Laurie Essig Ph.D.

Love, Inc

Baltimore Isn't About Race, But It Is About Racism

What does it mean when the officers who killed a young black man are black?

Posted May 03, 2015

On Friday, the state's attorney for Baltimore, Marilyn Mosby, charged six police officers in the death of Freddy Gray, a young man arrested on April 12th who died in custody a week later from a spinal cord injury. A friend asks on Facebook asks "what does it mean when the officers charged with Freddy Gray's murder are themselves black?"  

It's true. Of the six officers, three appear to not be white themselves: Caesar Goodson, Alicia White and William Porter. This apparent inconsistency in the long-running narrative of white cops killing young black men (and women) seems to be crying out for a more complex story than "racism" or "white surpremacy." But sometimes when trying to answer a question, it is best to go with the simplist answer. Yes the reason these cops arrested Freddy Gray and then, apparently, acted in ways that led to his death is still racism and white supremacy.   

Take an easy example: male supremacy. Everyone knows women who hate other women, who do not want to be seen as like other women, who think that feminism is out to get them rather than try to give all humans, regardless of gender expression a chance. There's even a site called Women Against Feminism where women talk about their love of patriarchy. 

Admittedly, I can find no site called Blacks Against Anti-Racism, but there is a fair amount of research out there showing black-on-black bias. Theodore R. Johnson, writing about the Implicit Association Test, says that: 

The data reveal that black respondents’ implicit biases are split just about evenly between pro-white and pro-black. Other research has also shown that black participants tend to have a strong pro-black explicit bias. A conflict emerges: When blacks are asked about their predilections, they express a solid preference for their group over whites, but, in general, performance on the IAT suggests they subconsciously hold a slight preference for whites over blacks.

But how is it possible that women learn to absorb misogynist messages and blacks learn to absorb racism? The answer is a little something called hegemony.  When an ideology is hegemonic, it enters our consciousness from the time we are born in a variety of ways: advertisements, Hollywood films, pop music, educational systems, the news media and stuff your crazy uncle says.

Hegemonic ideologies instruct us to believe that some people help keep us safe and others put us into danger. Some people are "public servants" and others are "thugs."  When these hegemonic ideologies intersect with the lived experiences of black Americans, they reveal a pattern of racialized and gendered violence between them and the police. And it's not just a class antagonism since even wealthier black Americans have been victims of police shootings. 

So the answer is simple: how can the police who murdered Freddy Gray be black? Because racism as a hegemonic ideology shapes us all, black and white alike. And the only way to escape the incessant messages of racism is to create a society and a culture that isn't racist. It's a simple story, but the solution is difficult if not impossible.