Why Ferguson Resonates With Me, A Gay, White, American Male

by Chris Riotta

Protests and outrage swept the nation after the St. Louis County grand jury decided not to indict Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Michael Brown.

As the verdict was announced, I kept my eyes glued to the television screen and thumbs pressed to social media. I watched reporters clamor for any story they could find; they flocked to people around my age who vandalized their communities in anger.

I can still visualize footage of women and children crying in the streets, frustrated with the broken legislative system that let a man they felt to be guilty walk away with nothing but a facial bruise.

The outpour of anger and raw emotion made clear that this was just the beginning of a conversation America very much needs to have with itself about the systemic, oppressive, deadly discrimination that still plagues our country.

I immediately took part in the dialogue that opened up on virtually every social media platform regarding the verdict. I was infuriated, upset and confused about the decision. But, I can’t say I was surprised.

If you are a minority living in the United States, you either have or will eventually experience the catch-22 that is our legislative branch of government.

The laws and systems that are currently in effect are, indeed, designed to protect the rights and freedoms of "We, The People." But, unfortunately, minorities aren't among those people, according to some Americans.

Americans who don’t see minorities as equal could very well be one of your professors; someone with a discriminative ideology could even be the police officer who drives through your neighborhood most days. A person with this bigoted point of view could even be a lawyer, a member of a jury, or any other authoritative figure.

So, to say issues like racism and discrimination are things of the past would be a dangerous misrepresentation of the truth. Discrimination in this country remains incredibly institutionalized and severely oppressive for millions of people.

In fact, protests and anger that spread to cities and universities across the nation do not only speak to the racial relations still present between black and white. The unrest is also symbolic of the desire entrenched deep within the hearts of most Americans to live in a country entirely free of any discrimination.

Thus, I, a gay white male, can empathize with the outrage in Ferguson and around the nation.

My empathy is not justified by my identifying as gay, nor by my experiences with discrimination. It’s also not because I’m white and haven’t experienced discrimination.

The only trait I possess that allows me to understand the raw emotion I’ve seen every day since that Monday night is that I am an American. The only attribute that gives my voice meaning is that I am an American.

No matter what perspective I have on the developments surrounding Ferguson, I have a voice, an opinion that contributes to my country. We all do. It is our place to speak up and fight for what is right.

The only way there will ever be true reform is through a cultural shift in mentality. Continue to have discussions on these issues with friends and family; share your open-minded, generational viewpoint.

Most importantly, speak up whenever you want to be heard. Millennials have the unique ability to to share their voices more widely than ever before. Use it.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of Elite Daily.