White Privilege, White Denial: Racialized Differences in Perception of Justice

Campbell Robertson (08/21/2014), writing in the New York Times about reactions from Whites in Clayton, MO regarding the Ferguson protests, makes this observation:

"Even among those [in Clayton] who are more sympathetic to the concerns of the protesters, there is a striking language gap, with whites asking why demonstrators are not letting the justice system simply do its work and blacks saying the way the system works is exactly the problem."

This glaring gap in the concept and perception of justice is problematic for Blacks seeking justice from a system that has long promised, but failed to produce said justice.  And when Blacks exercise their Constitutional right to lawfully assemble and protest the injustices and abuse, there is a drop off in support from their White counterparts.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked that the worst threat to the freedom movement was not the direct opposition of outright racists and segregationists, but from the apathy of Whites in the middle who stood by idly allowing systemic and violent abuses against Blacks to occur and continue with impunity.


The apathy of many Whites to the Black struggle for freedom is not news, really.  White privilege has insulated the privileged so long and so far from even basic social interaction with Blacks on a daily basis, that it is small wonder that they are out of touch with the reality of the concerns of the Black community.  We live in two distinct and separate worlds.  In the "White world" there is zero racial profiling or over-policing; virtually no police brutality nor abuse of powers; and definitely no concerns about being treated as suspects and criminals on the basis of skin color.  In the "Black world," the opposite is true:  racial profiling and over-policing are stressful, distressing facts of life.  The incidence of negative interactions between police and the policed is much higher, and abuses frequently occur.  Parents have to have "the talk" with their children about how to behave and act around police to ensure their security - and their survival.  All Blacks, and especially young Black males, are prejudged, profiled, criminalized and unjustly incarcerated.

Many Whites go into denial whenever they hear of police misconduct against Blacks.  It is a fiction to them, a convenient distraction from the real, unaddressed problems of Black-on-Black crime, poverty, and cultural depravity and decay.  Race-baiting politicians are quick to pick up on the racialized caricatures of systemic dysfunction in the Black community and exploit them for political capital, as has Paul Ryan in recent memory.

The effect of the racial gap in the perception in justice is devastating to American democracy, freedoms and due process.  Injustice abounds where justice is denied to any one citizen, regardless of color.  Apathy towards allegations of injustice on the basis of race will not always remain limited to a racial context.  It will cross boundaries of sexual orientation, religious persuasion, political beliefs and ethnic background as well.  But many Americans are in for a very rude awakening:  the refusal to recognize abuses and hold the powers that be accountable for violating the civil liberties of any one individual or group of basis, throws the doors wide open for the suppression of liberties to all groups of people.  And even invoking White privilege won't spare them from the violent stripping away of those precious freedoms.

For Further Reading:
 Ferguson:  An American Apartheid by Goldie Taylor 

After Ferguson by Sarah Kendzior and Umar Lee 


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