Editorial: Ferguson in black and white

Different experiences and a lack of empathy generate very dissimilar reactions

The death of Michael Brown and reactions after the fact once again show the face and impact of de facto racial segregation that divides American society.

This incident brought very different points of view face to face. Like in the case of Trayvon Martin in Florida, the situation with police officer Darren Wilson, which ended in Brown’s death after being shot six times, is seen differently by African Americans and Anglos. Just like the interpretation of subsequent protests.

According to a HuffPost/YouGov poll, 76% of African Americans see what happened between the police officer and the teenager as a broader pattern of behavior; only 35% of whites agree with that point of view.

The difference partly comes from the very dissimilar experiences that both communities have in dealing with the police. Anglo parents are not afraid that any of their child’s actions could be misinterpreted by a picky police officer and end up in that child’s death.

There is a lack of understanding and empathy in the Anglo community about what is happening in the African-American community. This is because an Anglo’s social network is 91% white, according to a Public Religion Research Institute survey; in comparison, this racial homogeneity is 65% for African Americans and 46% for Latinos.

Segregation is not official, but it exists on a de facto basis, both geographically and in terms of experience. Meanwhile, the numbers reveal a gap in educational and employment opportunities between whites and blacks. The Great Recession hit Anglo workers hard, making them see African-American demands for social justice with little sympathy.

The clamor in Ferguson demands a fair process in dealing with Brown’s death. It is a cry that emerges from the experience of having concerns left behind and ignored. This is not a unique emotion, since the Latino community has also experienced it.

The wealth that diversity contributes can be felt when it is shared, when the human condition is recognized. Empathy, the action of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes in order to understand them, is a virtue to be emulated.

Brown’s funeral and the investigation of Wilson have provided more peace of mind—until the next incident that brings up the deep differences in life experiences between blacks and whites.