Letter writer makes good point: On November 30, Michael Eric Dyson wrote a piece in the Sunday New York Times about the Ferguson grand jury.
Dyson started like this:
DYSON (11/29/14): When Ferguson flared up this week after a grand jury failed to indict the white police officer Darren Wilson for killing the unarmed black youth Michael Brown, two realities were illuminated: Black and white people rarely view race in the same way or agree about how to resolve racial conflicts, and black people have furious moral debates among ourselves out of white earshot.Presumably, Dyson meant, in that highlighted passage, that white people rarely “view race in the same way” black people do. Yesterday, a letter in the Times took issue with that formulation.
These colliding worlds of racial perception are why many Americans view the world so differently...
As best we can tell, we may not agree with the letter writer’s view concerning the killing of Michael Brown. Beyond that, we don’t necessarily agree with his reaction to Dyson’s piece.
We do agree with his general complaint about what he calls “stereotyping.” We think his general complaint is worth reviewing:
LETTER TO THE NEW YORK TIMES (12/7/14): Although well intentioned, Michael Eric Dyson’s article promotes a binary view of race in America. The article emphasizes how “whites” and “blacks” supposedly differ in their perceptions of what happened in Ferguson: Whites were likely to stereotype Michael Brown as a monstrous black culprit and Officer Darren Wilson as justified in his murderous reaction.We always like it when someone puts scare quotes around “white” and “black!”
I am “white,” so is my wife, so are most of our friends. Not one of us views the events as Mr. Dyson suggests. All of us are horrified by police brutality and the victimization of another young black man. Although a majority of whites may indeed blame the victim, a substantial minority does not.
And that is the point: By stereotyping whites as sharing in the same racial stereotypes, Mr. Dyson inadvertently helps to deepen this country’s racial divide.
West Lafayette, Ind., Nov. 30, 2014
We think the writer overstates the extent to which Dyson promoted that “binary view of race in America.” But we also think it’s worth considering the general complaint he makes.
The writer says that he and his friends, who are all white, agree with Dyson’s view. He doesn’t want to get lumped in with people whose views he doesn’t share through racial “stereotyping.”
Good for him! Despite the horrors and the cultural separation enforced by our brutal racial history, we the people have not been turned into two separate-and-different “races.” Reflexively, though, we often stress the differences between the two “races” without noting the overlap and the sameness.
For our money, the “stereotyping” this writer dislikes was much more prevalent in Nicholas Kristof’s recent, condescending column, “When Whites Just Don’t Get It, Part 5.”
Not only was Kristof’s racial stereotyping strong. He assumed the obnoxious role of the sun god/philosopher king, taking it upon himself to instruct “the whites” about what they should think, know and feel.
The notion that we belong to two “races” was created and forced upon the world by our benighted ancestors. At some point, people might want to do what the letter writer did—they might consider rejecting the sense that they belong to a “race.”
In our view, “black and white together” remains a worthwhile battle cry. Even better would be this cry: “We the people together.”
How do we make that battle cry work? The letter writer’s refusal to submit to over-generalization may be a good place to start.
Kristof seems to believe that white people are white! As a self-appointed, all-knowing sun god, he may want to expand his vision.