WWWPD? (What Would White People Do?)

(photo by Sid Hastings)
(photo by Sid Hastings)

It’s disorienting (but not unwelcome) to see tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people hashtagging Ferguson. It’s disorienting because I was raised in St. Louis; as a teen I worked at Zisser Tire and Auto, one of the first establishments looted; I was in the St. Louis City Public School system; as a social worker, I worked throughout St. Louis in neighborhoods just like Ferguson. St. Louis always has been and will always be home to me, no matter how far away I move or how long I stay away.

The activism is disorienting because St. Louisians are fully aware of the state of race relations in our area. It’s nothing new to any of us. What is transpiring is of no surprise to most residents. The current situation is an extreme manifestation of daily St. Louis life.

I’ve lived other places in the US, even on opposite ends—from the District of Columbia to Florida to Washington. Anyone who has lived in St. Louis and relocated to another area will more often than not attest to the same thing: race relations in St. Louis are distinct in their acrimony. Distinct is an understatement.

In many neighborhoods, segregation and racial tension in St. Louis is palpable. While it is understandable for many to argue that this is the case across the board, again I have to argue that St. Louisians understand the degree to which this is doubly, triply, quadruply true in St. Louis. Race relations in St. Louis are perpetually bursting at the seams in volatility. While we may have become desensitized to it, we can’t deny it.

It is no accident or coincidence that Ferguson, Missouri is the epicenter of the most racially-charged civil unrest our country has witnessed in over a decade—or longer. It is not random or unexpected. It is not mysterious or unpredictable.

However, based on the media coverage the situation is receiving (a.k.a. not receiving), one would be surprised it is even taking place. Not only would one be surprised it is taking place, but also one would be shocked by the proportion of civil unrest that has been occurring for days.

(photo by Koda Cohen - @kodacohen)
(photo by Koda Cohen – @kodacohen)

One of the obvious reasons mainstream media is failing to cover the level of civil unrest currently taking place in Ferguson is because of the population in question. Let’s ignore the impetus for the unrest for a moment and ask ourselves a simple question: If this level of civil unrest were occurring in a neighborhood with a different population, would the media be ignoring it or accept being blocked from reporting on it?

For St. Louisians, let’s be more specific in this rhetorical: If this level of civil unrest were occurring in Chesterfield, would the reaction of the media (local and national) be the same?

Seriously. For the sake of argument alone, set aside the reasons for what is happening for a moment and honestly ask yourself if the world would be practically ignoring our city. If there were protests, riots, tear gassing, SWAT activity, Constitutional violations, and attempts at media blackout in Chesterfield, Missouri,what would white people do?


Would white people be going on with our lives as if nothing were happening? Would we be taking to social media to discuss the nuances of fault and blame? Would we be sitting on our asses expecting the citizens to behave rather than demanding the government serve and protect its citizens? You know…the citizens they are silencing,threatening, insulting, firing rubber and wooden bullets at. The citizens to which they are denying the media access.

If Ferguson, Missouri were Chesterfield, Missouri, would any of what is happening be acceptable, let alone be happening?


Now let’s not set aside the reasons for what is happening and continue to ask ourselves the same type of questions, because the impetus and everything that followed it are not unrelated.

What is transpiring in Ferguson, Missouri wouldn’t happen in Chesterfield, Missouri because a police officer wouldn’t gun down an unarmed teen in the middle of the street in Chesterfield. The police (and the government in general) treat the citizens of Ferguson differently than the citizens of Chesterfield. The proof of this isn’t only in the shooting of Mike Brown but in how the situation is being handled and how the media is covering (a.k.a. not covering) the situation.

While it is easy (and sadly common) for us to blame the citizens of Ferguson for the current state of affairs, that is inaccurate and unjust. Ferguson didn’t happen in a vacuum. Ferguson isn’t some anomaly that needs to be solved really quick so life can return to normal and we can forget all about it. Ferguson is not a mere inconvenience.

What would white people do if being white were synonymous with being criminal? What would white people do if an unarmed teen were gunned down in the middle of the street and then his body left there for hours? What would white people do if this kind of treatment by the police were not simply commonplace but expected? What would white people do if other citizens of different races and economic classes reacted by saying white people should simply behave themselves, stop acting so “white”, and trust that not only will the truth about the shooting come out but that police officers should be given the benefit of the doubt? You know, the same police officers that have a track record of mistreating the population of Ferguson based upon race.

There is a reason why civil unrest is being squashed in Ferguson in the wholly unreported manner in which it is being squashed. It is the same reason that police in Ferguson (and similar communities) treat its citizens in the manner in which they do in the first place. It is the same reason why the media are neglecting to appropriately and responsibly cover the situation.

There is a reason for all of it: nobody has to treat the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri the same way they have to treat the citizens of Chesterfield, Missouri. That fact is indisputable. If the citizens of Ferguson, Missouri were treated the same way as the citizens of Chesterfield, Missouri, none of this would have likely happened in the first place. If it had still happened and if it led to the level of civil unrest occurring at this very moment in Ferguson, it would be actively reported on CNN, FOXNews, MSNBC, The Discovery Channel, HGTV, probably even some home shopping networks.


What would white people do?

We wouldn’t allow it to happen and we sure as hell wouldn’t allow people to blame it all on us.

Tell me then, why are we allowing it to happen in Ferguson and why are we acting as if though the people of Ferguson are to blame?

It couldn’t possibly be because they are predominantly black, could it?

Nahhhhhh…that can’t possibly be it. It’s definitely not about race at ALL.


To follow the events unfolding in Ferguson, I recommend this feed: http://www.reddit.com/live/tdrph3y49ftn/

For a different perspective than most on rioting/looting and a call to end “riot shaming,” you might want to check out this article: http://www.maskmagazine.com/the-substance-issue/struggle/step-back-with-the-riot-shaming


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