Why Do Black People See Things Differently Than White People?

simpsonThe nation was transfixed before their televisions watching as Los Angeles police officers engaged in a low speed pursuit of O. J. Simpson and his white Ford Bronco. Simpson had been the Heisman Trophy his senior year at USC (1968) before joining the Buffalo Bills. Even with such an accomplished athletic career, O. J.’s fame surprisingly grew after retiring from the NFL appearing in films, as a commentator on the wildly popular Monday Night Football, and running through airports in Hertz commercials.

The chase down the freeway was the result of the police wanting to talk to O. J. in connection with the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. Eventually Simpson was charged with both murders but, after a lengthy trial that was watched by millions each day on live television, was found not guilty by the jury. It’s what came next that surprised me.

The reaction within the country was divided largely on racial lines with African Americans either thinking that O. J. wasn’t guilty, that the prosecutor hadn’t proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, or simply finding some pleasure in white people having some sense of what it feels like to be screwed over by the legal system. Most whites were shocked that there could even be any doubt that he hadn’t committed the crime. To them this was a clear miscarriage of justice.

I was in my late 20’s and didn’t have the maturity or context to know how to understand the racial divide. I admit that I was surprised that so many African Americans could see things so differently than me. Yes, I was naive.

The whole Simpson drama came to mind periodically over the past year as I’ve watched similar racial division in Ferguson, Baltimore, New York, Cleveland, South Carolina, etc… The reaction to the death of black men in confrontations with police officers or the murder of African Americans by a young white man at the historically black church in Charleston has been interpreted very differently in the white and black community. This time around I’m older and not as dismissive of other’s experiences. So I’ve simply been asking why. Why do black and white people see things so incredibly differently? What do black people know or what have they experienced that leads them to interpret events so differently than most white people? Why such different responses to the same event?

I don’t pretend to know the answers to those questions but I have been trying to learn mostly by reading and but also by asking African Americans who are friends or attend The Crossing. Here are some of the resources (books, podcasts, and an article) that I’ve found helpful in understanding what it might be like to be an African American.

Books

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson.

Divided By Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America by Michael Emerson and Christian Smith

Gang Leader For A Day by Sudhir Venkatesh

Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King

Thurgood Marshall by Juan Williams

Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coats

The Beautiful Struggle by Ta-Nehisi Coats

Parting The Waters: American In The King Years 1954-1963 by Taylor Branch

Bearing The Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Southern Leadership Conference by David Garrow

This American Life Podcasts…

1. The Problem We All Live With Part 1 August 2, 2015

2. The Problem We All Live With Part 2 August 9, 2015

3. Cops See It Differently Part 1 February 6, 2015

4. Cops See It Differently Part 2 February 13, 2015

Article

The Case For Reparations by Ta-Nehisi Coats in The Atlantic

 

 

2 Comments

  1. Lisa Gardi said:

    Thank you for opening this dialog. I hope you will not mind if I share another available resource: an upcoming event here in Columbia. On September 14 the Diversity Awareness Partnership (DAP) is offering a free Listen.Talk.Learn session. I attended this session a few weeks ago and found it powerful. It focused on how to hold dialogue rather than debate about race, and how to address polarizing questions about race, racism and bias. If you are interested, you can register here:

    http://dapstl.org/columbia/listen-talk-learn-community-sessions/

  2. Candace Robison said:

    Thank you for your continued commitment to understanding, love and connection. I love my pastors and church family!

    Thanks for the info, Lisa!

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