Why do white lives matter more than black lives? - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Why do white lives matter more than black lives?

Baltimore has captured the country’s attention for more than two weeks now.

Yet another unarmed Black man—Freddie Gray in this instance—had an encounter with law enforcement. He died April 19 a week after he sustained a fatal spinal injury while he was in police custody. People protested peacefully for more than a week, but the national media did not descend upon our charming little city until a Monday night riot broke out.

Pundits engaged in discussions—some of them heated—as to whether Freddie Gray was dead because of the color of his skin. Was racism a factor in the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police?

On May 1, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby filed charges against the six police officers involved in Gray’s April 12 arrest. Some people argue that race is not an issue because three of the officers charged are black and three are white.

What people  fail to understand is that racism has two distinct paths with two distinct destinations: privilege and assignation of human worth travel along one path toward a dominant group – a preferred group; and dehumanization and deprivation travel along a different path to an oppressed group – a spurned group.  This dynamic gives rise to self-assurance (some say arrogance) within the dominant group and self-hate within the oppressed group.

Racism results in the practices, beliefs, social relations and phenomena that work to reproduce a racial hierarchy and social structure that yields superiority and privilege for some, and discrimination and oppression for others.

Baltimore started out with peaceful protests but that changed within two days. (Erik Hoffman)

Baltimore started out with peaceful protests but that changed within two days. (Erik Hoffman)

Most people have lost touch with the true definition of racism due, in no small part, to some contemporary dictionaries define racism as “belief that one’s own race is superior” or “prejudice or hatred against a racial group different from one’s own.”

Such definitions assume that we are all equal now, that the idea of systemic racism is defunct.   And many people would like to believe that, to believe that racial privilege is not a major component in their relative freedom.  Still others would like to believe that they are not being held back because of their race.

In a society such as ours, we know, even if we do not think it consciously or say it out loud, that generally, a white life is more valuable than a black life, that white people are the good, upstanding citizens, and African-Americans are society’s problem child.  To illustrate this societal belief, consider how the problem of white crime is handled.

Television news shows report heinous crimes committed by white people—such as several killings of a spouse or child for insurance money, several spouses knocked off cruise ships or yachts, mass shootings in schools, among other places, multiple serial rapists and murderers, kidnappers who torture their victims for years.  There have been stabbings, beatings, sodomies, and the bullying to death of another child perpetrated by white girls.  There has been a rash of young white female teachers sexually molesting their students.

Yet, how often is the entire white community considered more “criminal” than other groups?  How often is it said that if we just don’t hire young white females as teachers, we can reduce the rate of sexual assault in our schools?  If we create separate schools for white boys, we can keep more students safe?  That all white girls are thugs?  That white people must be criminals because look how much they use drugs?  And when white people riot after a sports event, who says, “See how they are? (That’s why they get treated the way they do.)”

When do black lives matter in Baltimore? (Erik Hoffman)

When do black lives matter in Baltimore? (Erik Hoffman)

And with all of this criminal activity among white people, why are police not patrolling predominately white neighborhoods, looking out for such crimes, approaching white people as they sit on their decks to apprehend users of illegal substances, asking white men who they plan to rape or kidnap or murder today, following them to nab them for the crimes they will inevitably commit?  Why are police not randomly questioning young white women, confiscating their cellphones to see if there are any illicit texts sent to 13-year-olds?  Why are we ignoring this crisis in the white community?  Why are we not appalled by the level of white on white crime in our country?

Because white lives matter.  White people deserve the chance to be seen and treated as individuals, not as a lump of inferiority, not as automatic suspects.  White people have the right to comport themselves without undue intrusion, without having to constantly explain themselves (at the societal level, which does not preclude such at the personal level). White people seldom worry about getting shot in the back.

What does all of this have to do with Freddie Gray’s death?

Well, Freddie Gray did live in a neighborhood that police patrolled, scavenging for criminal behavior.  Freddie Gray lived in a neighborhood where he had to watch his back, a neighborhood where opportunities to get a quality education and gainful employment were at a minimum, where levels of lead paint poisoning were among the highest in the country.  Those are class issues, one might argue.  But look around Freddie Gray’s neighborhood.  How racially diverse is it?

