Opinion
Reading Los Angeles: Join The Times' new book club
Opinion Opinion L.A.
Readers React

Why it's objectionable to describe Ferguson's Michael Brown as 'no angel'

Was the New York Times wrong to write that Michael Brown was 'no angel'? Yes
How would you feel if someone who didn't know you described you as 'no angel'?

Was the New York Times wrong to write that Michael Brown was “no angel”?

“I read the profile and didn’t find the ‘no angel’ line objectionable,” wrote Times editorial board member Michael McGough.

It’s unfortunate that McGough is unable to see the phrase “no angel” as unobjectionable. It had nothing to do with the sum total of Brown’s life, and subtly suggested that he was a “bad boy” and was directly responsible for being shot and killed.

Picking one incident out of someone’s short life and using it to say, “See, he was headed for trouble,” is always reductive thinking, and, in the life of a black man, is something we have been combating since the 1600s. Until you abolish it from your vocabulary — and your spiritual nature — you will always be able to justify thinking that about anyone, whether black, white, female, transgender.

People like to be able to reduce others into a box so they can feel they’ve afforded the person all the “moral” goodness they have within themselves. Frequently, it is more a statement on how little consciousness they have that they can do this within the space of two or three newspaper articles, as though a person’s life is circumscribed by the equivalent of 10 inches of black type on a white page. 

Ask someone — who does not know you well — to describe how they see you to your face and to do so honestly, and experience how comfortable it is for you to hear the reductive statements that leave out so much of who you are to your friends, who really know you well.

If you are a minority — in particular, a black man — you will understand.

If you are the average white person, who has never had to worry that walking in the “wrong neighborhood” (read: white) at night will get you arrested, shot, clubbed or killed, you haven’t got a clue.

View Jon Stewart’s recent “Race/Off” segment in which he addressed racism. It may be enlightening.

Glen McLeod is a Los Angeles Times reader who splits time between San Francisco and New Haven, Conn.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Ferguson: No peace without representation
    Ferguson: No peace without representation

    Before the media and the public shift their attention to the next pressing issue, we should use this opportunity to think about reforms that could prevent future Fergusons. One solution is easy to legislate and remarkably effective: increase representation.

  • Carolyn Ramsay for L.A. Council District 4
    Carolyn Ramsay for L.A. Council District 4

    The race to replace longtime City Councilman Tom LaBonge started out promisingly — there were 14 candidates from inside politics and out, some more serious than others, but enough who were smart, enterprising and scrappy. Now, after an appallingly low turnout primary in a district known for its...

  • Bill on drug pricing would help state in figuring healthcare costs
    Bill on drug pricing would help state in figuring healthcare costs

    A new crop of specialty drugs holds great promise for treating or even curing some devastating diseases, but their high cost challenges health insurers and taxpayer-funded health programs. In California, Gov. Jerry Brown has asked for $300 million in the coming fiscal year's budget just for specialty...

  • Should L.A. really manage the Greek Theatre?
    Should L.A. really manage the Greek Theatre?

    The city of Los Angeles, which has enough problems getting the streets paved and the trash picked up, may now be getting into the concert business. Earlier this month, after a nasty, political fight over which of two entertainment giants should be awarded the multimillion-dollar contract to operate...

  • Shorter showers? Nine more ways the state has to change its water ways
    Shorter showers? Nine more ways the state has to change its water ways

    Heading into the fourth summer of drought, water agencies are looking for ways to get Californians to conserve at home. Tear out lawns. Install low-flow toilets. Irrigate with gray water. But what should the whole state be doing? Opinion asked nine water experts what needs to change about how California...

  • Evolving awareness is cause for same-sex-marriage optimism in court
    Evolving awareness is cause for same-sex-marriage optimism in court

    On Tuesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the Ohio case of Obergefell vs. Hodges, as well as three related cases from Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee. The court is then expected to decide whether the Constitution requires states to grant gay people the same rights in marriage as...

  • The deepest war wound may be the anguish of moral injury
    The deepest war wound may be the anguish of moral injury

    When the Greek playwright Sophocles came home from war, in the 5th century BC, trust and betrayal must have been on his mind. He wrote “Philoctetes,” about a wounded Greek warrior abandoned by Odysseus on the way to Troy.

  • Are we winning the drone war?
    Are we winning the drone war?

    Almost two years ago, President Obama announced that he was tightening the rules under which the CIA carries out drone strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan, Yemen and other countries. “Before any strike is taken, there must be a near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured...

Comments
Loading