I read an article this morning regarding the autopsy of Renisha McBride. It stated that she was shot in the face and not the back of the head as originally reported. I’m not sure how much more comfort that gives anyone to know this fact because the end result is that she is still dead and her killer at home not arrested. It’s really difficult for me to see this situation playing out the same if the shooter was black and the victim white, especially when taking into account the incredible amount of historical precedence for situations like these.
The results of the autopsy aside, what caught my eye were the comments from the family and the police that for me, sum up the differing sides of the race issue in relationship to black and white perspectives. It is really something as simple as differing views on what constitutes racism or an act involving racism that sits at the heart of this tragic murder. Something as simple and as complex as this:
“Her family has said they believe McBride, who is black, went up to the house seeking help after the accident and was racially profiled. Dearborn Heights police, though, said last week that there is no indication that race had anything to do with the shooting”
This is the tricky business of naming and calling out racism in the 21st century. Rarely is it as blatant as it was during the decades of Post Reconstruction terror and lynchings dubiously named Jim and Jane Crow. Neither is it as blatant as the segregation of the 60s. Of course during those times it was perfectly legal so openly calling it out for what it was fell on deaf ears because racism was openly supported by the legal system of the United States government. However, in the 21st century racism is “illegal” and no longer transparently on display as noted. Instead it is now an opaque game of shadows where acts of racism are committed openly but dressed up in the legalism of laws such as “Stand Your Ground” or discretionarily such as a bartender cutting you off at the bar after one beer because they have determined that “you’ve had one too many” as noted by Cord Jefferson in his brilliant piece for Gawker.
Proving that these acts are racially biased are difficult when they are protected by legalism and proprietary discretion. Yet for people of colour who experience racism and know what it looks like, the evidence of it is as plain as day. Taking all that into consideration it is no wonder that the McBride family can see this as a blatant act of racism while the Dearborn PD say there is “no indication that race had anything to do with the shooting” and why would they see it any differently? The still unidentified shooter had no Nazi paraphernalia in his house that we know of. No affiliation to any white supremacist groups. In essence, there were no visible signs that are associated with racism according to the white gaze of the legal system and White America. On the surface the shooter is a responsible, quiet, unassuming neighbour who probably didn’t have so much as a speeding ticket. Ergo, he was and is a “model” American citizen in terms of the white gaze of the Dearborn PD and White America at large and this is what makes white supremacist ideology and its proponents silent killers. Move along. Nothing to see here.
In lieu of all of the factors I listed that would readily identify the shooter as a racist and thus provide the evidence to the Dearborn police that this shooting was racially motivated, the one factor that cannot be introduced as evidence in establishing that this shooting involved race is that the shooter is a White male in America. The most racially significant component of the Renisha McBride case isn’t her Blackness alone but the shooter’s Whiteness and it is the lack of recognition of this that leads the police to believe that this attack was non-racially motivated and more importantly, as it stands right now, positions the shooter to remain free without charge or arrest while justice remains unaddressed and likely to remain so for the foreseeable future.
What do I mean by that? In my last post I wrote on the gunslinger, frontier mentality that informs US cultural mythology and its white citizens when it comes to thoughts regarding race and “otherness”. There is a racist component to growing up white in America that is simply seen as “being American” and therefore would never be regarded as “racist” or even factored into the equation when determining what constitutes an act of racism regarding situations like Renisha McBride’s. This is what makes white supremacy a silent killer because it can kill with impunity and yet not be held to account or called by its name due to the “normality” of its posture. This is privilege personified. In rare occasion it has always been anything but race, especially in light of the fact that for the vast majority of White America there has never been a “race” problem.
The insidiousness of this should not be underestimated. I would be comfortable in stating that the shooter probably never called anyone a nigger. I feel confident that if you asked the shooter they would not identify themselves as racist. However, the truth is that American racism is a malignancy so deeply embedded into the white American psyche that it is unrecognisable to even those in whom the tumour has taken up residence. It is as the author Toni Morrison stated “a profound neurosis that nobody examines for what it is”.
That is to say that the shooter of Renisha McBride on the fateful night had been “coached up” if you may, by a lifetime of indoctrination from a variety of sources that are woven into the mythology of the country itself that teaches White Society to see and profile particular people as a threat despite all the evidence to the contrary as stated by the police. This indoctrination was at play the moment when Renisha McBride appeared at his door in the early hours of the morning and that indoctrination informed the actions of the the shooter who was ready and prepared, conditioned to respond to particular threats in a specific way. That is why Renisha McBride’s family as well as many people of colour and non-colour around the country believe that this story has a racist component to it and that is the reason why the police simply cannot see what is in front of them. It is also for those reasons why there is no laws that exist that can identify racism in this fashion and criminalise it in response. Furthermore, it is the same cultural indoctrination that informs the law enforcement perspectives across the nation and led to the shooting and killing of Jonathan Ferrell in an eerily similar fashion by the police department in North Carolina back in September of this year.
In closing, let me add that my argument does not mean I believe every white person would kill someone as in this instance. Nor does it mean that I believe every white person is a killer. I am speaking to a particular mentality that is culturally pervasive and one that I believe plays a part in THIS situation. Cultural racism/white supremacy is fluid and shape-shifting in its application. It is often dictated by the situation and the vast majority of White Society’s adherents don’t all respond to it in the same way. Whether it’s the inability for a person to catch a cab in NY, denial of service, the heinous act of murder or simply making a comment that is knowingly or unknowingly racist, white supremacy is ninja like in that it’s silent, deadly and extremely hard to identify in a way that would compel the legal system to respond accordingly and that is the crux of the issue for Renisha McBride’s family and any of the other numerous victims of it.