The Devil's in the Details

Over a year ago, I sat with my a few of my new classmates to a game I'd never played before. One of those warm-up games you play to get to know people, have a laugh and take the focus off the fact that you need a beer or glass of wine to open up to strangers.  


It started with everyone writing down the name of a celebrity on a piece of paper and placing the paper in a hat.



Round one. Pick a name and lead your team to guessing the correct answer by the titles of the films that they played it.



Round two. Same names. Lead your team to guessing the correct answer without words and only gestures.



Round three. Same names. Describe the celebrity with only one word.



The word used to describe: Lenny Kravitz, Denzel Washington, Michael Clarke Duncan and other celebrities which I can no longer recall - Black.



At one point, one player couldn't remember Michael Duncan's name and just called him the big Black guy. It was a sting, but at the time more so cause he’s recently passed away, than an awareness of lesson I was in the process of receiving. When protests arose from other classmates, I silently listen to that person confidently expressed that they were ok with referring to his a big Black guy’ and somehow that was enough to get the game going again.



Too often I'd felt that my silent presence in such situations gave affirmation to racializing behavior which I don't support. So I left.



In nine days, I officially become an educator, although I've been one for just over 10 years. I constantly come across situations where one incident is use to explain away another in school, in the news, at workshops designed to deal with specific issues and in everyday life. We're taught to do that from childhood, but I don't think it quite has the effect we're looking for.



I know enough to respect the fact that some jobs are harder than others - emotionally  and phyically. I don't presume to know the work of police officers, no matter how many hours of Law & Order, Bones, Third Watch, The Fall, CSI (New York, Miami, LA), NCSI, In the Heat if the Night - and yes, there are so many more - that I've watched and studied over the course of my soon to be 33 years.



But what’s a job title? The thing we choose, whether teacher, driver, doctor or police officer describes only a chosen career path and it does not replace us as individuals. An overextension and subsequent relating to another person with the same title can be problematic.



Why? Because each of us are raised to believe certain things and see certain people in a certain light. What we learn before and what we learn after can counter or support those things, but only we know which.



What we do not entirely know is what others learned, experienced or did in their past. And we all know that our past could involve things ever so sweet or things that nightmares are made of. No matter what career we chose, dealing with our past is what makes us who we are.



In great part to prominent and growing campaigns designed to shed light and focus on racial profiling throughout the US, Canada, German and many other post-Colonial nations; often times the commonalities which connect police related violence are that 1. lives where fought for, 2. lives were taken by the hands of police officers and 3. skin color, visibly white and visibly brown.



That's it. That is not enough for self-justice. That is exactly the problem we are dealing with in Ferguson.



Brown skin in contrast to the pale hue of White people’s skin is seen and often understood to be black. Yet, Black is one of many describing characteristics of Black people and it is not our skintone.



For many white people, Black is the defining characteristic. It's definition is not a 'political identification' but rather the 'colonial construct used to refer to people of Sub-Saharan African descent.' And sadly today, your average Joes and Janes rarely know that and people in law enforcement have yet to arrive at the thought of - much less the need to - evaluate how colonial ideology affects split-second decision making, where justice is stripped down to one word.



Denying the colonial context and it’s post-Colonial stronghold would represent a desire to wipe out the stains of the past that manifest themselves in the present. Necessary for this and equally as impossible, would need to be an erasing of the existence of Nation and of our understanding of Citizen and probably us along with it. But that’s not gonna happen.


It's obsurd to think that the color of ones skin somehow relates them to another person’s idea of their colonial color classification, but non-white peoples are related to these colonial fantasies multiple times daily.



Imagine for a moment that the only reason why racial classification was created was so white people could abuse Black and POC people without reprisal. Ok, stop imagining because that’s actually what happened.



“Those who don't know history are doomed to repeat it.” ― Edmund Burke, an equally questionable figure in his relations to racial construct.



Take Darren Wilson. If a deColonized police force was a real thing, he would not be on it. Darren Wilson’s comments about his perception of Michael Brown and his perception of himself have become normative in many societies. In an ABC interview release just days ago, he refers to Michael Brown as angry, aggressive, mad, hollow, superhuman, demonic. Wilson, on the other hand, saw himself as a fearful five year old[1] boy holding onto a  6’6” well-trained professional wrestler. He goes on to describe himself as a ‘just a simple [White] guy’ who is ‘hurt’ at being called a racist and does not see himself as one at all.


So, Darren Wilson, as Piers Morgan describes him, is the first 6ft 4in, 210lb five-year-old in history. This White adult-child who, regardless of how often ABC interviewer, George Stephanopoulos, attempted to lead his emotional response, did not once express any emotional remorse or ‘hurt’ feelings towards his killing of Michael Brown or the situation he has placed the Brown family in. It’s important to call attention to the difference in recognizing the existence of emotion and the reflection of one’s own emotional state. Wilson recognized that these emotions exist, just never mentions if they exist within his person.


Instead, he’s playing the career card. Talking about what he’s been trained to do. For example, when commenting on his fear, if we [police officers] ran away everytime something scared us, everytime we heard a noise in the night, we wouldn’t be very good at our job. We’re taught and trained to deal with the threat at hand and that‘s what I did. [2]  Except this threat what a Black teenager he saw as a demonic, superhuman thing.




Not only do I have to question what justice means to the majority white officers and lawmakers of that predominantly Black town; I have to question what normal White people are like as well not just in Ferguson. If I could make this specific to Ferguson, I would, but that’s also not the case and I’m not the only one.[3] 



In his 1850 book, The Equality of the Human Races, Haitian scholar Joseph-Anténor Firmin, warned of a psychosis[4] I seem to find myself surrounded in today. He wrote:


This image of the Devil as a Negro with frizzy hair, red eyes, wide nostrils open like a flame-throwing furnace, and a huge mouth, is precisely how ordinary Europeans picture Black people. So whenever they meet a Black person with regular features, they look at him with a curiosity akin to naivete or ignorance. As far as they are concerned, the Negro has inherited the color of the Devil, a view reinforced by the fact that both in medieval painting and sculpture the prototypical Devil is represented with the most hideous features...Traditionally, then, the distinguishing physical characteristic of the Devil is his black complexion....



This black color must have made a very deep impression on the common folk. Those who were not familiar with Blacks, and even those who were, must have found the contrast between the color of the Negro’s face and that of the Caucasian’s visage quite striking indeed. The Devil’s color thus became a very handy analogy whenever one wanted to describe the blackness of an object. [Their barrel was like their iron/ As black as the devil of hell.][5]” we read in “Le Roman de la Rose”[6].



This tradition has had the most harmful influence on the European mind...Ultimately, both medieval Europe and modern Europe, which is much more ignorant than Caucasian pride would admit, have never been able to see in the Black man anything except the Devil himself.


Now, the casuists[7] will ask, if the legend which makes of the Ethiopian[8] a repulsive and malevolent being, a Devil, in other words, accounts for the fear felt by ignorant Europeans at the very sight of Blacks, how do we explain the widespread belief that Blacks are innately inferior and naturally subservient to White? The second notion is closely linked to the first, for the facts and beliefs pertaining to it originate in the same old theological ideas which have shaped the European mind.




To bring us back from Wilson’s reality - There is no Gotham City.



The police are not 'the law'. In fact, the law is inanimate and decided upon by people who sadly have a much higher pay grade and a less precarious life than those on the frontlines.


The system, which was broken when it was first created then abused for centuries, has not even been patched up in many locations. This is why the people who created the system to allow us to know what another type of existence could look like, could feel like; built in mechanisms that recognized their own flaws and left room for ratification and improvement.



Let people on a bench, with all the facts decide if a killing is a crime or not. Not a person behind a smoking gun pointed at fallen, and all too often, innocent citizen.



I want to fail to understand what police officers so afraid of. What others are so afraid of.

I honestly, believe that broken things - fixed - become better.



However, given the comments of Darren Wilson in his interview, I wonder what light this sheds on the mental state of Police Officers, especially those of European descent, namely, White ones.



People who chose to be police officers are aware of the risk they take. Not everyone decides to finish training. Some don't see the risk as something for them. That's fine. However, for those that stay, this risk does not make them or others superhuman, it only adds the burden of responsibility of doing the right thing.



Black people and People of Color do not chose to be viewed or treated in the normative ways which societies attempt to teach us while growing up and growing old. Be assured that Black People and People of Color are aware of what is being taught, and by default have a hard time swallowing that pill.



I must stress again, this is global and the reasons for it are historical. But not everyone has the numbers to protest in mass or the popularity of a nation to have it grow to the proportions of international interest.



Ideally, positions like police officer, in my case, educator, must involve knowing our acquired biases and working hard, not to let them cloud the judgement we were born with. This should be mandatory, cause most people have things they consider more interesting that introspection.



I see adults racialise each other, kids and youth daily. I watch as media and literature attempts to teach us to devalue our fellow human beings. I don’t know if it is premeditated, but do know it is not reflected upon.



I also wish I could say that this post not about one person or one group of people, but I can’t. It about Darren Wilson, about others in his position and about the White community. It's about the value we, as a combined society (global society) place on the lives of humans based on century old codes and ascriptions. An it's bigger and has lasted longer that you and I ever will.



Opinions taken from the positions of a job title are perhaps great for morale at the station or in the office, but ascribes to 'divide and rule' tactics that we know better than to follow.


Civil Rights, Gay Rights, Women's Right, Children's Rights (though we're still fighting for the US to recognize that one), Human Rights. Why do you think the fight to recognize these things were/are so arduous? I believe it’s because lots of people unintentionally found and find themselves on the wrong side of history. People who, in understanding one thing, unwillingly, unintentionally and possibly without their knowing, were understood to support another.


Split-second decisions come in two ways, 'decide for' or 'decide against'. There are countless of examples for when deciding to take a life would seem an appropriate response regardless of job title or situation and there are countless more that would deem it otherwise.


Let's not confuse the situations.



Logically, what's happening in Ferguson is a result of decades of decisions made by the Ferguson police. Cause and Effect.



The people on the streets are not protesting Global Warming or Vivisection or the use of low grade materials in school. They are protesting for their lives, the lives of their children, their parents, their grandparents, their brothers, their sisters, their aunts, their uncles, their neighbors, their friends, their teachers, their husbands, their wives, their heroes, their role models. They are out for the stranger which they may never come to know and for their future as a historically and tremendously oppressed people. Their lives, my life, that for centuries of abuse are so visibly devalued that there is no choice but to make collective public outcry.



You can't relate to this from behind a job title, but you can from your experience of living a human life in the US or elsewhere. The privilege to do so or not, defines not only the type of individuals we are but the [add job title] others see us as.



This response was originally supposed to be a post to a FB comment that came across my feed. In it, a police officer shared the experience of another officer who recently made the decision to take the life of an unnamed Black man. I greatly appreciate the often reflective, work-related post from this particular person.



From the majority of their posts, I can see that they have became a pretty good cop. Yet, from the particular post, which my comment sprang from, I can see that they are struggling with a situation they were spared from. Namely, taking a life.



To this person, I say, life is lots of things, but it is not without reason. We all have different paths and I hope your path never leads to such a situation, but if it does, I hope you find yourself prepared to choose effective rather than lethal force.










[4] Psychosis occurs when a person loses contact with reality. The person may:

  • Have false beliefs about what is taking place, or who one is (delusions).
  • See or hear things that are not there (hallucinations).


[5] Leur fût était comme leur fer/ Aussi noir que diable d'enfer.

[6] p.65 [983]


[8] The Group of African people used to establish a religious aspect of scientific racism. Here, Ethiopians associated with the Hamitic. This term was originally use referred to the peoples said to be descended from Ham, one of the Sons of Noah. According to the Book of Genesis, after Noah became drunk and Ham dishonored his father, upon awakening Noah pronounced a curse on Ham's youngest son Canaan, stating that his offspring would be "servants of servants". Darker skin complexions are refered to as that curse, although there is no reference skin color as a curse in the Bible.