men (and women) are not equal brethren.

Fortunately, the "all men are brethren" aspect won and I called my father out when he made some disparaging remarks about "niggers".   I reminded him of what his Bible said, and that he was not following the dictates of his faith

He was chagrined and probably confused.
Though I am not a bigot or a racist, I do entertain lingering stereotypes shared with (of all people) the Reverend Jesse Jackson.   When I see a group of young black men, for instance, I often assume they are out to do bad things, including, perhaps, harming me. 
So does Rev. Jackson, who said at a 1993 Operation PUSH meeting in Chicago:   "There is nothing more painful to me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery.   Then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved." 
Such is the stereotype-driven state of US race relations today.   While liberal white folks like me and liberal black folks like Jackson don't harbor racist hatred, we do harbor a racial stereotype.   We are part of an American culture that teaches young black men should be feared.
We've seen this stereotype play out tragically in Ferguson, Mo; Oakland and Los Angeles, Calif.; and New York City, where law enforcement oversteps and a black man ends up injured or dead.   Though he was doing nothing more that sitting on a public bench waiting for his children to leave school, Chris Lollie, a young dreadlocked black man in St. Paul, Minn. was Tased, charged with various offenses, and hauled off to the police station.   There, all the charges were dropped.
Lollie called the cops who arrested him "racist motherfuckers", but it was probably something more pervasive in their attitudes that often goes unrecognized.  
I suspect the St. Paul police harbored the stereotype that Lollie was a threat.   It's a racist stereotype, for sure, but it's not the cross-burning, Klan-chanting, N word-driven phenomena we normally recognize as "motherf--ing racism".  It's more widespread, shared by both black and white, and a lot more dangerous under the right -- or wrong -- circumstances.  

Stereotypes are taught, and the way to end them is to teach a different lesson.   It's a terrible tragedy for everyone involved -- Michael Brown, his family, the police officer who shot him, and the good citizens of Ferguson, who have had to endure an ongoing agony -- that Mr. Brown had to die before we started seriously questioning this stereotype about young black men and crime. 

It's questioning that is healthy and long overdue.   What answers may come of it, we have yet to see.   But one thing is for sure:  We cannot have more black men -- our brethren -- die because on the streets, they aren't considered equal to their white brothers and sisters.


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