You might want to rethink that comment you are about to post about Ferguson, MO

I, like you, am heartbroken about what happened to Michael Brown, and what’s happened to so many others. I have read the posts, watched the videos, and prayed for justice and peace. It is so sickening that it’s hard to sleep. I have so much to learn about how I should even think about these tragedies and I am choosing to listen rather than express my opinions about most of this issue.

The part I do feel I understand well enough to speak to is the invalidating commentary by my fellow white people.

People of privilege, aka white people, aka my friends and family,

I know you might think your comments are harmless, or maybe you think it is fun to debate or “play the devil’s advocate,” but please keep in mind that in a land not so far away, people…teenagers even, are actually dying over this.

You might mean well but many your comments have the distinct flavor of someone who is not willing to listen and entertain the thought that perhaps it really is “that bad.”  At best, you are coming off as ignorant, at worst, racist.

By saying, “you do not have all of the facts” we are essentially saying “I don’t believe that you are smart enough to know what is happening right in front of your face.”

By saying, “this isn’t a race issue” we are saying “I know more than black people about what it feels like to be black.”

By saying, “I’m sad about this too but…” we are saying that there is really an ending to this sentence that rectifies a mother losing a child.

By saying, “let’s see what the autopsy says” we are saying, “I need a white doctor to tell me what really happened because I’m not going to believe the eye witness accounts of a bunch of black kids.”

By posing a hypothetical scenario about a white victim being shot without cause, you are just confused.

By saying, “it’s a lot better these days than it used to be” we are not acknowledging the current pain that racism causes.

By blaming the victim, we are- well, blaming a victim.

By saying, “this discussion doesn’t really apply to me,” we are saying black people are not as human as you.

As shameful as it is, I understand it. Who wants to face the fact that a black teen got shot by a white police officer for no apparent reason? Not I. Who wants to admit in their hearts that this is not an isolated incident? I’d rather grasp at some hope that the world is just. I’d rather turn away and make-believe that racism is dead, because I have that option. It is much more pleasant to think of the atrocities unfolding in Ferguson, Missouri as some big misinterpretation of the facts than to really listen and believe that people of color actually might know what they are experiencing.

So, for what it’s worth:

To the people of color;

I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’ve had to be so loud to get our attention. I’m sorry that another beautiful adolescent had to die to make us notice that you are oppressed. I’m sorry that no one is listening. I’m sorry that no one believes your experiences. I’m sorry that this is still happening. I’m sorry for the ignorant, invalidating, and racist comments you’ve had to deal with on top of everything else. I’m sorry that I’ve turned a blind eye to your struggle. I hear you, I believe you, I stand with you for justice. You deserve way better.


#Validateothersorkeepquiet #Whatifitisthatbad


91 thoughts on “You might want to rethink that comment you are about to post about Ferguson, MO

  1. Couldn’t agree more. A WHOLE lot of people need to read this. Like you suggested, I’d prefer that African Americans let people know when something isn’t racist. It’s their lens/perspective/perception, so I think THEIR opinion on how something feels to THEM is somewhat more accurate than a white person’s take on it.

    1. @Kristin, You feel that blacks should let us know when something is or isn’t racist since it’s “their lens/perspective/perception”, and it’s more accurate when it comes from them? But what if THEIR opinion/perception/perception is incorrect. I have an example: One evening my business partner was walking across the parking lot to her vehicle after getting off work. She heard someone’s footsteps a ways behind her and figured they were leaving the mall the same as she was heading for their car. She never looked back to see who it was but rather got in her car, locked it and started it up. She heard someone yelling something but couldn’t make out what they were saying. A man approached her car and she rolled down the window to see what he wanted. He was yelling at her calling her a racist because he said she locked her car door because he was black. She proceeded to tell him she always locks her car when she gets in but he wanted to believe she did it because he was black. He continued yelling at her saying she was a liar and a racist. So you can see where someone’s perception may not be correct. I’m sure when someone grows up with racism, it might be easy to misinterpret someone’s actions when there’s a reasonable explanation why something happened. Just something to think about.

