Michael Brown’s death didn’t cause a divide between you and the people in your social networks. It simply revealed one. Use the information you’re getting to decide which relationships you value.
Dear Race Manners:
I have been so offended and angered by what some of my friends on Facebook have said about Michael Brown and the situation in Ferguson (he was a thug, he deserved it, black people destroy their own communities, blacks are criminals, all the police officers in Ferguson should quit because blacks don’t appreciate them and more). I feel as though I don’t know some of my former classmates. You would be shocked if I gave you the quotes, believe me—so heartless and sometimes flat-out racist.
To be honest, my heart is already heavy for Michael’s family and the Ferguson community and for the way we are seen and treated in this country, so sometimes I don’t have the strength to respond, but I’m both hurt and frustrated, not to mention angry. What to do? —Anonymous
It’s no surprise that you’re seeing a racial divide in the reactions to what happened in Ferguson, Mo. A poll conducted by Pew showed that blacks are about twice as likely as whites to say that the shooting of Michael Brown “raises important issues about race that need to be discussed.”
To be clear—as plenty of people pointed out to me on Twitter when I shared those results—that doesn’t mean that only nonwhite people care about Brown’s death or are sensitive to the racial dynamics of this week’s events in Ferguson, including the treatment of protesters in the predominantly black town by a militarized police force. Americans of all backgrounds are completely horrified—for proof of that, just check the photos from the scene, including the one of the 90-year-old Holocaust survivor getting arrested at a demonstration.
But you’re among many who are struggling to make sense of how identity can inform assessments of this ongoing tragedy. One author wrote, “I Don’t Know How to Talk to White People About Ferguson.” My own friends have sent me screenshots of their nonblack friends’ commentary, accompanied by outraged emails (“Can you believe he said this?”). Others have voiced frustration about what they say is near-silence on the topic among the diverse users who fill their feeds.
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Jenée Desmond-Harris, The Root’s associate editor of features, covers the intersection of race with news, politics and culture. She wants to talk about the complicated ways in which ethnicity, color and identity arise in your personal life—and provide perspective on the ethics and etiquette surrounding race in a changing America. So if you need race-related advice, send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jenée on Twitter.