Structural Racism: At the Root of the Unrest, an Analysis by Reporting San Diego

File Picture Occupy San Diego

File Picture Occupy San Diego

Aug. 20, 2014 (San Diego) What is at the root of the unrest at Fergurson? Why does it look like national media was targeted? People are starting to talk, albeit around the edges on this issue. In a country with a black president and successful African-American, and other minorities who are successful as well, we live in a post-racial world. Or so we would like to pretend.

We also tell the tale that if you work hard, you can make it. Race is not really a problem. So if you do not, stop blaming skin pigmentation. It is your own damn fault. “Enough with the race card…” which in itself is part of the code used by the dominant culture to put down those who say, “we still have problems.”

We are starting to see reports that narrowly point to the real problem in Ferguson. We wish it was limited to Ferguson, but this is what people of color face every day. Raw Story reports on an exchange between one of Don Lemon’s producers and a National Guard Officer.

“I’m just going to be honest with you,” Lemon recalled. “Last night, one of my producers said that they — I won’t say if it’s a he or a she because I don’t want to give anyone a way — said that they came in contact with one of the members of the National Guard. And that they said, ‘You want to get out of here because you’re white. Because these n-words, you know, you never know what they’re going to do.’”

Parker Jaques of La Mesa told NBC San Diego, “What they’re trying to do is get the people who are from out of state or out of town to leave so that they can go on abusing their own citizens without anyone seeing it.” Our local NBC station is also saying that Jaques claims this. Given what we are seeing night after night on the stream, and hearing in field interviews, there is more to this than just a claim. 

A member of the National Lawyers Guild told Tim Poole, of Timcast and Vice News that the officers did not like the oversight. This was after an arrest of another member of same organization. Other things are coming out in the coverage, both from national news organizations and streams that point to the real reason for the civil unrest. People are simply treated as second-class citizens.

So what? We are in San Diego. We like to pretend that there is nothing like this happening in San Diego. we do live in a culture where white people are trained to fear the other. “Black men of course riot, and Latino immigrants suck from the government teat and are lazy, and none is legal.” These two attitudes are part of that structural racism that we all live under. There are others, but I am pointing to the most obvious examples. It is mostly under the surface, and hard to pinpoint unless you do a lot of self-reflection and admit that yes, there is privilege in being part of the dominant group,

San Diego has a long history of oppression, ranging from the Lemon Grove English only schools in the 1920s, to mistreatment of Native Americans, and riots. Those of us, who were in San Diego during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, remember the ones in this town. Our media did not extensively cover them, but they did happen. San Diego State University was closed.

Most of this structural racism is just under the surface. Things like if you speak Spanish at certain stores you will grow a tail from security. If you are black or brown, you will grow a tail from security. Even the president of the United Stats has quipped that this has happened to him. Or the more recent noose at UCSD, which led to protests and a student suspension. There are many more.

All these are part of the pattern of just under the surface racism. Children learn early on that if they are from certain groups they are not supposed to finish High School, let alone go to college. They laso learn that if they are from those groups, they have a better than average chance of ending in jail, and doing hard time. The NAACP reports on this, in their factsheet. Some of these items should call your attention as to the real problem.


  • Together, African-American and Hispanics comprised 58 percent of all prisoners in 2008, even though African-American and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the U.S. population

  • Nationwide, African-American represent 26 percent of juvenile arrests, 44 percent of youth who are detained, 46 percent of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58 percent of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).


The youth that are protesting in Ferguson know this. So they have taken to the streets, and are asking the police not to shoot them. “Hands up, don’t shoot” has become a refrain, since they know that a contact with the police can be dangerous to their health.

Which brings me to the next point. Media has been under attack, especially national media. They are outsiders, and outsiders will tend not to follow the unwritten rules of the local community. First, they are less aware of them. Second, their credentials are not issued by the Ferguson Police Department. So they can be a little more open about this, and the local cops do not like it.

That said, the way we report a crime committed by a white person, and the same crime committed by a black person is part of the story. The white person is not used as an example of what others look like. He or she is an individual. Even the photos media uses are different. Minorities on the other hand, tend to be shown far more as thugs. We in the media also need to do a lot of reflection on how we help to reinforce this sub-rosa and very much so, structural racism.

We at Reporting San Diego will indeed try to break from those unconscious biases.

Nadin Abbott is an award-winning journalist who holds a master’s of arts degree in History from San Diego State University. She covered the Occupy San Diego movement extensively.


Twitter: @nadinbrzezinski

Facebook: Reporting San Diego


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Categories: analysis, civil rights, media analysis

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