      1. I’ve had similar experiences as your friend. Seriously, had she really been racist she would have not rolled down her window to find out what his problem was! Black or not, I wouldn’t have given the man the time of day unless he looked as though he was in distress!

        White people will never truly appreciate racism against blacks with the unforgiving attitudes against us. “We” are to be understanding of their past and present plight yet today we get beaten down for being white… Its tiring…

      2. @northernlights24 I’m sorry your friend experienced that if her actions weren’t racially motivated. I challenge you to consider that there is legitimacy though; in the fact that she wasn’t being racist yes, but also in the possibility that there are wounds that need to be healed. Just as with anything else that goes unhealed, the wound also becomes a lens. The man has likely experienced that kind of stereotyping so very often, that while it seems absurd to you, its a legitimate wound. I don’t say this to belittle your friends experience, but to say there’s understanding to be gained if people will listen. All of us.

    1. Hi Peris! Believe it or not you were one of the first people to help me understand about some of this stuff. Some of your comments years ago, that I didn’t want to believe at the time have stuck with me. Nice hearing from you again! Thanks for helping me get it.

      1. What about validating how this experience feels to the man who was nearly beaten to death by the felon who outweighed him by nearly 100 lbs?

      1. @John It appears to be somewhat unbalanced, because It seems to be okay to call the shooting racially motivated, before knowing all the facts, but it’s not okay to say the shooting may have been justified, before knowing all the facts. Even Tara recognized it was the exact opposite, (rendering it exactly the same) but apparently she found it a bit too clouded to see the irony of her observation, and unfortunately deemed your comment “unhelpful”, which when you think of it, makes the opposite view unhelpful as well, if you follow me 😉

    1. Just what I was thinking, John…And since when have white people needed a white doctor to perform the autopsy in order to be believed? Alot of presumption in this article! And that is such a sin!

      1. I find people who are always seeing racism in everything and everybody interesting, and a bit race-obsessed, possessing in themselves a form of racism. And their attitudes toward black people is usually crushingly patronizing.

      1. A good example of perception. I don’t think anyone wrote or even intimated an unquestioning belief in anything Norm. Be careful what you write. Your comments have affectations.

  2. I just started a weekly column in my local paper. This week’s is entitled “What if it was my son?” I felt like I needed to say something but everytime I’ve tried to talk about privilege I’ve been shut down or laughed off. I hope I haven’t overstepped but I was hoping to engage the community in a conversation that they could have rather than the one the I want them to have.

    Thanks for this.

  3. You say, “By saying, “let’s see what the autopsy says” we are saying, “I need a white doctor to tell me what really happened because I’m not going to believe the eye witness accounts of a bunch of black kids.”” Well, the initial autopsy reports directly contradict the testimony of those black kids. Am I still supposed to resent those who said to wait for the autopsy, despite their being right, because they had no legitimate way of knowing they were right? Is “Act before you think” the proper path to justice?

    1. Joel thanks for the question. No I don’t think you should resent people for making invalidating comments, I just hope they consider how their comments might feel to someone who is tired of their experience being discredited, disbelieved, or dismissed.
      There is a subtle difference between what you are talking about and what I’m talking about. I’m not debating what happened- I am saying it’s important to think about how certain comments might land on someone else. It’s not about hating/bashing/labeling the writer of the comments, it’s more about caring about potential readers of the comments.

      1. I think the concern is that we are required to believe one or two youth (biased as they likely were) over waiting for the objective results of the autopsy and investigation. Basically, believe whatever you first hear rather than daring to question the narrative put forth by the media. We should teach others than real justice doesn’t come from a mob or fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants reactionary outrage. If justice is needed, we should make sure it is the RIGHT amount of justice, befitting the alleged crime.

        The reactionary response you suggest is exactly what got so many blacks lynched over the years, ironically enough.

      2. I hear that you care about justice and are concerned that people are just reacting without waiting for all objective results. That’s a good point and I’m glad you are speaking up about it. Considering our country’s sordid past (the lynchings you mentioned), it makes sense why you would want to caution people about making snap-decisions and judgments.

        I don’t think I’m suggesting a reactionary response or saying it’s bad to wait for objective results, though I can understand why you read it that way. Like I keep reiterating, I want people to be more sensitive to how their statements (true, false, good, bad) might make others feel. You can validate someone without agreeing with them.

      3. In New Orleans, the autopsy for Henry Glover, a mentally disabled man shot by police in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, came back with the cause of death “unclassified.” It took several years, an investigative reporter, and a second, independent autopsy report (performed by someone out of state) to verify that Glover had been shot in the back and that it should have been ruled a homicide.

        In other words: autopsy reports and evidence get tampered with. Police reports get doctored. Cover-ups happen all the time.

      4. beccy

        You said,

        “I just hope they consider how their comments might feel to someone who is tired of their experience being discredited, disbelieved, or dismissed”

        For people like me who operate a business in a majority black area, your comments make my experience feel discredited and dismissed. Over 300 shop owners, gas station owners, and grocers in Detroit of Middle Eastern descent have been murdered by black Detroiters over the last 30 years. From my experience, I will give cops the benefit of the doubt when dealing in black majority areas.

    2. No, “act before you think” only gets more violence, which is maybe the point of this post and so many like it. Why stop with only one death when we can use white guilt to foment rage and lead to many more deaths?

  4. I’ve been sharing these stories a lot, and it never ceases to amaze me how many of my black and latino friends have had similar experiences. It doesn’t matter if they are the kind of people who seem “intimidating” or “thuggish” or not. Even the most upstanding citizens who happen to be minorities have had these experiences, when a cop has pulled them over for no reason, or had them exit their vehicle and questioned their wives if they were being held against their will, or put in cuffs on the side of the road while their car is searched. The stories are sickening, and I don’t know a single white person who has had anything like that happen to them. I’ve been pulled over for going almost 20 mph over the speed limit. I knew I was speeding, I knew I deserved the ticket, so I didn’t even try to come up with an excuse. But still I was only given a warning, and the cop never raised his voice or even asked why I was going so fast. This isn’t a coincidence. Being white, I’m afforded the benefit of the doubt in pretty much every situation, whereas a person of color is only afforded doubt. I believe it’s our job to validate their experiences, to make people listen, and to fight for this to change.

    1. Nick, I hear this a lot. Cops pull folks over for no reason. I am white and have had this happen to me more than once, so here’s your guy. Think about what you say and how it lands on others. My situation appeared at first to be for no reason, but it turned out not to be the case. I resent your comments that being white affords you/us the benefit of doubt. Since our author has a strong background in psychology she may agree this is a textbook case of an attribution error, attributing characteristics or events to an entire culture. Yours may apply to but not to me or other persons not of color.

      1. Larry, when you were pulled over for no reason, did you fear for your life? Did it cross your mind that the police officer might, without any provocation from you, arrest you, beat you up and/or kill you?

      2. Susanne, in answer to your question, NO I did not fear for my life or of getting beaten or especially killed because I was confident I did nothing to deserve any of it. I was respectful to the police officer, did EXACTLY what he asked me to do and answered his questions. I had no predisposed attitude about the situation. I hope this helps.

      3. Suzanne, if he didn’t fear those things, then he’s led a sheltered life. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps data on fatal injuries from 1999 to 2011 and one category is homicides by legal intervention. The term “legal intervention” covers any situation when a person dies at the hands of anyone authorized to use deadly force in the line of duty.

        Over the span of more than a decade, 2,151 whites died by being shot by police compared to 1,130 blacks.”

        While that still demonstrates a higher percentage of Blacks being harassed than whites, it proves that this is by no means an exclusively black problem.

