Friday, August 22, 2014

Ferguson: Facts or Feelings?

Two African American 
Perspectives on Ferguson

My wife thinks I watch "Cops" too much. Her theory is that I identify with the people the cops are arresting. She could be right. I am a "law and order conservative" who is also suspicious of the police. I believe most traffic law enforcement, especially the operation of speed traps, has much more to do with the public coffers than the public safety. I don't like police checkpoints because they smack to me of a police state that interferes with the liberty of citizens to move about freely. I don't think it is any business of the police to ask, "Where have you been? Where are you going?" If I were stopped and asked if I would mind the police searching my car, I would say, "I do unless you have a search warrant." Then, I thought tasers were supposed to be used to avoid the use of deadly force, but it appears to me that police use them in cases where deadly force could never be justified. 

Enough of that. What interests me is here is how different are the outlooks of two African American men on the events in Ferguson.

Brian Lorritts has an interesting piece regarding
the Ferguson tragedy at Christianity Today online. He argues that we all have cultural interpretative grids through which we look at events and understand life. He calls upon white Christians not to focus on the facts first but to listen with empathy - to understand how African Americans feel about Ferguson. He is right to call on all of us to be self-aware of our cultural hermeneutics and to remind us of the importance of trying to understand the feelings that lie beneath the words and actions of others. 

The problem I have with Mr. Lorritts piece is what appears to be an assumption that there is one African American point of view which whites need to understand. It seems to me that Mr. Lorritts represents, not the outlook of all African Americans, but a group of mostly young educated African American Christian ministers and thinkers. There seems to be a trend among these men to be more aware of and sensitive about their cultural history, experiences, and outlook and to push back against what they see as white racial/cultural bias within the churches. 

However, it is not the case that all African
Americans see Ferguson as does Mr. Lorritts. A case in point is Thomas Sowell whose August 21 column "The Media and the Mob" argues that what is important is not to get caught up in emotional reactions to Ferguson but to focus on the facts. Ferguson is a tragedy, but we need to wait and find out what happened. 

I do not know what to make of this. Thomas Sowell is, to be sure, a libertarian conservative who has written about race in a manner that is not representative of the African American "mainstream" outlook. But he is an African American. How did he get his grid? What experiences shaped it? How did he and Mr. Lorritts come to such different ways of looking at Ferguson? 

I know part of the difference has to be age. But there has to be something more - something that makes Brian Lorritts focus on the importance race while Thomas Sowell focuses on its lack of importance. 

No comments: