The Michael Brown shooting is one of the incidents in the recent past that bring out the concept of racial discrimination that remains very deep seated in the mainstream society. Michael Brown was an unarmed 18 year old high school graduate who was only two days away from joining college at the time of his death, and the jury court proceeded to let his killer walk. This case saw the society divided right through the middle, with as many people supporting the killer cop as there were protesting for justice. The witnesses in this case were similarly divided, with each set seeing what they wanted to see thus leading to a lot of contradictory statements on the witness stand and in written statements. The identified social problem here is thus racial profiling, in that the idea that Darren Wilson is guilty because he is white or that Michael Brown was a suspect because he was black is totally unfounded but widely existent in the mainstream society to the point that it defines social justice and thus also affects the criminal justice system in today’s America. This paper uses the recent issue of Michael Brown shooting and Dubois theory of Double Consciousness to analyze the problem of racial profiling in the United States.
Explanation of the Michael Brown Shooting Incident in Relation to Racial Profiling
A lot of people today spend a lot of time trying to convince themselves that they are not racist, and that they cannot tolerate racist people. This however is all on the surface as the problem of racial profiling sits much deeper than the conscious mind. Consciously, one is unlikely to be hostile towards a member of another race while in public or with that individual but when it comes to quick thinking situations, the first response when in a confrontation with a person from another race would be ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ depending on the race in question (Bruce 1992). It should be noted that there are circumstances when this response is not even necessary and the conditions are rather calm for a confrontation but the subconscious mind has been preconditioned for years on end to run or fight when facing a person of that particular skin color. The conditioning could come from personal experiences, stories from friends and family members as well as influences from the media and literature.
For so many decades now, the African American population in the US has been suffered racial profiling in that they are judged a little too harshly and quickly by the tone of their skin. They are not only branded at face value but also highly discriminated against by the whites for reasons that they may not even be aware of. For example, it is much easier in today’s America to picture a black man with a gun threatening to kill a cop than it is for one to imagine a white individual in the same position. Despite the numerous activist initiatives to do away with racism, it is clear that the problem still engulfs this society to its very core. It can thus be considered that racial profiling is indeed a problem.
In the Michael Brown shooting, the killer cop stated that he thought the young man had been reaching for his gun and considering the urgency of the circumstances and his position, he may be right (Mooney). He may truly have thought that he was about to get shot thus triggering his fight response that saw him shooting a young unarmed black man about six times in his legs, arms, head and torso. Darren Wilson simply shot as a way of defending himself as can be seen in his testimony that is rather the clear part in this case. The question however is why did he think that the young man was armed and was going to shoot him? Could it have anything to do with the automatic association of young black men with violent crime in the US? Or perhaps it simply is a habit of the Ferguson police department to assume that every young man on the streets is armed? Quite a number of questions could be asked in a bid to really understand the circumstances of this case and their implications for America’s fight to eradicate racial profiling (Mooney).
By definition, racial profiling is simply where an individual is considered in terms of their character based on what is known about the community to which they belong. For example it can be stated that Michael Brown was presumed a criminal with a gun because he was black. The given testimonies in this case seek to establish that there was an altercation on the streets between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson where the cop tries to convince the jury that the young men that he sought to confront on that fateful afternoon were actually from a robbery as he had seen them with the stolen Cigarillos and that he had been wearing a black t-shirt as described in the robbery report. Nevertheless, this is simply a killer cop trying to justify the actions of his subconscious racist, or perhaps not. No matter the side taken in this problem, it must be noted that three players were involved of which two were young African Americans.
In the narratives on the shooting, no matter how distorted some versions seem, it can be noted that there was indeed a physical confrontation between the young men and the police officer. This prompts the question of why an innocent young man on the streets of Ferguson could decide to have a physical confrontation with an officer of the law. There is very little explanation that can be provided for this kind of response to being summoned by a police officer on the streets during an otherwise peaceful afternoon as will be discussed in the subsequent sections. The main theory used to consider this is the ‘Double consciousness’ by WEB Dubois.
Explanation of W.E.B. Dubois’s Double Consciousness Theory
Dubois’s theory of double consciousness gained traction in the early 19th century. In his analysis, Dubois stated that African Americans have had problems in defining themselves in an African context fused with European slavery upbringing and education (Heumann & Cassak, 2003). Dubois believes that because African Americans have lived in a society that always devalues looks down upon them, it has affected them negatively. African Americans are unable to discover their black identity with American identify (Heumann & Cassak, 2003). This theory presents an ideology in which people are seen as products of the society in that they see themselves through the eyes of those around them. The African American community has for example gone through a lot of significant experiences that bring about some confusion with respect to their identity. They try to walk a fine line between who they are and who they have been made into by the social constructions of their social and cultural characters thus giving them the ‘double consciousness’ with a consequent double identity. It is thus common for an African American individual to keep trying hard not to fall within the stereotypic definitions of the African American community and yet end up presenting themselves as the exact definition of the African American community as presented in the mainstream American culture.
