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What White People Don’t See

| December 17, 2014

Ken Moody (detail), by Robert Mapplethorpe (1983)

Ken Moody (detail), by Robert Mapplethorpe (1983).

Bear with me if the logic seems curious, but I see a connection between the recent police killings of young, unarmed black men, and the hacked emails of Sony Pictures executives in Hollywood. At this late date, and having been absent from this space for a while, I won’t re-argue the grand jury decisions in the Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island cases. But I will argue that the purloined email dialogue between producer Scott Rudin and Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal reflects a lot of the same thinking.

As a number of commentators have pointed out (most eloquently by Michael Eric Dyson last month in The New York Times), the police, in their words and actions, often regard young black men not as people to be reasoned with, but as marauding beasts of super-human strength and malevolent intent. How else to explain the words of the strapping Ferguson cop Darren Wilson, who referred to Michael Brown not as a “big man,” or “a huge guy,” but told the grand jury that “I felt like a five-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” Quite a mismatch there. As for Brown’s demeanor, Wilson described his antagonist, seemingly unfazed by wounding bullets, as looking “like a demon.”

Similarly, New York City cop Daniel Pantaleo, in the company of other officers, confronted Eric Garner, an obviously unarmed, 350-pound man, wrestled him to the ground, choked him, pressed his head into the pavement with considerable force, and offered no assistance when it was clear that Garner was seriously hurt. Garner’s crime? Resisting arrest on a misdemeanor charge. His summary punishment? Being trussed like a rodeo animal and left to die on the street.

The sad truth is that those who try to justify the actions of the police in all of the recent confrontations between white cops and black men (and that includes the actions of wanna-be-cop vigilante George Zimmerman in Sanford), won’t acknowledge that cops, like most white people, see through their windshield not a man or a teenager or a young boy, but a black man, a black teenager or a young black boy. The assumption that follows is that the officer is in the presence of criminal behavior compounded by a fearsome ability to inflict physical harm. In Zimmerman’s case, a jury bought the argument that Zimmerman, who initiated his fatal encounter with the unarmed Trayvon Martin, found himself in a desperate fight for his life with a teenager possessed of paralyzing physical strength.

Not only are we not color blind or “post-racial” (and isn’t it a relief to be able to retire that little oxymoron?), but race is the first thing people see in another human being, and the results in our polarized society are troubling. Let’s get back to the hacked emails between those two Hollywood big-shots, Rudin and Pascal. My wife, who is far wiser than I, often comments that character is the sum total of what a person does when he or she thinks no one is looking. Confident that their email exchange was private, these two creative geniuses bantered about a breakfast they were shortly to attend for President Obama.

Race is the first thing people see in another human being, and the results in our polarized society are troubling.

Pascal wondered what she should say to the President. “Should I ask him if he liked Django?” she wrote, to which Rudin replied, “12 Years [a Slave].” Not missing a beat in this witless exchange, Pascal responded with suggestions of other movies with a black leading character: “Or The Butler. Or Think Like a Man.”

So, insulated by wealth and privilege from the mean streets that our police officers contend with every day, these two exemplars of the American film industry, an hour or so away from meeting the president for whom they presumably had voted, found nothing to yuk it up about other than the fact of the man’s black skin.

At this late stage of his administration, Obama has certainly provided us with enough raw material for humor—from cartoonists’ affection for his outsized ears to his obsession with golf to his professorial cadence so deftly lampooned on Saturday Night Live. But no. When Pascal and Rudin focused their laugh meters on President Obama, all they saw was a black man, plain and simple.

You might think these two titans of Hollywood would have talked earnestly about what they might ask the president, an opportunity afforded to few mortals: His views on gun violence in movies? His take on how Hollywood might address the emergence of ISIS in the Middle East? Not a chance. They chose instead to do Amos ‘n’ Andy.
In a predictably tortured apology, Pascal wrote that the “insensitive and inappropriate” emails “are not an accurate reflection of who I am.” I beg to differ. When she thought no one was watching, that’s when Pascal provided a crystal-clear reflection of who she really is.

