ferguson

We fucked it up again. As a society, we took yet another ‘teachable moment’ and we found a way to fuck it up. We fucked it up because we’ve abandoned the notion of a nuanced world. We fucked it up because we wanted Michael Brown to be a completely innocent victim, because we wanted Officer Darren Wilson to be a villain, because we wanted Michael Brown to be a thug, because we wanted Darren Wilson to be a hero, because we wanted Michael Brown to be a racist, because we wanted Darren Wilson to be a racist.

We fucked it up because we didn’t even bother to look at them as people. We immediately made them into symbols. For the most part we didn’t bother to look at what little evidence was available to us. When we did look, we only talked about the evidence that supported what we wanted to believe.

We fucked it up because we’ve become a society eager to be offended. Eager to be outraged. Eager to blame others. Eager to justify our own particular position and eager to malign those with whom we disagree. We fucked it up because we weren’t really interested in what actually happened, or why it actually happened. We fucked it up because we insisted on packing what happened into specific narratives.

Was Michael Brown a ‘gentle giant’? Yes, sometimes. Was he also a thug? Yes he was, sometimes. Was Darren Wilson a villain? Yes, sometimes. Was he also a hero? Yes, sometimes he was. Were they both racist? Yes, of course they were, sometimes. Because ALL of us are complex, because none of us is just one thing.

What happened in those few minutes in Ferguson was a cascade of spontaneous escalating events shaped by years of experience. What’s happened in the days and weeks following those few minutes has been shaped by people trying to wedge what happened into inflexible ideological storylines.

But there was a period — a few hours, maybe a couple of days, maybe even as much as a week — when it might have been possible for us as a society to try to understand Michael Brown and Darren Wilson. To understand each of them as people, not simply as symbols of what we fear. To understand why each of them acted and reacted the way they did.

We’ve had a lot of those ‘teachable’ moments in the last few years. We’ve fucked up most of them. We fucked them up because our immediate instinct is to polarize, to defend our position and vilify the other, to justify our view and make the other view illegitimate. We fuck them up because we refuse to acknowledge the possibility that we might be even partially wrong, because we refuse to accept the others may be partially right. We’ve fucked them up because we believe winning is more important than understanding

I’m pessimistic about the future of society. I’m also optimistic. (ALL of us are complex; none of us is just one thing.) I’m pessimistic because of Ferguson, because of Newtown, because of Ukraine, because of the mid-term elections, because of Syria, because of Ebola fuckwits, because because because of so many things. But I’m optimistic too, because same-sex marriage is now legal in 35 states. Because Dr. Matt Taylor made a complete and sincere apology for wearing a stupid, sexist shirt to announce a major scientific achievement. Because the guys behind Gamergate have failed. Because the Pope blessed a male stripper’s parrot. Because despite all the unrest, the Ferguson Municipal Public Library remains open today. Because as awful as things are, they’re not as awful as they could be — and because they’re getting slightly less awful all the time.

The failure to indict Officer Wilson is actually another ‘teachable’ moment. Most people have no idea how a grand jury works, or the purpose it serves, or why grand juries exist, or how they’re flawed. Maybe people in Ferguson can go to their public library today and learn about grand juries.

Of course, all across the nation library funding is being cut. Libraries are cutting hours, cutting staff, closing branches. That’s another ‘teachable’ moment we’re almost certainly going to fuck up.

The only good thing about all these ‘teachable’ moments is that each of them forces a few people to actually learn.

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14 thoughts on “ferguson

    • I have friends who live in the St. Louis area, and they’re at a total loss about what they should do. It seems patronizing for upper middle class white folks to go to Ferguson and offer to help them solve their problems, but staying home and doing nothing seems intolerable — because, as you say, we still have to face each other in the morning.

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    • I only know what I’ve read about these two, and what I’ve read informs what I’ve written. There are plenty of reports of Brown being thoughtful and helpful to others, and there’s also video of him roughing up a store clerk. There are plenty of reports of Officer Wilson doing good deeds and winning awards, and there are also reports of him being a jerk — not to mention shooting at Brown when he was running away.

      If you have evidence or information to the contrary, you’re welcome to present it.

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  1. I’ve deliberately ignored this topic in my blogs for the simple reasons that (1) I wasn’t there to witness what happened; and, (2) I’m not privy to the evidence presented to the Grand Jury. In my estimation it would be wrong for me to make comment on this without taking sides, and this isn’t something I want to do.

    I must say, though, that I agree with your summation completely. There are two sides to every coin, and just as each of these players were one thing to some people they were also something else to other people. This would have been an excellent time to change some of the perceptions people have of those in other ethnic groups, but too many mistakes were made in how the matter was addressed from the very beginning. Sadly, more mistakes have been made since, too.

    Please try to understand that I do NOT condone violence against others any more than I approve of someone else’s property being destroyed. These acts do nothing to bring about a rational response or recognition between ethnic groups, and serve only to allow what is supposed to be a professional news media to become more and more like the paparazzi each and every day. For them, I hold only disgust.

    We can now only hope something good will come out of all this, but that likelihood seems to diminish with each passing day. God help America if this stuff continues.

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    • That’s been my position for a long time as well, but it embarrasses me to say I’m finding it harder and harder to condemn post-shooting rioting. Does the rioting and looting solve any problems? No, of course not. But I heard a guy say “You shoot one of our kids, nobody cares, nobody pays attention; we bust some windows and steal flatscreens, it’s on the news.” There’s a lot more mainstream anger over the destruction of property than over the loss of another black kid’s life.

      Doesn’t make the rioting right, doesn’t make it effective — but I understand the rage and I’m just finding it harder to condemn.

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