Jamelle Bouie is hopeful that is the case. He is more optimistic than I.
For as little political movement as we’ve seen on questions of police violence and racial bias, there are signs that the broad public—the white public—is waking up to the problem. Conservative writers like Matt Lewis in the Daily Caller or Leon Wolf in RedState are conceding the pervasiveness of police brutality. Prominent Republicans such as Paul Ryan did the same, praising President Obama’s remarks and hailing peaceful protests. Even Newt Gingrich—who once called Obama a “food stamp president”—agreed. “It’s more dangerous to be black in America,” he said. “You’re substantially more likely to be in a situation where police don’t respect you.”
It’s too much to say that there’s unity in American life. Nationally, police officers are killing people as often as they were before Ferguson, Missouri, put the issue on the map. It’s not enough to acknowledge problems of police violence; Americans—and white Americans in particular—have to agree to end it, which means jettisoning views that equate crime with blackness and rethinking the role of police writ large. We are still at a deep impasse on the question of guns and what to do about the violence at the heart of our society. And there is the Trump phenomenon to be reckoned with. It’s still true that his campaign is a vector for racism and anti-Semitism, still true that he has proposed plans that would target racial and religious minorities, still true that he has awoken and validated an ugly nativism across the country.
But the events of the past week—and perhaps the shared sense that we’re on a brink of some sort—have inspired a basic decorum. Black Lives Matter has fiercely condemned the violence in Dallas, and beyond the right-wing fever swamps, there’s no apparent effort to cast blame on the movement against police brutality. At the risk of indulging the soft bigotry of low expectations, this week has revealed the strength of American society at the same time it has exposed its most fragile parts.
He’s basically right. As I often tell my students, there are only 2 times in all of American history when enough white people cared about black rights to do anything about it, from about 1863-1870 and from about 1954-1965. Other than that, most white people have generally supported the oppression of black people. And at the very least, the reaction to the Obama presidency leading up to and including the Trump campaign shows that demonizing of people of color is still a very potent political weapon in the United States. So will everyday white people come to believe that the police do commit wanton violence against black people? You can color me very skeptical, even if Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich are even admitting it. The rank and file white folks who vote Republican simply don’t want to hear this. To them, the police are heroes precisely because they protect the good people of the community from those scary black men who want to do unmentionable things to us.
And as for the last week showing the strength of American society, I think that’s just flat out wishful thinking.