The first step in fixing a problem is to acknowledge the problem. The first step is to acknowledge we still have a race problem in America. Can we see how the gentle descriptions of the white Christian Austin bomber are a terrible double standard? Is there a way to use this obvious example to open a conversation about race?
Based on personal experiences, I’m not sure anyone can hear this lesson unless they are truly ready. It was the nineties, deep in the minimum drug sentencing era, and I was watching the blonde, hair-sprayed talking head deliver the news. “Suspect is a black man... suspect is a black man... ” Then came coverage of a woman who had been convicted of killing her own kids after she had initially blamed a “black man” in a made up kidnapping story. There is a reason that murdering mom didn’t blame a white guy and I began to have a clue as to why that might be. The Austin bomber’s gentle treatment by police and media may help others to have a similar aha moment about race in America.
When police described the video confession of the Austin bomber as “the outcry of a very challenged young man,” can people wake up and see that wouldn’t be his description of a Muslim boy, or a brown boy, or a bald lesbian girl? Can they see that kindness from police is reserved for the white boys, that brown boys don’t get the same slack? David Leonard, professor of critical culture, gender and race studies at Washington State University said “It’s a striking reminder of a racial empathy gap that persists.” Will Americans finally agree that we don’t extend empathy to all accused equally?
Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, summarized my feelings perfectly:
“I believe passionately in acknowledging the humanity of those who commit even terrible crimes. Reading this police chief’s empathy for this young white man highlights the awfulness — the plain awfulness — of the persistent refusal to extend this empathy to young black people.”
Can this be a moment of reckoning for more people?
By Being Liberal contributor: Sarah Ficca