Three "Isolated" Incidents of Racism

Three “isolated” incidents of racism

Racism comes in many forms, but is often mistaken for isolated incidents conducted by individual actors. I’ve compiled the following three stories to remind us that acts of racism are dynamic and interconnected by systems of which we must remain mindful.

“This is what racism looks like.”

When most Americans envision a racist, they think of someone like John Pisone. News group AJ+ posted their Facebook video “This is what racism looks like” on January 1st, which features footage taken by a black freelance photographer named Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was documenting a group of anti-fracking protesters when Pisone approached the camera to chastise the “lazy hippies.” Then Pisone began making monkey noises and called Jefferson a “chimp… F***ing n****r right here with a mop on his head.”

This is unconscionable racism: prejudice + power. The power lies in the history behind Pisone’s words and the fact that the English language has no vocabulary for a black person to inspire the same fear, anger or sadness in a white person.

But Pisone is not what all racism looks like. Racism is black women making $0.64 on every dollar that a white man makes; racism is attempting to finance a coal shipping terminal in West Oakland because locals can’t fight the pollution; racism is assigning 40% of all school expulsions to black children when they only make up 20% of the student body. Racism is systems and institutions that afford power to lighter skinned people while undervaluing black bodies.

“The police just shot my daddy four times for being black”

September 19th began with another video of police shooting a black man. Terence Crutcher’s car broke down in the middle of the street. When police were called to help, Officer Betty Shelby arrived on the scene. Shelby says Crutcher was visibly under the influence and PCP was later found in his car. Although Crutcher had his hands up as he moved away from her toward his car, Shelby assumed Crutcher was reaching for a weapon. She killed 40-year old Terence Crutcher with one shot. There were no weapons in Crutcher’s car nor on his person.

On the 20th, Officer Brentley Vinson killed Keith Lamont Scott. Scott was in the parking lot of an apartment complex waiting to pick up his child from school. Police mistakenly confronted Scott when dispatched to issue an arrest warrant for a different black man. Police say they shot the victim when he pointed a small handgun in their direction, but Scott’s family reports that he had a book—not a gun—and was walking backwards from the police when shot.

As they are today, the United States law enforcement and Criminal Justice Systems are racist institutions. White children are 18 times less likely to be sentenced as adults than black children. The police have killed 791 people in 2016, and killed 67 people in the 22 days after Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem. In 2015, black men were 9 times more likely to be killed by police than anyone else. About 25% of African Americans killed are unarmed. We have heard these statistics over and over. How long must we continue to scream BLACK LIVES MATTER?

“Is it okay to say I like black people music?”

I am studying abroad in Iceland, where there are few black people and the Icelandic Scandinavian/Celt race makes up 94% of the country’s population. On the first day of our homestay in Isafjordur my classmate was asked by her host father, a blond-haired blued eyed man in his mid-thirties, whether it would be politically correct to say, “I like black people music.”

“Do you mean jazz or rap or R&B?” she tried to clarify.

“I like all of those things!” he insisted. He just likes music made by black people.

Reflexively we know a white person should not be fetishizing “black people music.” Still, it was hard to express why. You just can’t say that, she explained.

The issue is the distance created between black bodies and black culture; keep the “blackness,” but destroy the actual skin color. At every IFC frat party you’re going to hear some Kanye West, even though they probably have no more than 4 black people in each pledge class. Pop stars like Kim and Kylie love to wear box braids and make millions off slim waists and big cakes, but can’t be bothered to promote any social issues.

Imagine if society loved black people as much as they liked black culture.

Yes, you’re allowed to like “black people music.” But do you have the same fervor for black people as you do for our music? Believe it or not, there is a black family living in Isafjordur. The town is also 10% immigrants – the highest proportion of any Icelandic city. To my friend’s host dad: have you befriended any of them? How have you welcomed people of color into your town? Maybe you’ll be politically correct once you can honestly say, “I love black people” as truthfully as you can say “I love black people music.”

Linking it all together

Calling a man the n-word, receiving a paid vacation for shooting someone in the street, stealing a person’s culture without regard for their humanity. For a white person, these are all racist acts. It is easy to point to one of the perpetrators in these stories and choose which is most guilty. But what do we gain from that? They are all acting within a system that privileges them because of their skin color. In truth, everyone who is benefitted by the racist systems in which we exist is “a racist.”

That doesn’t mean we can hate all of them, and that really doesn’t mean all of them hate us. We are all products of our upbringings, though racist systems made some of our upbringings less privileged. The less one wallows in their privilege, the more they are doing to change this world. All we can do is work to change the system.


“We spend so much time going after the mosquitoes of racism that we do not deal with the swamps that produced them.” – Dr. Freddie Haines

by Michaela Stith

Michaela Stith