The sad thing is that Pascal’s ailment is chronic in our society, contagious when it is spread, and too often deadly when left uncontrolled.

Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.

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45 Responses for “What White People Don’t See”

  1. Soul Man says:

    Steve, as man of color I appreciate the articles you write and the points you bring out on Flaglerlive that many of our residents deny exist. The people that don’t want to get your point don’t care to get it. If majority of America didn’t think there was a problem with race relations back in the 60’s and before then why the heck would they care now. But thanks for getting IT and understanding. None of us are spot free from all forms of bias but when people like you that have been around dissect the matter and assert yourself in acknowledging our screams as black men it helps us to keep reaching out to our fellow man and neighbor no matter what color they are even if others continue covering their ears and eyes in bias to what we’ve heard, seen and experienced for far too long.

    • Jojo says:

      I am afraid I must be way too simple minded to be able to understand why society constantly has to infer that there is something “wrong” with being white or something “wrong” with being black, or any race for that matter (other than the fact that perpetuating the notion of racial tension sells soap…). Our planet is one of diversity; we are different people. We are black, white and purple. If I see a person walking toward me, of course I see their color and gender first. If I have a person of a different race than myself over for dinner, then I try to fix something they might typically like, or talk about topics that they might enjoy. To ignore their difference from me would almost be more of an insult than slighting them for it (which of course would be unacceptable).
      I am a white man, and if a large black man is confronting or threatening me, I may try to describe the encounter with some comparison analogy to illustrate the fear of the situation…I see nothing wrong with that. Just as there would be nothing wrong in using the same description if the situation were the same with a white offender. But it seems that society has to place a racial tone on this because there must be something “wrong” with being black. There is nothing wrong with a person’s color, only with how a person behaves.
      I also believe that most police officers will agree that their training and experience dictates how they handle law enforcement situations more than the color of a person’s skin. There is a huge philosophical argument for this one, much larger than can be written here, but just look at a mug shot page, you’ll see just as many (if not more) scary looking white people as black. You know who is not in there? Those that weren’t BREAKING THE LAW.
      What is wrong with asking the President about his views on a movie that might have relevant implications for him? The idea that wealth and privilege insulates Pascal and Rudin from higher thinking towards conversational topics is completely valid, but maybe the President would find topics other than the same old rehashed political ones’ a refreshing change of pace. It would be a shame if this idea were discarded because it would be deemed “wrong” to recognize that he is black, and might actually enjoy a movie with a black leading actor or black theme.
      How about this: Lets honor a person’s race or ethnicity, respect law enforcement, behave properly, and embrace our differences. There is nothing wrong with being black, or white, or having different heritage, it’s what we do with the future that matters.

  2. Soul Man says:

    This says it all “Tim Wise on the Rock Newman Show – Race and Racism in America 12/10/14”

  3. HonkeyDude says:

    What white people don’t see???? How about assistance? Be a single white father paying more than half he makes for child support when he has his kids over half the time. Try applying for assistance and constancly get shot down. Try having to have a irresponsible ex wife have to get insurance and maintain it for your kids because of your Caucasian male box and she can only get the insurance.

  4. Enlightened says:

    I take offense to this article. It starts with the title. All prejudice needs to stops by labeling others black or white. We are all brothers and sisters in God’s eyes. Having been raised by parents who were extremely prejudice, I have made it clear to my children not to judge anyone by the color of their skin, but by what type of individual they are. My parents ideas in my eyes were wrong and I want to stop this way of thinking in my family. This country needs to be more United. Hence the name United States.

  5. Percy's mother says:

    150+ innocent women (some pregnant) were executed in various ways yesterday in Iraq because they didn’t want to be married off to ISIS members. A mass grave was dug and the bodies were thrown in and buried. Then we have the massacre of 140+ innocent children in Pakistan two days ago. Innocent people are being slaughtered daily, sometimes in gruesome ways. The people I’m talking about are all innocents and just happen to be in the wrong region of the world at the wrong time.

    The murdered innocent women and children noted above are the true victims. Why isn’t anyone so up in arms about them? I’m getting sick of all the victimization of people in this country who think they have it rough. Spend an hour in that blood soaked school in Pakistan and then write more about victimization here in this country.

