FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Listening While White

My family sat around the dinner table Monday night, waiting and listening for the grand jury decision on whether Officer Darren Wilson would be indicted in the shooting death, the murder, of Michael Brown. We listened as Prosecutor Robert McCulloch began his statement, and we listened as he went on and on, outlining the supposed impartial process that led the jury of nine White people and three Black people to conclude that no criminal charges would be brought against Officer Wilson.

As I sat there listening to McCulloch’s statement with his careful, so-called rational, and seemingly thorough detailing of the grand jury’s process, I found myself pulled into a part of my brain, a part of my system, a part that I’d like to deny still exists but that nonetheless kicked into action in response to the measured analysis on the radio – it was the part of me that was Listening While White. And of that crime I was nearly guilty.

As a White woman, raised in a White neighborhood with mostly White schools, educated in White institutions of higher learning, with essentially a White degree, I found that it was all too easy for me to be lulled into complacence and almost-but-not-really acceptance of McCulloch’s words. It was a language I know, one that was instilled in my childhood, in my schools, and the culture that made me. It was the language of whiteness, and even after many years of conscious work to undo that programming, I found myself nearly drawn into that space and discourse that, as much as I’d like to deny it, remains a part of me.

What do I mean by the language of whiteness? Here are words from just the first ten minutes of McCulloch’s statement: unprecedented cooperation between local and federal authorities, follow the facts, all available evidence to make an informed decision, all evidence shared, evidence presented in an organized and orderly manner, grand jury worked tirelessly, 25 separate days, 70 hours, 60 witnesses, hours and hours of recordings, experts on blood, DNA, toxicology, firearms, drug analysis, examined hundreds of photographs, instructed on the law, exhaustive review, full, impartial, and critical examination of all the evidence in the law… the accurate and tragic story of what happened.

This language of supposed impartiality, neutrality and apparent reason was deftly juxtaposed with the language of random gunfire, unfounded concern, non-stop rumors, witnesses making inconsistent statements, underlying tension, speculation, and fiction.

Luckily, before my White brain could slip any further into its default, preprogrammed mode, my 73-year old (White) mother slammed the table and exclaimed with disgust: “Talk about a whitewash!” And with that I woke up from my brief whiteness induced coma.

In this moment, in the juxtaposition of images and language, rational vs. inconsistent, accuracy vs. fiction, I could see the legacy of institutional racism laid bare, of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, of the historical and persistent criminalization of young Black boys and men, of injustice. I could see the role that our schools, our legal system, our institutions which have been built on a legacy of oppression and subjugation, play in perpetuating this legacy, and how language operates to make it all run smoothly (exhaustively, fully, tirelessly). And, I could see my role in this history, the part I play by simply turning off critical analysis and slipping unquestioningly into my conditioning.

I have both sorrow and rage about the Ferguson decision, but moving forward from tonight I also am looking more deeply within myself, at my unexamined assumptions, default modes, and the language that undergirds the structures in our society that killed Michael Brown, yet use carefully measured words to justify no probable cause for indictment.

Elisa Salasin can be reached at elisasalasin@gmail.com

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
August 14, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Matthew Hoh
Lights! Camera! Kill! Hollywood, the Pentagon and Imperial Ambitions.
Joseph Grosso
Bloody Chicken: Inside the American Poultry Industry During the Time of COVID
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: It Had to be You
H. Bruce Franklin
August 12-22, 1945: Washington Starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars
Pete Dolack
Business as Usual Equals Many Extra Deaths from Global Warming
Paul Street
Whispers in the Asylum (Seven Days in August)
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Predatory Capitalism and the Nuclear Threat in the Age of Trump
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
‘Magical Thinking’ has Always Guided the US Role in Afghanistan
Ramzy Baroud
The Politics of War: What is Israel’s Endgame in Lebanon and Syria?
Ron Jacobs
It’s a Sick Country
Eve Ottenberg
Trump’s Plan: Gut Social Security, Bankrupt the States
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s Fake News
Jonathan Cook
How the Guardian Betrayed Not Only Corbyn But the Last Vestiges of British Democracy
Joseph Natoli
What Trump and the Republican Party Teach Us
Robert Fisk
Can Lebanon be Saved?
Brian Cloughley
Will Biden be Less Belligerent Than Trump?
Kenn Orphan
We Do Not Live in the World of Before
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Compromise & the Status Quo
Andrew Bacevich
Biden Wins, Then What?
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
The Criminology of Global Warming
Michael Welton
Toppled Monuments and the Struggle For Symbolic Space
Prabir Purkayastha
Why 5G is the First Stage of a Tech War Between the U.S. and China
Daniel Beaumont
The Reign of Error
Adrian Treves – John Laundré
Science Does Not Support the Claims About Grizzly Hunting, Lethal Removal
David Rosen
A Moment of Social Crisis: Recalling the 1970s
Maximilian Werner
Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf: Textual Manipulations in Anti-wolf Rhetoric
Pritha Chandra
Online Education and the Struggle over Disposable Time
Robert Koehler
Learning from the Hibakushas
Seth Sandronsky
Teaching in a Pandemic: an Interview With Mercedes K. Schneider
Dean Baker
Financing Drug Development: What the Pandemic Has Taught Us
Greta Anderson
Blaming Mexican Wolves for Livestock Kills
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Meaning of the Battle of Salamis
Mel Gurtov
The World Bank’s Poverty Illusion
Paul Gilk
The Great Question
Rev. Susan K. Williams Smith
Trump Doesn’t Want Law and Order
Martin Cherniack
Neo-conservatism: The Seductive Lure of Lying About History
Nicky Reid
Pick a Cold War, Any Cold War!
George Wuerthner
Zombie Legislation: the Latest Misguided Wildfire Bill
Lee Camp
The Execution of Elephants and Americans
Christopher Brauchli
I Read the News Today, Oh Boy…
Tony McKenna
The Truth About Prince Philip
Louis Proyect
MarxMail 2.0
Sidney Miralao
Get Military Recruiters Out of Our High Schools
Jon Hochschartner
Okra of Time
David Yearsley
Bringing Landscapes to Life: the Music of Johann Christian Bach
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail