The Perceived and the Real

6 Min Read

The power of perception should never be underestimated. Perception may not be reality, but perception is “real” and most humans function in that “real” as the only reality that matters. You might ask, “What are you talking about?” You might say I’m talking crazy or engaged in a word game or off on some philosophical tangent.

You might say that, but consider the recent U.S. Department of Justice report on Officer Darren Wilson’s shooting of Michael Brown and the systemic racism that characterizes the Ferguson, Missouri police department. Consider too the discursive aftermath of the report.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) determined that there was insufficient evidence to mount a case against Darren Wilson for violating the civil rights of Michael Brown.

Yet, the same report determined that the very culture and climate in which Daren Wilson is a hotbed of civil rights violations against persons of color in Ferguson, MO. As a person of color, indeed a man of color, I have trouble understanding how a person saturated in such toxicity and who uses deadly force against an unarmed citizen is not individually responsible for a gross civil rights violation fostered by that police department.

Maybe it’s because I’ve seen various twists on that old theme for most of my 54 years of life. Maybe, it’s because I’ve been stopped a time of two by police officers who were selectively protecting and serving with that edge intended to bait me and escalate me just a wee bit so that bodily harm or loss of freedom would be more than a discretionary matter.

Maybe, it’s because I’m a student and teacher of African American literature and culture and understand the long history of the criminalization of the black body in the United States. Maybe, it’s because I’m a student and teacher of African American literature and culture and understand the long history of the criminalization of the black body in the United States. Maybe my perception is jaded.

Also interesting to me is to watch the various 24-hour news outlets, with their endless parade of “experts,” proclaim boldly that all of the protesting is based on a lie, that the protestors themselves are liars. There are some race problems in the U.S., but it’s not so bad.

See, the DOJ report says so. See, the system works if we let it. See, we can easily fix this. More disturbing is the discourse that flips the script and declares that the protesters are hate-filled racemongers who are making much of nothing.

The same discourse declares that reports like the DOJ report make it unsafe for police. See, two officers were ambushed and killed in New York City by a crazy man. See, two cops were shot in Ferguson, MO. Why am I tempted to quote Malcolm about chickens?

The grand jury decision not to indict Darren Wilson and the DOJ report that finds no basis to prosecute for civil rights violations simply serve to maintain the status quo of the color line in the United States. The dominant paradigm has twisted the decisions into proof of innocence, which is an incredible leap from insufficient evidence for going to court.

The DOJ report raises questions about whether Michael Brown’s hands were up when his body was struck by bullets. Thus, we are to believe that his hands were never up. I ask, why couldn’t he have dropped his hands mere seconds before the bullets struck his body when the awful reality became clear that he was not going to survive the day?

It’s interesting that narratives in support of Michael Brown are undermined by some witnesses who lied. Yet, those narratives omit the inconvenient truth of Darren Wilson’s documented lies including what he knew at the time he stopped Michael Brown.

He admitted not knowing that Brown was a suspect in the store theft and that he stopped Brown for other reasons. The prosecutor has admitted that prosecution witnesses lied to the grand jury. Clearly, some lies are more readily perceived as harmless white lies than others. Of course, it seems also true that some lives are more deserving of deadly force than others, matter less than others.

But, maybe these glasses provided by the dominant cultural paradigm are a problem. Maybe my perception is jaded. Maybe, I just need to keep the faith. After all, now I see through a glass darkly; but then, face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

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