What White People Want

What White People Want

What white people want is for black people to stop: stop complaining about civil rights, stop protesting, stop talking about racism and never raise their voices because anything other than an inside voice is a sign of a propensity for violence and will not be tolerated. White people have convinced themselves that racism is over (see Chief Justice John Roberts) and as such, black people are merely listing grievances that are stale and cynical.

This is why Darren Wilson is a hero to them, a person they can identify with. He fits their image of an all-American cop: blond, blue eyed, handsome and merely doing his duty and applying the law equally and fairly. How could he do otherwise? The chorus of angry voices that swelled into protests, non-violent and otherwise, was frightening to their own self-perception of how they believed Wilson acted in his confrontation with Michael Brown. Suddenly, it was Brown who was the "thug" and threatening the stability of all-American idea of society. He was, in Wilson's words, like a "demon." Did we not see the video of him harassing a store owner earlier that day? The subsequent death is one that Brown brought upon himself, a charge gleefully repeated across radio talk shows and millions of social media postings by people who couldn't care less about any of it.

It's easy to see why zombie apocalypse fare like "The Walking Dead" is so popular: it's an expression of white paranoia, distrust and fear. The sudden collapse of civilization and survival depends on essentially American qualities: independence, grit and hard work. (No coincidence that the majority of the characters in that show are white). Since there is no one coming to save the survivors, it's up to the toughest to survive. With the election of Barack Obama, deep fears surfaced with threats and solemn-faced promises of rapid deterioration of the social order. Easy to figure out: from the beginning of the American republic, there has never been such a despised person as the black man. He is alien, strange, inferior, given to wild lusts and violence. He is never to be trusted, especially with his own freedom. Even the Founders who voiced the slavery question as they wrestled with crafting the Constitution did not consider blacks as Americans, let alone people. What does one do with a freed black slave? He can't live with whites because that will interrupt the new social order. He can't stay in the land because he's not one of us. And over two hundred years later, with free black man in the White House, it's treated like a harbinger of doom.

During the presidency of Barack Obama, the racism that underpins American society has erupted to the fore in a manner that evokes the worst racist excesses of the pre-civil rights era. Stoked by cynical politicos, a massive swath of the population believes themselves to be in the midst of a "Walking Dead" setup. So when law enforcement officers become embroiled in deadly encounters as with Michael Brown or Eric Garner and protests erupt, white people see it as an attack. An attack by mass hordes with no respect for authority and who have a propensity for violence. Those people who took advantage of the situation to carry out criminal behavior were seized upon by talk radio hosts as a prime example of how They all act when given a chance. Irony of ironies, the very audience that proved receptive to vilification of federal law enforcement agencies as thugs of a tyrannical government (see Cliven Bundy) couldn't swear fealty fast enough to a militarized police force. Darren Wilson was now a hero, a victim of reverse racism and a potent symbol of an America overrun by a mob of indistinct creatures. Those blue eyes piercing in his photo taken at the police station after killing Michael Brown spoke to a ready made audience: he is one of us fighting (black) demons. For them, the visage of the president was not far behind.

Another irony: suddenly white people were calling for a respect for authority which seemed like a repudiation of prior idealogical zeal we saw with open carry demonstrations and calls for lynching the imposter president. One couldn't help wonder if those scenes of police attacking 1960s civil rights demonstrators weren't looked at with the same gaze of dread and horror by an earlier generation: you deserved those water cannons blasting at you because you dared to question authority. You deserved those nightstick beatings because you didn't give the proper respect. As if a polite request to discuss racial inequality over a cup of tea would have sufficed. If black people raised their voice in protest, they were told to shut up and stop complaining. If protests were strictly non-violent, they were met with repressive police actions. If protests broke out into violence, it was seen as typical actions by a group of people who had a knack for destroying property. Either way, the core issues (whether social justice or holding law enforcement officers responsible for civilian deaths where warranted) were casually dismissed.

But there was never a serious acceptance of those issues at all. In 2015, America remains starkly divided along the racial fault line and white people have grown tired of being reminded of it. They want to hear no more about it, although modern political manipulation depends on dog whistles and narratives to keep the divide festering. White Americans seem themselves as besieged and endlessly nagged, under attack on all quarters, like the beleaguered survivors of "The Walking Dead." And that's why they can look at Darren Wilson and see themselves and sympathize with him. And some who want to be him.