This Salon article is a very well-written piece on the dynamic of "white fear" and the perception that all black people are criminals, as show-cased by the failure to convict Michael Dunn for the murder of Jordan Davis. I am white and so I will just pick out some choice quotes and let this author, Brittney Cooper, speak first.
It is clear that Florida prosecutors are fairly unclear about how to defend black life against an onslaught of white murder.
This case, like the case of Trayvon Martin, hinges on whether white fear legally outweighs and is therefore more legally defensible than black life. The day before Jordan Davis would have turned 19 years old, a court failed to affirm the value of his life, his right to exist in space enjoying music with his friends, his right not to be harassed by someone while doing something as mundane as sitting in a parking lot at a gas station.
Professor Angela Ards said of this decision, "The chilling social logic of this illogical legal verdict is that Dunn has been found guilty of missing the other black boys in the car, of failing to kill them all."
But white racial anxiety –and in particular the alleged legitimacy of it – is a foregone conclusion searching for facts. In this era, those "facts" seem to be readily available in endless media depictions of violent black males.
Many white folks believe that black criminality has produced white fear and that white fear in the presence of black masculinity is therefore always justified. But the opposite is true. White anxiety and fear and racism have produced the myth of pervasive black criminality. Intraracial black violence is a problem, but white racism has produced the concentrated structures of poverty and lack of access to education that give rise to violent behaviors.
Where [my nephews'] white peers' biggest fears will be handled in elementary school drills about tornadoes, hurricanes and thunderstorms, or maybe the perennial deranged young white male school shooter, my nephews will have to have safety drills of a different kind. It won't just be "stop, drop and roll," for them, but "Stop, hands up and make no sudden movements. Keep your anger and your fear in check. It just might kill you."
I cannot imagine what it would be like to worry that it is essentially legal to murder my little brother, or my potential son, or my future husband or myself. We are white, and I don't fear that.
Because we are white, it is unquestionably unwarranted to murder us, if we are unarmed; if we refuse to turn down loud music; if we are wearing hoodies. It is unequivocally wrong to murder us, because even if we aren't upstanding citizens, we have the potential to be, or we seem like we should be. Someone who murders my blond-haired, blue-eyed teenage brother will be brought to justice - not given the benefit of the doubt because maybe my brother scared him by merely existing.
I try to make it hit close to home - I want it to - but it's not "home" for me. It's not home for other white people. That's why this is allowed to happen. The people in power, even the ones who want to, can't fully relate (and we all know how good people are at empathy). Alternatively, they can think back to that one time they were anxious around a black guy - and without further examination of why, they can now identify with the murderer. I relate to the murderer.
What hits home for me is that racist rhetoric, that black men are worth fearing and not worth saving. I had only white influences growing up in my little white world - and many of them were bad. I always knew"white fear" was unjustified but never had the words to say why because I was too inexperienced and intimidated by the angry white men around me. Reading words said in Dunn's defense gives me a chilling reminder of why I hated home.
I despise this murder and the others like it. I hate this senseless loss of life and mourn the snuffing out of these innocent people. But I will never know what it is like to fear for my family in the way a black mother will fear for hers. I am outraged, but I am not afraid for myself and my family.
"White fear" occurs in isolated instances. "White fear" is not the fear that it is considered defensible for your family to be murdered. "White fear" is not that pervasive in a white person's everyday life, and "white fear" is not worth indulging. It is made up, unjustified, and we just don't have that much to be afraid of, white people. The world is on our side.
I will never know true fear because of my race.
If I came down with a case of the "white mouth" and said something out of line, please let me know.