Dear White People: Here Are 5 Reasons Why You Can't Really Feel Black Pain

Claiming solidarity with us is fine, but don't confuse that with "feeling our pain."

After a grand jury in Staten Island decided not to indict the NYPD cop who choked Eric Garner to death this week, thousands of people across the nation took to the streets in protest. Many of those angry people were white and I am willing to bet most were genuinely outraged. But when it comes to the issue of "feeling our pain," white people just can't go there with us.

African Americans' frustation and anger over Garner runs much deeper than the decision not to indict the white cop who killed him; it is a reaction to a white supremacist system that oppresses us and excludes us in every area of American life -- economic, educational, social and political. Even the most empathic white person is just not going to know what that's like.

Here a few structural forms of racism that white people never endure but which cause black people pain on a daily basis:

1. White people control the media. According to a recent Pew study, nearly 90 percent of reporters who work in America's newsrooms are white and mostly male. The issue with news coverage created by middle-aged white men is that much of the news America views is reported through the white gaze.

Whether it is depicting President Barack Obama as an ape who was shot and killed by cops or penning a New York Times piece saying certain black women aren't "classically beautiful," white people have full control of how black people appear to white America. Variety, for example, ran the headline "How Elvis Invented Rock 'n' Roll 60 Years Ago." That the genre of rock 'n' roll was invented by black musicians and existed long before Elvis was born meant nothing to the editors. The magazine eventually changed the headline after #BlackTwitter eviscerated it.

Sympathy for black and white journalists isn't equal, either. When a viewer emailed Wisconsin TV anchor Jennifer Livingston, who is white, a rude note about how she was a bad example because of her weight, she went on air to blast him. Her station even posted the email on the newsroom's Facebook page. Her story become an international headline and support poured in from around the world.

However, when a Facebook user complained about African-American TV anchor Rhonda Lee's natural hair on the station's page, Lee was fired after she politely defended herself. She got no support from her employer and the only headlines that followed focused on how she lost her job in what many saw as an act of racism. It took nearly two years for Lee to find another job. (I interviewed her about the experience when I was at NewsOne.)

Sympathy isn't created equal, white people. The media has a huge role in shaping it.

2. The criminal justice system works in white people's favor. The United States has 5 percent of the world's population and 25 percent of its prisoners. The Sentencing Project reports that more than 60 percent of those prisoners are an ethnic minority. There is a reason that disparity exists and it starts with the centuries-long institution called slavery. The Equal Justice Initiative notes that 90 percent of African Americans lived in the south after slavery was abolished in 1865. "Black Codes," which limited the legal freedoms of newly freed blacks, were passed in most southern states to severely publish black people for minor offenses such as stealing a pig. Such laws, which lasted well into the 20th century, imprisoned African Americans in conditions that were very similar to slavery.
Though we no longer have Black Codes, sentencing practices still continue to favor white people. Nearly 20 percent of white people have used cocaine compared to just 10 percent of black people. White people also use hallucinogens, marijuana, prescription painkillers and stimulants like methamphetamine at higher rates than African Americans, but black Americans are arrested at three times the rate of whites for drug possession.

That may have to do with the fact that local policing tactics such as New York City's "broken windows" target African Americans at rates disproportionate to whites. According to a study by the Sentencing Project, white people "overestimated the number of burglaries, illegal drug sales, and juvenile crime committed by African Americans by 20 to 30 percent." A recent study conducted by Stanford University researchers revealed that white people were more likely to support harsher prison sentences if they believed prisons were mostly populated by black inmates.

This means white people are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Not us, though. There's no way white people can relate to this.



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