    • Nancy N says:

      So, because horrible atrocities are being committed on the other side of the world, that means that nothing bad is happening in this country?

      Your neighbor on one side kills his wife after an argument. Your neighbor on the other side has a similar argument with his wife and leaves his wife with a black eye and a few bruises.

      So by your standard, the woman with the black eye has nothing to complain about because she’s not dead like the other neighbor? Because hey, you think you have it rough – she’s dead, so she’s the true victim.

      Just because someone has it worse, doesn’t mean that something bad isn’t happening.

  6. attila says:

    Famous quote from Obama “If were to have a son I’d want him to be just like Trevon”.

    • Steve Robinson says:

      Fact check for Attila: Actually, what Obama said in 2012 was “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon.” After Zimmerman’s acquittal, he said, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.”
      Your distortion of the quote is interesting.

  7. bri says:

    race, it is what it is..bad as it is, it is..PERIOD

  8. Enough says:

    Da poor negro…da poor negro ! Everybody just stop living and bow their heads for da poor negro !

  9. sw says:

    No! keep the name/ blame game going but I am not getting IT you are right, way off base whatever no correlation at all

  10. Seminole Pride says:

    …… in a nation will they will not be judged by the color of their skin , but the content of the their character.
    Martin Luther King.

    Words that I live by.

  11. ken says:

    White cops “kill” approximately120 Blacks a year. The vast majority of those “killings” are justified.
    More than 3 times that number of Blacks were killed in Chicago.
    Blacks kill other Blacks nationwide at a rate of 8,000 a year.
    If it were not for cops, White and Black, there would be a lot more Black on Black killings.
    If Black leaders were really concerned about protecting Black lives, they would focus on these figures instead of bashing “racist” cops.

    • Nancy N says:

      White people kill just as many white people. Where is your outraged call to white leaders to put a stop to that? Where is your self-righteous veneration of cops espousing that white people need to be babysat for their own good to protect them from each other?

      Double standard = racism

  12. Lin says:

    So sick of this
    We need to heal this division and these articles are dividing us more and just picking at the scabs
    No doubt awful acts were committed by some but not by me or mine
    Don’t tell me I don’t see it I don’t understand, I do
    My people suffered too but I don’t blame you
    I judge you by the content of your character — judge me by the same

  13. Sherry Epley says:

    Beautifully said Steve Robinson!

    The defensive/offensive comments from those who refuse to even try and understand your truthful portrayal of the DEPTH of racism in the USA certainly bare witness to the accuracy of your words. Our national bigotry and prejudice is so fundamental and pervasive to the culture of the citizens of our country, that many, many people are in complete denial! They try to redirect the conversation by pointing out even worse human rights offenses, or by stating that talking about racism actually exacerbates the problem. They would prefer that we all just look away and pretend this deeply massive injustice doesn’t exist at all. . . after all, it doesn’t really hurt their world or families. They enjoy their self centered, self important, self imposed, myopic, insulated existence. They would prefer that no one ask them to look beyond themselves to even consider active evolution towards a higher human consciousness. . . one that actually gives meaning to “all (hu) men (s) are created equal”!

    Keep up the great writing, Steve! If your words influence even one closed mind, one closed heart, you will have made a difference in the world!

    • John says:

      To Sherry Eply, Really, it doesn’t hurt their world or families, YOU ARE WRONG, let me give you some education. I lost more friends to the streets of Southwest Philadelphia by black murdering thugs, than I did Brothers who I fought with in Vietnam.
      Your comment is offensive, I still mourn my first my girlfriend who was murdered and tortured by blacks. Also a cousin was brutally murdered by black scum, so don’t tell me that this does not hurt families.

      To Steve Robinson, Why don’t you write about the black murdering thugs that kill innocent white people,

      • Nancy N says:

        John, most white people are killed by other white people…why aren’t you demanding that Steve write about THAT? We have a huge problem in this country with white-on-white murder, don’t we?

  14. Joy says:

    I don’t understand why we are barraged with race lessons.

