The shooting of Michael Brown and the decision of the grand jury not to indict officer Darren Wilson are like icebergs—large, multifaceted, mesmerizing, distracting. They draw our attention, temporarily compel us to change course, but finally, no matter how large they loom in our vision, melt away. They are not the problem. Even though the much greater part of their mass is invisible, they are not the problem.
The problem is the glacier of racism from which they emerge A glacier whose movement is often unseen, yet which is inexorably violent in its effect.
The glacier of racism calves events that grab our attention for the length of a news cycle, perhaps longer, but its greatest effect for young black men is not being shot by police officers. Its greatest effect is the incarceration of black men at a rate sinfully, immorally disproportionate to the rate crime of their neighborhoods, crushing their prospects of economic and social success, and eviscerating their families and communities. And it robs their children of the optimistic hope their white counterparts carry into adulthood. It is a glacier whose weight and movement is manifest in a thousand ways in millions of lives—far more than I know and can write of. But we all live and die here. Together.
Though Michael Brown’s parents know a grief no parents should, theirs is not the only sadness. What is also sad is how accustomed so many of us have become to our glaciated, misshaped land.