Ferguson: Those People

A friend announced her exit from social media this week. She picked a good time to leave. In the wake of the Ferguson grand jury decision, my Facebook newsfeed (rarely has this term been so ironic) is a jumble of self-righteous indignation. The predominant theme is “those people…”

“Those people” respond to perceived injustice by perpetuating actual injustice. “Those people” are destroying their own community. “Those people” have no respect and no family values.

If I’d been on the Ferguson grand jury, I think I would probably also conclude that officer Darren Wilson should not be indicted. The reaction of “those people” was predictable, and predicted. (The fact that the grand jury’s decision wasn’t made public until evening suggests that some decision-maker might have wanted the mob reaction we’ve been seeing.) Ferguson officials should have recognized that extra sensitivity would be required to deliver the news. After all, the reaction is not necessarily against this one decision, but instead represents a pent-up frustration at how these things tend to go down in general.

It can’t be argued that U.S. jails aren’t disproportionally filled with non-whites. It can’t be argued that non-whites have the same opportunities in the U.S. or even exist in the same socio-economic environment as most whites. But the predominant tone of my social media network is, “If only those people would live their lives the way I live mine, things would be fine.” It’s like someone with body image issues getting advice from a supermodel: “Just love yourself for who you are, like I do.”

It’s easy to write from a position of economic comfort, “Pull up your pants and get a job, like me.” I know a CEO who actually believes he achieved his position through his own fortitude – he discounts luck and circumstance and those who helped him along (he’s also white and male.) I’m not saying hard work and community values aren’t important – but to assume that “we” have those values, and “those people” don’t, is wrongheaded and a simplification. “Those people” are also US, and we all need to do more to share our good fortune. How appropriate that Thanksgiving is in two days. Let’s not only appreciate what we have, but share it with goodwill.