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Michael Brown, class or race?

Talk about Ferguson
By SAMUEL JAMES  |  August 31, 2014


There seems to be a problem with understanding how the killing of Michael Brown is about race. This may have something to do with the Time Magazine article by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar a couple weeks ago, in which he spoke about class taking the focal point over race. I keep hearing more and more people say that this is about class. 

First of all, I want to state very clearly, that there absolutely is a class problem in the United States, and it is severe. Our current problem of the one percent makes that undeniable. No reasonable person is saying that there isn’t a class problem here. There is. Done. That has been established. No question.

Now here is something we need to get absolutely clear: Class is not why Michael Brown was killed. Here are some more questions I’ve gotten since writing the article on talking about Ferguson last week (see “We Can Talk About Ferguson,” in the August 22 issue).

Black people are lower class, so if we fixed class wouldn’t that fix the race problem?


Black people in this country are poorer than white people. So, yes, that means we are, in strictly general terms, for the sake of this argument, considered lower in class than white people in this country. Everyone knows this. But the root of the problem, the problem being dead black kids in the street, is our color, not our class. Our class is just a symptom.

Class affects everyone. How can it be a symptom?

A friend of mine pointed out to me last week that, strictly in class terms, Nevada cattle rancher Cliven Bundy and his group are lower class than Michael Brown. Every single one of them got to walk away after pointing guns at federal agents, which is considered by some to be slightly more egregious than what Brown had done—walking in the middle of the street. A select few may even frown on that more than the theft of cigarillos.

Class affects everyone, but not everyone equally. For white people class can be the core of the issue, but for black people it is only the surface of something much deeper. Think of knife wounds. From the outside a cut and a stab wound can look identical, but stitches can only fix one of them.

The one percent benefit from all the attention focused on the racial aspects of this particular incident. This approach keeps the 99 percent distracted, dividing themselves into groups instead of coming together.

You’re kinda making it about you.

Let me throw some numbers up real quick.

The first Africans arrived in what would eventually become this country in 1619. As of this writing, that was 395 years ago. Now, here’s the tricky part: The first 246 years of that 395 were spent in chains.

Now, here’s something that happened on June 19, 1865: The slaves were freed.

Unfortunately, here’s something that did not happen on June 20, 1865: The former slave owners gladly handed over a livable wage, a little extra bump in pay to get everyone started off right, a slap on the back, a smile and a heartfelt apology. Then, even though it had taken 246 years to slowly and painstakingly build an infrastructure largely based on slavery, the US government completely rebuilt all of society overnight to welcome its new citizens.

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  •   MICHAEL BROWN, CLASS OR RACE?  |  August 31, 2014
    There seems to be a problem with understanding how the killing of Michael Brown is about race.
  •   WE CAN TALK ABOUT FERGUSON  |  August 21, 2014
    Recently some of my white, male friends have told me that because I am black they have had a difficult time talking with me about the Ferguson riots. Here are some frequent comments I hear, along with my responses.  

 See all articles by: SAMUEL JAMES

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