  5. Is it just a useless request to wait until indisputable evidence, hard evidence, forensic evidence to be qualified before a decision is assume d that the cop was acting like an outraged sociopathic killing machine?.. It is a sad commentary that we lost another human being, a son and friend to violence. DO you want to do the same thing to an officer who is sworn to protect you and has for years in Ferguson? One that has a commendation for outstanding service in his community? or should we just drag him into the street and execute him like what seems to be the goal?. To be clear: I am NOT on anyone’s side here. I am on the side of truth and fair and unbiased justice. “you do not have all of the facts” means that NO-ONE knows all the facts yet. Stop making hatred judgments. “let’s see what the autopsy says” was never followed by we want a white doctor. Eyewitnesses are notoriously inaccurate and bias, not towards any one in particular but to their own sensibilities. We always color our awareness with our own environment we are raised in. If you want to be heard, if you want to be treated fairly, if you want to avoid the stereotyping then stop looting, killing your own, becoming a lynch mob in a second, and allow others who differ from your voice to at least have the opportunity to orate theirs, white or black

    1. Larry, I agree with all you’re saying. If we say “you do not have all of the facts”, we are saying just that. We are not saying, as the article suggests, “I don’t believe that you are smart enough to know what is happening right in front of your face.”

      Rushing to judgement, as seems to be happening in this case, before all the facts are known is hateful, arrogant, and dangerous to those who may be in the path of the mob.

      1. dan et all. what does this new audio recording do to your perspectives? two weeks after the shooting, the voice has no reaction to 11 gunshots close by. Released on the day of the funeral? does this close the case for those who were on the fence?

      2. Dan, I apologize that I wasn’t clear in my wording. I meant that by saying x, you might come off to others as if you are saying y. Not that you are trying to say Y. This post is about realizing that saying certain things can make others feel dismissed or undermined. If you don’t really care how your comments might make others feel, then this post isn’t really for you. I’m not debating facts or saying that waiting for evidence is bad- I’m saying that certain comments are affecting others for whom this is not a fun debate- it is a tragic loss and the deepest type of pain. I don’t know the facts of the case, I just know it’s sad and many people are hurting on many levels- so I am advocating for people to stop speculating and making insensitive remarks and start listening to the people who are more personally affected.

      3. Beccy,

        “This post is about realizing that saying certain things can make others feel dismissed or undermined.”

        When people say things without knowing the facts, they, in fact, deserve to be dismissed or undermined. A policeman may very well have had his career ended as the result of his need to defend himself. We won’t know for certain until the facts are all laid out.

        It is a shame that this young man died, just as it is a shame when any human being dies, but I must say that it is because of this outcome that I generally avoid punching out cops.

      4. Dan,

        Here’s what I take away from your comments:

        1) You would like for people to wait until all the facts are made public before they form an opinion about the people involved in this shooting. I think there is wisdom in that stance. Let’s also acknowledge that this can be difficult to do because several of the “facts” that were originally reported have turned out not to be true, and many of the details continue to be withheld from the public. It can get confusing and it’s an exercise of patience to stay unbiased when news sources always put their spin on things.

        2) You have deep compassion for the police officer involved because this event has drastically affected the trajectory of his life.

        3) You believe the unverified & disputed storyline that has Mike Brown punching the police officer before being shot & killed, and therefore assert that his situation deserves no more sympathy than any other person who ended up in the obituaries that day.

        Here’s what I think this post communicates that I’m hoping you can see:

        1) It is ok to acknowledge a tragedy as a tragedy and express sympathy, without using the word ‘but’, assigning blame or casting judgement. This is especially true when not all the facts are known.

        2) Many, many people have related to this shooting on an personal level because of their own experiences feeling like they were treated unfairly by those in authority. Because of this, when you are formulating logical arguments for why this shooting may have occurred, you’re words have the unintended consequence of hurting those who are processing this on a more personal level. This post was meant to make people who might not realize this aware of the power of their words.

        3) It’s a worthwhile reminder you’ve shared with us to acknowledge that we don’t yet possess all the facts about this case. My hope is that now, since you’ve read about the power your words have to cause either pain or healing in others, you can continue to encourage people to seek out the truth, without accusing those who empathize with the deceased of being “hateful, arrogant, and dangerous”.

        Proverbs 15:1 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.


      5. Grant, what I said was: “A policeman may very well have had his career ended as the result of his need to defend himself.” Note the word MAY.

        How did you get from that statement to your interpretation, which is: “You believe the unverified & disputed storyline that has Mike Brown punching the police officer before being shot & killed, and therefore assert that his situation deserves no more sympathy than any other person who ended up in the obituaries that day”?

        I also said: “Rushing to judgement, as seems to be happening in this case, before all the facts are known is hateful, arrogant, and dangerous to those who may be in the path of the mob.”

        How is that the same as what you claim I said: “accusing those who empathize with the deceased of being “’hateful, arrogant, and dangerous’”?

        You are equating those who rush to judgement with those who empathize with the deceased. I would expect the young man’s family as well as many, many others to empathize with his demise and I certainly do not use those adjectives, “hateful, arrogant, and dangerous” to describe them. On the other hand, people who immediately take one side or the other without facts, because of their prejudices, are “hateful, arrogant, and dangerous.”

      6. I belive both of you, there has to be a separation of sadness and loss and grief for the loss of a young man, no matter what the circumstances are. Part two is what integrates itself into the meaning of this blog, it is difficult, almost impossible to do this in a meaningful way when those voices are calling for the head of the police officer. How can we learn to do this?

      7. Dan,

        Your comment that,”It is a shame that this young man died…but I must say that it is because of this outcome that I generally avoid punching out cops” indicated to me that you believed mike brown punched the police officer before being shot and killed, while that has not been proven.

        Please try to follow your own advice not to rush to judgement about the man who was killed in this case.

        Thank you for exempting those who empathize with Mike Brown’s death from your description of “hurtful, ignorant, and dangerous.” As you mentioned, there are many of us.


    2. Grant, I was not aware that the beating of the police officer was still in question. My understanding was that the only remaining question about the officer’s injuries was their severity and whether or not his eye socket was broken. If the beating is not yet an established fact then you are correct that I should not have made such a statement.

  6. Thanks, beccyjoy your perspective is like a balm on a wound- Caring, soothing, appreciated.
    Janet Brown

  7. I am not sure what I should be more in awe of: your spot on article or your amazing example of deep listening when responding to disagreeing commenters. As a future minister, I aspire to emulate the sort of empathy and compassionate response which you have embodied here.

    1. Thanks for the compliment Brett. It feels good to be noticed for these things. I just wrote a new post about how to respond to people to people you disagree with. Good luck in the ministry!

  8. Your view is very empathetic and heartfelt. I also feel very sad for this family and all families whose lives are blindsided by events they had no control over. It is tragic. However, my reality is one of dealing with the public on a daily basis. I have no control over those who may seek treatment from me in the Emergency Room of a hospital. Being the victim of an uprovoked attack, I must be constantly vigilant of people’s every move as are the police. The police unfortunately are often made out to be the bad guy anymore. Why is this? This assaultive, aggresive behavior crosses all racial and social barriers. You have no idea what people are capable of and sometimes they do not know this either. It happens in less than a second and your reaction will determine if you will be harmed or not. Sometimes, killed or not. These situations are not rectified with “talking” and/or finding the source of this behavior. Sometimes it is survival. So before you chose to say who is innocent or guilty you may want to understand the reality of all humans, races and walks of life and their realities. Your reality seems very idealistic.

  9. I guess my comment isn’t worthy of discussion! Sometimes people ony worry about how people feel if it’s their cause they worry about!

    1. Jonathan, I didn’t post your original comment here because it was off topic and offensive. Please read my follow up post here: about how to make a validating response if you are interested in how to make a helpful contribution to this discussion. (p.s.this commenter was NOT “John Doe” who I referred to in the follow-up post).

    2. Of Course it’s offensive because it disagrees with you. Thank you for once again showing that freedom of speech is only allocated for those who agree with you. I would ask you to consider the family of this police officer, but he’s not the flavor of the month so I will pray for their “feelings”

      1. I don’t mind you disagreeing with me. You are certainly free to share your views anywhere else on the internet, on your own blog, with your family and friends and with all who want to listen. I have the right to decide what gets shared here on my blog. And yes, the police officer and his family must be going through a difficult time as well and I’m sure they could use our prayers.

      2. Jonathan-
        Freedom of speech is an oft misunderstood concept in the United States. A blogger cannot violate your freedom of speech. That freedom affords protection for the citizenry from attempts by the government to stifle speech. The 1st Amendment protections on speech do not extend to bloggers. This is beccyjoy’s blog and she is not required to give you a platform to speak your mind. That she does so is her choice, and one that she can revoke at any time, for any reason. The internet is a vast place, and your ability to speak your mind can be exercised in other places, up to and including on a blog that you, yourself start.

  10. I had the most poignant example of what justice and interracial harmony is today. I have a best friend who is very black in all senses of the word. He strongly believes in the innocence of Mike Brown and the guilt of the officer. He wants the guilty verdict right now, no more evidence needed. I am the opposite and wrote my opinions as I normally do in a very public way. He responded to my comments with one word, “speechless” there goes my friendship I thought and was heartbroken. I asked him today if we were ok. He replied we are NOT OKAy, WE ARE FREAKIN FABULOUS! I verified this with the reply, Even though we are polar opposites on Ferguson? He wrote back and said to me, “this is why we’re are fabulous, we can disagree with each other and celebrate our differences even our disagreements with the idea that we talk openly honestly and with understanding we can learn and gain awareness that defines friendship”
    Somehow that brought a tear t my eyes and a renewed commitment to to our friendship and a better understanding of who we are…. I love this very black Africa American who thinks differently than I do sometimes …..

  11. Enjoyed examining this, very good stuff, thankyou . While thou livest keep a good tongue in thy head. by William Shakespeare. kdbeceaekabd

  12. “By saying, “you do not have all of the facts” we are essentially saying “I don’t believe that you are smart enough to know what is happening right in front of your face.” ”

    As a queer person of color who has been closely following the events in Ferguson, THANK YOU for saying this. I’ve long since grown tired of people dismissing the facts that are already in evidence in an effort, in anticipation of evidence that will justify their belief that the execution of Michael Brown was a reasonable action course of action.

    1. Yeah, that’s it. It has absolutely nothing to do with reasonable people saying “I’ve seen the evidence that has been presented, but I’m sure I haven’t seen all of it, so I’m going to reserve judgment until we know all there is to know.” That’s what “you do not have all the facts” means when they say it.

      Next time you have a thought, Tony…. let it go.

  13. “By saying, “let’s see what the autopsy says” we are saying, “I need a white doctor to tell me what really happened because I’m not going to believe the eye witness accounts of a bunch of black kids.”

    Why do you presume a WHITE doctor? There are black doctors nowadays- even black medical examiners.

    1. Yes, I am aware there are black doctors. I was making a statement about how comments (that are skeptical of eye witnesses) can be perceived, regardless of intention and regardless of who ends up examining the body.

      1. I was about to say the same. By saying that it is a “White Doctor” you did the same thing that you are telling us not to.

  14. Beccy, thank you for this. Your thoughts are written bravely and with compassion.

    (I’m sorry so many vitriol-led commenters are adding their rants — they’re not even worth your time.)

  15. This is beautifully said. To give another analogy – if someone is grieving, you don’t get to say they shouldn’t, you don’t get to say how they ‘should’ feel, you don’t get to say they don’t understand what really happened. When people speak with emotion, they need to be heard, understood, and acknowledged. The ability to listen always exists, the ability to really understand will vary and should be attempted, the acknowledgement can always occur for it means that you heard what was said. Anything less than this diminishes the person speaking. No one should be diminished.

  16. You ever thought that just maybe the police officer story may be the true one? Lets get all the facts before we starting trying to put a guilt trip on a whole race of people.

    1. This wasn’t meant to be a guilt trip… rather a call for more thoughtful and sensitive responses to those who are grieving. If you lost someone you cared for and people were posting their thoughts about who to blame for it.. or blaming the person who died on social media I would find that cruel and disrepectful… even if the person was to blame.

  17. Ferguson is not about a whole race of people. It is about the overly militarized local
    law enforcement agencies with little or no training in diversity or in diffusing a situation.
    Police are being combat trained with no enemy except We the People who come in all
    races, colors and religious or non-religious leanings. Combat trained with fear and
    contempt of those who are different as their motivation.

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