This theory presents an explanation of how the Michael Brown case started out in the first place. While everyone is pointing fingers at the police officer or the young victim and his friend, it may actually be wise to consider looking at the society as a whole seeing as either side may be wrong in this scenario and blaming it on someone else will not solve the problem. According to this theory, people in a minority group often strive to retain their authentic identity while being confronted on a daily basis with the social prejudice and stereotyping against their kind. So while they know who they are as individuals, they also know who people think they are and in most cases, this knowledge acts as a defense. An African American man would for example be innocent of a crime but once accused they are forced to respond in a defensive manner as they know that their skin color would work against them in the court of public opinion (Heumann & Cassak, 2003). The social constructs on race thus work against this minority by implicating them in all cases of wrongdoing such that even when they are innocent, they know they will be charged with some criminal act regardless of how farfetched it may be. This then makes it hard to prove their innocence especially with the misguided notion that innocent people do not fight the police or run away among other things.
Evaluation of the Usefulness of Dubois Theory of Double Consciousness in Understanding the Michael Brown Shooting Incident
Michael Brown was an 18 year old African American teenager living in an average neighborhood in the present day United States. One would expect that a lot of time has passed since slavery and the Reconstruction and thus the young black man is rather safe from discrimination especially by the police officers who seemed back then to always find something to charge them with. In addition, back then even the law courts were openly against blacks thus making the situation even worse. It should be noted that the many years that have passed have not really done anything for the state of racism in the United States except pushing it back into the subconscious mind. On the surface, every American could be overheard condemning racism but beyond the veil of consciousness the level of racism is rather astonishing as proven by recent research and online IAT results. This means that the minorities continue to have two perceptions of themselves which include the one they want to be and they know they are, and the one that the society perceives them to be.
Michael Brown is indeed black and has grown up in a modern society devoid of the obvious discrimination based on one’s skin tone. Nevertheless, he is not alienated from the persistent psychosocial dispensation in which young black men are considered as criminals. Numerous tests conducted by university researchers indicate that in the present day US more than half the population registers very significant levels of racism by associating bad things with black. The African American community today is associated with dropping out of school, poor socioeconomic status, teenage pregnancy, drug and violence as well generally rowdy behavior in the neighborhood. As a result, the African Americans in the US today understand that they are expected to be poor, to drop out of school, to get pregnant during their teens, to be poor, to indulge in crime and to be rowdy as well. These negative expectations put a lot of pressure on these individuals to the point that some actually give up and live by the limitations set upon them by the society (Bruce 1992). Others on the other hand put it upon themselves to use these challenges and rise above the expectations thus becoming exemplary members of the African American community. The challenge however remains with respect to convincing the society of the change and the hard work it took, thus forcing them to accept the perceptions that the people around them will continue to have of them.
Michael Brown was an exemplary student who had already secured a place for himself at college having newly graduated high school. This means that he had broken the first stereotype imposed upon African Americans with regards to their dropping out of school. He had successfully finished high school thus earning the respect of his peers as a non typical individual in the African American society. The society was however yet to accept his individuality and he was still seen as a threat. This prompted him to be defensive particularly when confronted by a white police officer on the streets. It can be assumed that white people are generally sensitive towards the blacks in that they are overly suspicious and often openly discriminatory especially where they have the power over them. A police officer is a relatively high risk encounter for a member of the society who has been branded with suspicion not by his actions but by his ethnicity. In addition, when the police officer is from the race that has been discriminating the blacks for centuries, the odds go much higher. This concept herein justifies the notion that Michael Brown had had an altercation with the police officer on the streets.
When people argue that had he been innocent he would not have physically confronted the police officer, they fail to take into account the fact that he must have been afraid of the idea of being summoned by an officer of the law. It should be noted that being black in this case comes with having tow identities where one is who you really are and the other is who society expects you to be. This implies that first, Michael Brown is an innocent young man going about his business with his friend on the streets of Ferguson and then secondly, he is the perennial suspect on whom any crime can be pinned and it will have a good chance of sticking because juries can be easily swayed with the right kind of ‘evidence’ and his skin color. This fact is further proven in the way he surrenders and ends up getting shot instead. The white police officer may consider himself, a just person but he knows that the blacks look at him as a bad police officer and are thus unlikely to like him. Thus when he sees the young African American coming back after an altercation he may have been right to panic. He also sees himself through the eyes of the community within which he serves.
The double consciousness theory explains not just how Michael Brown must have felt during the incident, implying before and possibly during the shooting but also how Darren Wilson felt. Their circumstances may have been different, as were their results, but it will be appreciated that both young men have grown up in a society where one’s skin tone is a brand and thus often used to second guess their actions and opinions as well as attitudes especially in cross cultural situations.
The Michael Brown shooting was an incident that once again reinstated the fact that Americans are a racist lot where people are openly against racism and yet subconsciously subscribe to stereotyping and racial profiling. Owing to this fact, the population has been forced into double consciousness where as much as they appreciate their individuality they are driven back to their ethnic definitions when in a sticky situation. They see themselves through the eyes of the ‘outsiders’ thus making them react in a way that proves them guilty rather than innocent. Michael Brown retaliated defensively against the police officer while the police officer also reacted in a defensive way when confronted by the black teenager. Both cases are typical illustrations of the effect of a double conscience that is driven not only by individual traits but also by social constructs on who we might be.