  15. Lin says:

    Judging all by the actions of a few — putting one race, in this case judging all white people as a group to be judged racist is racist itself

    That violence in the name of justice is condoned, promoted, and honored is just dividing us all.
    Why are we not working on the problems in our communities that create that separation like poverty and poor education, breakdown of families, gangs, crime.

  16. attila says:

    Steve. A lot of people wish it was Obama 35 years ago. Thank you for correcting my post.

  17. wow says:

    Black people need to stop looking for acceptance from whites, and try earning their respect. When the nightly news is how your community is seen, what kind of bias do you expect. It’s not going to be favorable.

  18. ??? says:

    Stop it. This is no longer relevant. Race is not an issue as it was in our fathers and grandfathers days. Great men took a stand and sacrificed to change that. Those that still lean on the ‘race card’ belittle that and it is only white on black crime that makes the news. The majority is black on black and when black on white crime occurs it is guaranteed to only make local news even in case of black cop on white kid or white unarmed subject. This is now more than ever the land of opportunity. Not to mention the actual (as i have seen spoken) unspoken quota that many companies, govt. or otherwise have to hire more ‘people of color’,

  19. Bo Sears says:

    There is another connection based on your first sentence, and that is that the so-called allies and white liberals who are “kindly bent to ease you” have morphed into the new white supremacists. Status-seeking within the white urban-coastal culture (glossy Manhattan magazines and anti-Christian, anti-white, and anti-American Hollywood), the allies and white liberals for the most part are interested only in optics and ideology.

    We’re saying this as the “ADL” for the diverse white American peoples to alert peoples of color to examine more closely the good faith of various condescending & patronizing white people who operate much the same way the Islamic & Christian missionaries did a century ago in Africa & Asia…namely as handlers and white supremacists seeking to colonize the minds of peoples of color they meet.

    We’ve known this for a long time, but it appears now that writers and activists from groups made up of peoples of color are catching on. The people who run Sony are nothing but handlers or white supremacists, hypocrites to the max, and worse in some ways than straight-forward haters. Incidentally, most of the old line white supremacists have drifted into a kind of white separatism, leaving a social niche for the monumentally vulgar and intrusive new white supremacists.

    Good luck with sorting them out. The best clue is their reliance on names & labels that provide disordered categories of discourse that divide and suppress.

  20. Kaci Lipthrott says:

    What Lin said!! Kudos. Why does everything need to labeled by race or deemed as racist? I am honestly disgusted with the amount of news articles on this website about this topic. Please find something else to write about that doesn’t spark negative feedback.

  21. Kaci Lipthrott says:

    I would also prefer my ethnicity to be considered Caucasian instead of “white people”

  22. Respect says:

    This article is racist in in self. Number 1 – garner died in the hospital not in the street. Number 2 – he should obey the law and not do illegal things and number 3 – that would if been his 31st arrest. So he was obviously not an innocent man by any means. Did he deserve to die? No. Did he follow orders from police? Obviously not or he wouldn’t have been in a choke hold. This article is racist against your own for one. And this type of article is what keeps up divided. It’s ridiculous what kind of world my children have to grow up in.

  23. Ben says:

    I am always honored to have friends of color.
    If I was black I’d probably hate, or at least distrust white people.
    Black people have been given a raw deal in our country since the outset.
    When they offer me friendship, it is a thing of beauty, how they overlook
    my color, the color of my skin that is associated with slavery, segregation,
    job and housing discrimination, and sickening self-righteousness.

    Fellow caucasians: c’mon now, how many days, hours or minutes has it been
    since you heard the word “nigger” uttered by a white person close to you?”

    All one can do in our society is to set a good example and treat all people
    with respect without regard to their race. If I have to give a “different looking”
    person extra consideration – I will. I have to do something to counteract
    what other people of my skin color are doing. You see, I have no loyalty to my race.
    I instead feel loyalty to all good and decent human beings.

    I’m an older guy approaching the finish line. I can’t envision racial strife going away
    in my lifetime. I do believe that it’s our downfall as a nation.

    We’re NOT so United.

