A Report from Occupied Territory – Emma Fournier

James Baldwin reports on the appalling treatment of ‘non-white’ groups, or people of color, “…which is also a plea for the recognition of our common humanity”.  This article includes varying cultural perspectives of the 1960s, and the two most emphasized are those of the black community and those of white policemen.  Some cultural information within the black community includes slight indicators within their language usage (such as the use of the word “axe” instead of asked).  I appreciated that Baldwin chose to retain these nuances within his piece not only for the mere sake of accuracy, but also to solidify the integrity of others’ words.  Another piece of cultural information is within their behaviors.  The way in which they felt they must carry themselves in order to be cooperative was (and remains today) extremely restrictive and precautionary so as not to draw attention to oneself or create conflict.  The feeling of living in “occupied territory” sculpts the majority of their behaviors and consequently becomes an unavoidable aspect of their culture, being constantly surrounded by and fearful of the intimidating presence of racist white policemen.  The negatively impactful culture of these forces is apparent not only in their disgusting privilege and views, but the sheer brutality that those perspectives breed.  Their blatant abuse of authority and complete disregard for ‘the other’ as human creates an ignorant, heinous culture in which they possess no remorse.  These white supremacists consider people of color as savages when in fact, that is who they are.

As outrageous as it is that this event occurred more than five decades ago and cannot be undone, we must still consider what might have been done in order to continue improving our society today.  There is a multitude of unasked and unanswered questions regarding this particular circumstance, in which a fieldworker might ask to further uncover the culture that this article describes.  A more obvious question may be to ask the policemen, “Why do you view yourself as superior to people who are ‘different’ than you?”, or “How do you feel before, during, and/or after you treat others in this manner?”.  On the other side, they may question the innocent group by asking, “As a minority, what do you do to avoid conflict?”, or “What do you think should be done to advocate for these victims?”.  There are innumerable possibilities of inquiry to gain a better understanding of both parties’ perspectives and to grasp how each culture is shaped.

In order to more accurately understand the insider perspective, we must also consider other factors beyond these informants’ contributions.  A fieldworker might also speak to communities just blocks away from the area to apprehend any differences and, if there are any, why?  They could ask a nearby largely white community, “Is your neighborhood heavily monitored by the police?”, or “What does the police activity look like from your perspective?”.  Any additional information would colossally impact the awareness and comprehension of how these situations come about and are perceived.

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