Dr. Mike Obsatz, Professor Emeritus at Macalester College
Back to Blog
Cross-Generational Wounding: Why White Cops Kill Young Black Men
Every week, we learn that another Caucasian policeman has killed a young black man. There is outrage and violence follows. People try to educate police, and proclaim that “Black Lives Matter.” And others counter with, “All lives matter.” Of course they do. But that reply misses the systemic inequity.
Despite the training, the murdering goes on. Why? It is related to fear and mistrust, which is cross-generational – going all the way back to slavery.
Samuel Osherson, in “Finding Our Fathers,” states that sons carry within them the unhealed wounds of their fathers. I believe it goes even further. The unhealed wounds of grandfathers and great grandfathers are also carried around in son’s hearts.
Slavery was a time when Black lives didn’t matter. Black families were divided, children going to one slaveholder, mother going to another, father to still another. Black people were not seen as people. They were property.
When White men raped Black women, nothing was done. In fact, Black men were accused of raping white women and strung up on trees by gangs of White men. Many more White men raped Black women than Black men rape White women. White men felt guilt about this, and began to fear retaliation from Black men. Black men had no reason to trust wealthy White slaveholders.
Fear and mistrust. It is cross-generational – going way back. White men feared the power of the Black man.
Mythology was created about the prowess and power of Black men. White men believed this power must be held in check. Black men knew they wouldn’t be treated fairly in a White judicial system. Over and over gain, Black men watched their brothers being mistrusted, and killed by White society.
So, when a White cop sees a young Black man, especially in some potentially volatile situation, the White man’s fear and mistrust takes over. He threatens the Black man. The Black man doesn’t trust that getting arrested will lead to a fair trial. He believes his life is over. So he rebels, and the White cop shoots. The cop doesn’t just shoot to disarm, but shoots to kill.
This is impulsive behavior based on centuries of mistrust. White cops do not deal with cross-generational wounding, and Black men have never had the luxury of working through their pain and anger. This type of violence can only stop when we face the historical facts, understand the power of the wounding, and work to truly heal what has happened over and over again.
Quick fixes don’t work. Of course, “Black Lives Matter.” It will take deep emotional work for that to sink in to a visceral level. We have to talk about slavery and social injustice. We have to face the power of the deep wound.
Peace and blessings,
This article originally appeared here in the Twin Cities Men's Center newsletter, April / May 2016 edition.