When Mike Brown was shot and killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri this summer it seemed to be just the latest link in a long chain of similar cases. In a so-called ‘post-racial’ society, the shooting of young black men by police officers appears to be a tragic theme strung out across the landscape of American current affairs.
No one could have predicted that American society was about to boil over, into more than two months of unrest. While Brown’s body was abandoned for over four hours by his killer on the street, his community began to mobilise, to demand a reckoning for generations of oppression. The ‘Hands Up’ protests which ensued have inspired global solidarity, from activists in Palestine to the ‘Umbrella Revolutionaries’ in Hong Kong.
What is special about the activists in Ferguson is the fact that their movement has been, for the most part, an organised and coherent effort which has continuously built momentum and remains active today. It is evidence against the arguments of those who complain of the laziness and apathy of Generation Y, of the decriers of the soul-sucking internet, of those who perceive this to be an age where narcissism rules supreme and all community feeling is crumbling at our feet. The kids are alright, actually, and we have the internet partly to thank; Ferguson demonstrates the burgeoning presence of truth we can access through the internet, if we are fortunate enough to have access to the platforms which host it.
Ferguson is one of those truths: white privilege is still very much alive, in America particularly, but also across the globe, despite what the Murdoch news empire would have us believe. This is reflected in the racial profiling, and resulting disproportionate violence, regularly committed by police officers in America, and it is not unheard of in Europe either. A recent ProPublica.org article reported that “[American] young black males in recent years were at a far greater risk of being shot dead by police than their white counterparts, 21 times greater”.
In a beautiful open letter titled An American Horror Story, the Ferguson Protesters write that “the myth of the so-called Black savage” is the reason they “must keep emphasising the civil nature of [their] disobedience”. This myth has recurred throughout American history and culture. Today it has evolved into a slightly subtler strain such as the New York Times’ ‘angry black woman’ blunder. This letter, which is well worth reading, crowns the wealth of online evidence of these protesters’ struggle against insidious, institutionalised oppression.
The fact that such a lasting, inspiring, fiercely dedicated movement has had inadequate coverage from the majority of UK media outlets is disappointing. In many cases it has been necessary to use American news sources, and social media platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr, to get the full picture. Perhaps the official line within the UK media is to steer clear of publicising the instability of one of our closest international allies. Perhaps this reveals something ugly about the way our society views black youths engaging in social activism.
As a white British citizen, perhaps I have little place pontificating about these matters. My nationality, and especially my race, have afforded me a privilege which means I can never totally empathise with the people living the daily horror story about which I write.
It is wonderful then, that through the internet we can follow their struggle, sympathise, and show our solidarity. Mainstream media outlets would not normally come close to shedding light on individual situations, unless that angle suited them. So next time you’re confronted with the Google homepage, consider the human truths that await and the voices that speak them.