The tragic death of Michael Brown, an eighteen year old black man, at the hands of the police, has sparked days of rioting and looting in Ferguson, Missouri. His community rallied around him from the start, telling reporters that Mike Brown was a great kid who was shot down “like an animal” because of his race.
Unfortunately, the portrait they painted of the gentle giant wasn’t entirely accurate. Minutes before he was killed, Brown stole a fistful of cigarillos from the Ferguson Market then used his 296 pound frame to shove the store owner aside when he tried to block the door. Brown likely attacked a police officer in his car and attempted to take his gun.
The version of the story that portrays Brown as a hapless victim of racism and police brutality is quickly unraveling. He was not shot in the back as Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, a witness to the killing (and accomplice to the robbery), claims. Nor was he shot for jaywalking as ludicrous early reports indicated. Brown robbed a store then attempted to take a police officer’s gun, presumably to shoot him with it.
Either Brown’s die-hard supporters are truly mistaken about what happened on August 9th or else they know that the story is a concoction and they just don’t care.
The Michael Brown case is starting to look a lot like a warmed over version of the Duke lacrosse case, the Trayvon Martin case, and the Tawana Brawley case. In other words, a rush to judgment has resulted in a lynch mob mentality.
Yet I suspect that most black Americans know, in their heart of hearts, that the fictional narrative being foisted upon the nation is a sham. The black citizens of Ferguson are doing what blacks tend to do whenever a racial controversy erupts—presenting a united front to the outside world. It’s a form of tribalism that would rightly be called racism if white people did it, which they occasionally do.
No one knows better than black Americans that there’s something amiss in black America. They know that black-on-black crime is a far greater threat than the supposedly racist cops who patrol their streets and that their values and priorities are out of whack, yet they prefer to discuss these matters when only black ears are listening.
Bill Maher illustrated this point on his show when he polled his liberal guests for their reaction to something Paul Ryan, a white Republican congressman, supposedly said. Maher read the quote aloud: “When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered. They’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”
All of his guests agreed—Congressman Ryan had laid bare his racism with those remarks. The typical white Republican was expressing his belief that sheer laziness explains academic failure among black youth. Then Maher hit them with the surprise—the quote was actually from Michelle Obama.
Stunned silence. Maher asked: “Is something less true if a white person says it?”
After much hemming and hawing, black comedian W. Kamau Bell said something very candid. “[S]he was talking to black people — we talk to each other differently than we talk in front of you.”
Bell was essentially admitting that white “racists” say out loud what blacks often say to each other behind closed doors. Even so, blacks must vociferously object in public to things they know to be true, going so far as to excoriate the speaker as an evil bigot.
A code of silence dictates that black criticisms of black behavior be kept in-house. If outsiders were to overhear them admitting that blacks need to straighten up and fly right they might take it as confirmation that “the system” is not broken; black culture is. “Racists” might exploit that.
Comedian Bill Cosby was chided in 2004 for his remarks at an NAACP function marking the fiftieth anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education. The thrust of his remarks was that black Americans should forgo any celebration about how far they’ve come since the fifties and sixties because blacks themselves have largely squandered the gains they struggled for. The black community needs to do some soul-searching about what really ails them—white racism or black attitudes and habits?
While most black leaders found Bill Cosby’s remarks abrasive, some admitted that they sometimes say the same things to black audiences. Cosby’s transgression was to air the black community’s “dirty laundry” for the whole world to see. In fairness to Cosby, he didn’t know his comments would leak to the media. He believed he was speaking entre nous.
Cosby has responded on several occasions to accusations of airing dirty laundry. “When you go looking for the dirty laundry, I would appreciate it if you would direct your attention to a school where there is, for sure, a fifty per cent dropout rate among black males. And don’t forget the guards, the ones that have to check for the guns and the knives. Shhhh.This will be our personal little black secret.” What Cosby meant is that black delinquency and underachievement is the worst kept secret in the world. Hiding the problems isn’t working because anyone with eyes can see them. White Americans avoid speaking the truth aloud for reasons of racial guilt and black Americans avoid saying it for reasons of racial solidarity, but no one is really fooled. As long as I have been alive, black Americans have been reluctant to air their dirty laundry. How’s that working out for ya? Are black Americans better off because of it? I say no. This code of black silence benefits no one. Besides the sheer hypocrisy of hunkering down and blaming white people while admitting privately that the real problems reside elsewhere, there also remains the fact that problems cannot be solved until they are confronted. Such problems will continue to fester as long as “airing dirty laundry” remains taboo in black society.