I first sat down to write a piece like this three years ago, when my city, St. Louis, was wracked with the initial convulsions of what would later be known simply as “Ferguson.”
I didn’t submit it for publication then. I wasn’t sure it would make a useful contribution. I didn’t know if it would jeopardize other important work I was involved in. I wasn’t confident that people would understand my meaning.
Three years later, as my city now confronts a new set of convulsions in response to a not-guilty verdict in another police shooting that left a young black man named Anthony Lamar Smith dead, I’ve returned to what I wrote back in 2014. It was true to me then, and I think it’s still true now.
Michael Brown and Anthony Lamar Smith were human beings, with all of the complexity and profundity humanness entails. Obvious as that statement seems, it feels subtly subversive in some circles inside St. Louis and beyond.
“Racism is a form of psychosis that renders human beings incapable of recognizing other members of their species as such.” I tweeted this in the wake of the unrest in Charlottesville. I was speaking metaphorically, but there is scientific evidence that responses to race happen at the level of brain biology.