    • Outsider says:

      My oldest daughter first heard the “n” word right here in Palm Coast, about 8 years ago. She and my wife were walking into Wendy’s on Palm Coast Parkway when one black male yelled, “Hey nigga…what up?” to another black teen across the parking lot. My daughter asked my wife what “nigga” meant. I don’t recall exactly what she told her, but what difference does it make?

      • Ben says:

        I wish I had a dollar for every instance where I heard sentences peppered with the “n” word
        by people other than blacks. I’d buy a house in the Hammocks with that cash.

        That other word you reference proves that stupidity and ignorance know no racial boundaries.

        At any rate, spin-doctoring skills are in high demand. This can mean a Rolls Royce in your future.
        We can drive in style to my big house on the Hammock one day.

  24. Bill says:

    BS the two incidents in question had people breaking the law. the one in Ferguson had a man physically attacking a police officer. it was not race at all unless one thinks only blacks assault cops. the other had a man resisting arrest and he was a LARG man that it took multiple cops to get him down. Why did the cops go after him TAXES The Demacract controlled City and State care more about its TAX $ then this mans life.

  25. Lin says:

    I haven’t heard that word uttered by anyone in my circle
    We don’t talk that way
    We don’t feel that way

    Racism wasn’t invented here. It has existed for hundreds (thousands) of years
    The fear is being perpetuated by the expectation that we are racist
    A few are, most are not
    I’m afraid too especially when I see the demonstrations in NYC and elsewhere
    Relations are getting worse

  26. Sherry Epley says:

    Dear “John says” you have my deepest sympathy for your tragic losses. The level of violence and inhumanity in our country is heart breaking from every perspective, regardless of skin color.

    May I ask you to reach into your heart and mind and honestly consider this question:

    If those that committed such horrible acts against your loved ones just happened to have white skin, would you truly so passionately hate the entire white race?

    Wishing you and yours the blessings of peace and love in this season of forgiveness.

  27. Bob Fortier says:

    Oh Man…where do I begin? First, I am white and I do not judge a person by the color of their skin. I have lived on the streets from the age of 13 until I joined the Army in 1974…during Viet Nam. I got my GED in the military, used my VA benefits to go to college, and then started my own business. Years later I received a Pardon for my crimes and had a clean record. Had I not did all this to make something out of myself, I would probably been dead by now from drugs and the criminals I dealt with.
    My point here is this…Being white did nothing for me with regard to making it in society. I was discriminated by others (white, black, brown) because of my behaviors even though I could just blame my drunken father and mentally ill mother. What would that accomplish, except to provide an excuse for me to not change.
    Unless you are disable, you pick yourself up…it is no ones elses job or concern. No one is going to change ones bad behavior if that person feels comfortable being lazy, cruel, hateful, etc. So yes, I spent years living in cars, stealing food so I could eat, and breaking laws.
    I now have a successful business, participate in my community, donate money to causes I believe in, Take in others in need of shelter at times, and treat others as I would like them to treat me. My wife and I are proud Godparents of a beautiful little Jamaican boy in Jamaica, who we also send money to for his family to take care of him and keep him in school. My 19 year old granddaughter also grew up with violence and was born deaf. Had behavioral problems, but now she is in Nursing School an a wonderful young lady.
    So please stop being to biased and racist. Enough is enough, and it is annoying when the writer tries to paint us all, white and black, with the same brush. People need to be responsible for their actions and words. If they are not, it certainly is not MY fault. Do you think I was treated wonderful during my years of struggle because I was white? Really? I don’t know which stupid thinking is worse…OBama telling the world how bad we are for torturing islamic mass murderers, or you ridiculous article. YOu appear to believe things will change if the blacks can only be convinced that “white people” (a racist term) are the reason for “Black People” behaving badly. There are so many programs in this country for the poor to attend college it is not funny. With regard to our governments poor choices, when you make it possible for people to have shelter, have a car, not have to work, and not even get drug tested don’t ya think there will be a lot of takers? You want help? fine, go to school or take up a trade and stay out of trouble. That is helping people. Give a man a fish and he will eat for one day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for ever.

