The Ferguson Effect: America’s Race Issues Revisited

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Left to fester at the bottom of the American conscience, a monumental issue finally resurfaced this year, and almost no-one doesn’t know the facts. August 9, 2014 marks the day a fatal shooting took place in Ferguson, MO, where Darren Wilson, a white Ferguson police officer shot Michael Brown, an 18 year old black resident of Ferguson. The verdict produced by the grand jury who investigated the disputed circumstances, caused wide scale uproar nationwide. The night of the verdict, riots took place in Ferguson. Isolated retaliatory attacks began popping up around the country. America literally turned against itself overnight. Protests were held across several American cities, which spilled overseas and gave birth to a passionate, sweeping discussion about America’s unresolved race relations which have coloured the latter part of 2014. Initial talk began at the polar ends of the spectrum. But what began to pour forth as the dialogue sifted to the unthinking masses, was an awakening to several different versions of what Americans call ‘truth’. The Michael Brown tragedy began to point to other cases around the country bearing the same issues, most notably, synonymous with the names Tamir Rice and Eric Garner. Whistleblowing began online and translated to the streets. No nation is without fault, but it is here that the apparently lush and plentiful veneer of modern living has taken a beating; where many realities are exposed, where one old wound gives way to many others, until we are left with a map of creviced ground upon which the New World was built.

These complicated social issues spring from the way in which the initial injuries have been forced to heal. In a country which prides itself on entrepreneurialism, brokenness is considered an undesirable state to be in. Ironically, enforcing such a high initiative upon an entire nation means that for a huge majority, brokenness is an unavoidable circumstance. The competitive, gold rush mentality has transcended every generation in the United States, but when the casualties begin to outweigh the success stories, it no longer becomes about which side of the coin someone sees and more about how we live together on the edge of the knife. To ask how people live in the US, is to truly ask how they live together. A stark and very different America exists with regard to social cohesiveness. This became self-evident after the Michael Brown case when the loudest voices came from huge pockets of communities, clustered by race, all around the country. Besides a handful of multicultural cities, the wide majority of the United States is a composition of thousands of suburban landscapes. The few dense urban geysers speak from their cohesiveness, using their clout to encourage the rest of the country to diversify for the better. This produces an uncomfortable self-reflection for smaller cities; who attempt to build themselves with different tools.

It is here that there is a foundational disconnect between the old and new way. St Louis in particular, has worked to build its modern facade without changing much of its social thinking. A rebranding of the city’s image has been in the works for the last 6 years; more startup businesses, more arts funding, broader retail opportunities, a denser events calendar. There have been great successes to elevate St Louis as a growing environment, to widen its appeal. But as this Michael Brown case sliced through the mind of the city, it revealed how so much of St Louis’ thinking has yet to reform. And this is the point that so few St Louisans will concede. Often, the refusal to cave to a mass overhaul is a result of wanting to preserve a city’s history. But when that history is so tainted with the social mistakes that produced oppressive thinking, why on earth would anybody wish to cleave to that when you could be making your own history to leave behind?

I have lived all my life in London. I now happen to live 20 minutes from Ferguson. I find especially abhorrent the way in which many residents of St Louis and its surrounding counties, are unable to distinguish between riots and protests. Where I am from, London is a city constantly protesting every single day about some wider social issue, either locally or internationally. There is a clear distinction between rioting and protesting, largely because urban landscapes are made up of vocal people who understand the consequences of their actions before they take to the streets. There is a medium for everyone to speak. When I have explained this to St Louisans, some pine to afford such diversity, but the negative attitude I have gotten from many people in St Louis is astounding. The “Well that’s there, and this is here” discussion is precisely what keeps social progression from happening in America. And whether this is justified or not, the Michael Brown case means that St Louis is now unable to escape the outside scrutiny of being viewed as a microcosm of Middle America. With its convenient geography and untapped resources, it’s time St Louis changed the colour of its thoughts as an example of how America can begin to dress its wounds with proper care.

 

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1 comment
  1. Diane Fernandez said:

    By far and away, most of us are not too impressed one way or the other by skin color, any more than we are by wealth or prestige. Americans are notorious for having limited or no respect for perceived status; we are inclined to poke fun at it.

    That said, I’ll agree that there are factions who insist on making distinctions and judging individuals solely by the color of their skin or their social standing, and I’ll agree that there seems to be a pretty large segment of that population in and around St. Louis. I don’t know why this is so, only that it is. My years there were marked by constant frustration at the short-sightedness and limited ability of people to see outside their own little niche, and getting out was a goal almost from day one. Thirty-some years later, it appears little has changed.

    With regard to the case of Michael Brown, both the black and white communities blew it — and, I might add, they continue to do so. Specifically, the random destruction and looting on the part of the black community accomplished nothing except to play right into the expectations of the bigots; and the comments from those bigots among the white community, and the over-reaction of the powers-that-be in St. Louis, only served to feed the fire. The grand jury could only work from forensic evidence because the stories coming from the witnesses were contradictory at the outset, and only got more so as they shifted their stories.

    Given the apparent mindset of the locale, I’d suggest that normally reasonable people chose to twist their recall in the service of getting their version of justice. While it’s not too difficult to see that a lifetime of frustration might lead to this choice, it seems to me that getting to the truth might be freeing. For both sides.

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