Freddie Gray was part of that lump, one of those suspects.  Yes, he had a history of petty crimes, some things a young White man might not have been charged for at all; or his activity might not have even been noticed by police because they were not searching for criminals among young white men. (To test this theory, ask young white men how many times they have been stopped and frisked/questioned as they walked along a city sidewalk or stopped on the road solely for driving their own cars.)  But why are we even discussing Freddie Gray’s rather insignificant rap sheet?  Because he was a criminal, therefore, he deserved to die?  Because it is not such a big deal that he was killed since he wasn’t a worthy man anyway (as proven by his criminal record)?  Because he was just a thug, not a mother’s child?

It also is to be noted that a black man is a dangerous criminal, a thug, whether the crime he commits is possession of one joint or murder.  It’s all the same if a black man does it, because he is, at his core, criminal. If he has committed no crime whatsoever, has never committed a crime, it does not matter because he is a thug by nature, and given time, he is likely to be a danger to society.  His mere being is a threat.

And, whether or not we allow it into our minds or say it out loud, we all know that, in general, a black life matters less than a white life, that police can brutalize or kill a black person with minimal likelihood of facing serious consequences. Yes, white people and people of other races are sometimes the victims of police brutality, but not at the rate that black people are, especially black boys and men.  And white boys and men have assaulted police officers, stolen emergency vehicles, taunted police officers (sometimes armed, sometimes unclad), and run from the police…and managed to live.

But it can’t be about race, some might reiterate, because the police officer who faces the most severe charges is himself black.  But being black does not dull a person’s awareness that a black life matters less, that there are fewer consequences for taking a black life.  Couple that with the self-hate endemic to oppressed populations and we have a potentially lethal combination on our hands.

There are other issues of race and racism that the Freddie Gray case calls into question.  For instance, is it more palatable to bring charges against three black officers and three white ones rather than had they all been white?

Freddie Gray died April 19 - one week after sustaining a fatal spinal injury while in police custody. (YouTube)

Freddie Gray died April 19 – one week after sustaining a fatal spinal injury while in police custody. (YouTube)

I am not at all questioning the integrity of Marilyn Mosby because I believe she is honestly seeking justice, no matter the race of the players; however, will the rigidity around indicting white officers become more malleable in the wake of this case?  Will that segment of the American public who blindly and consistently support white officers no matter how outrageous the reason they concoct for killing an unarmed black man, finally be able to break through their own defensiveness—even if only a little—to consider that sometimes a White person can be wrong in relation to a black person—who could actually be innocent?

There are even more questions to consider.  Some media outlets referred to Baltimore’s mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, as the queen of destruction in lieu of examining the merits and blunders of her methodology in handling the growing uprising.  Was this because a black woman did not deserve the benefit of the doubt, because she is not to be taken seriously no matter her position, because she is not worth the time it would take to offer genuine criticism?  Was it because if a black woman is not a welfare queen, then she must be the queen of something rotten?   Did the criticism of Marilyn Mosby’s seemingly swift decision to charge the officers involved and the calls that she recuse herself have just a little extra edge to them?  Even as they rise to positions of power, how much change can African-Americans effect in a system that is so deeply imbalanced?  Is Mosby boldly stepping out to create fundamental change in a faulty structure?

There are these questions and many more.  But there is one question, the answer to which we can almost bet on: if Freddie Gray had been a white man, he’d probably still be alive.



About the author

Leslie Jubilee

Leslie Peace Jubilee was born in Baltimore and was almost five years old when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. At that age, she was not even aware of the ensuing riots, and although she knew there was something different and somewhat unacceptable about her and had experienced a few unpleasant encounters, she did not really get a good taste of racism until she moved to the predominately White suburbs around the age of ten. She graduated from Towson State University. She has an M.A. in Philosophy from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Pursuing her education introduced her to other flavors of racism. At the time of the 2015 Baltimore uprising following Freddie Gray’s death, she was just a few short blocks from the main action, and of course, was keenly aware of the situation. She laments that a monster that changes its face depending on the environment in which it exists has claimed yet another life. Contact the author.