    • Nancy N says:

      “My point here is this…Being white did nothing for me with regard to making it in society.”

      Oh, you think so, do you? Did you know that research shows that a white convicted felon has better job prospects than a black male with no criminal record? #becauseracism

  28. Justme says:

    What aid could the police have offered Garner? They aren’t issued oxygen bottles along with handcuffs and firearms. You don’t do CPR on someone that is breathing.
    They called the EMTs, who responded in minutes. That’s about the extant of what they could do.
    Of course they could have taken the guy out of handcuffs after it took three of them to cuff him after Garner resisted arrest. I suppose that the police could have believed that he was having trouble breathing, and took the cuffs off. I don’t know if that would have helped, and it’s obvious that someone under arrest would never lie about a health problem to get out of the cuffs.

  29. nomad says:

    Two Hollywood bigwigs are agonizing over what to say to the candidate they were strong armed into propagandizing and promoting to the American people. Honestly, what exactly are they expected to say to a talking robot whose is constantly being reprogrammed to recite the storyline of the moment. What this shows is that our political system is a mockery and deserves to be treated as such.

    Hollywood is the biggest propaganda arm of the government. This email exchange reveals the length and depth of the corruption when two brilliant people, cannot for the life of them, figure out what to say to their “president.” At least with Reagan they could have talk about the good ole days of Hollywood, Jimmy Carter about peanut farming, Clinton about cigars, Bush and Bush Jr about the cunning Saudis and advise on how to get their hands on globs and globs of their wealth…

    This “hack” was very deliberate to feed the race baiting agenda of the democratic establishment. And it’s working. Many intelligent and thinking people are questioning this so called “hack” with good reasons… another distraction is just what’s needed.

  30. Ray Thorne says:

    I always have a problem when I hear words or read sentences from a person of who takes it upon themselves to speak for an entire race of people as if their ideology is shared by everyone.

  31. Sherry Epley says:

    “Justme” The police could have:
    1. NOT hounded Mr. Garner again and again for the very minor offense of not paying taxes on cigarettes he sold. Did the 5 of them really have nothing better to do?

    2. NOT jumped on him live a pack of wolves

    3. NOT put Mr. Garner in an illegal choke hold.

    4. NOT continue with the choke hold after he was cuffed and gasping for air

    5. NOT continue to hold him down after he was cuffed

    6. They could have given him CPR. . . which, by the way, they are trained in!

    7. They could have treated him like a person instead of a dangerous animal!

    He was NOT resisting arrest, he was trying to BREATHE! He was trying to save his own life! Please. . . Look at the video with an OPEN mind folks!

    • Ray Thorne says:

      1. Police didn’t “Hound” Mr. Garner, they responded due to a complaints about Mr. Garner. Should police have ignored the complaints? If you called the police on someone, would it be ok for them to ignore your complaint?

      2. An attempt was made to arrest Mr. Garner (he was committing a crime). Mr. Garner resisted. Had he not done so, there would have been no need to take it to another level.

      3. Mr. Garner stated numerous times that he couldn’t breathe. If he were being choked, he wouldn’t have been able to speak at all. He may have had difficulty breathing but for other reasons which have been pointed out.

      4. See #3.

      5. He had already resisted. No telling if he was still a possible threat. Cuffed people have caused injury to officers.

      6. You can’t perform CPR on a person who is still breathing (which at that time he was).

      7. Mr. Garner dictated the response he got from law enforcement.

      He WAS resisting arrest. He could have saved his own life by complying after breaking the law. He was a nuisance to the store owner who was trying to make a legal living. Evidently, your mind isn’t open enough to see every side of this equation. The man was in terrible health and died over selling cigarettes illegally. It’s terrible, tragic and sounds ridiculous and it didn’t have to happen had he just took responsibility for violating the law.

  32. Nikia says:

    What gives someone the right to say white people see this or that? Please don’t tell me what I see or feel. Namaste to all my brothers and sisters. I see the light inside of you. You have falsely accused or judged me before you have even looked to my light.

  33. I'm just saying says:

    Steve Robinson……the black perspective from a white guy.

    Did I miss something?

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