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Dr. Darron Smith: Pathology of Blackness Through the Prism of Christopher Dorner’s Manifesto

chris-dornerBy Dr. Darron Smith

With more than a million dollars at stake to catch ex-LAPD officer Christopher Dorner, the manhunt intensifies causin many Americans to wonder what would drive somebody to commit such horrendous acts on innocent lives. Whether you consider Dorner to be sane or not, the reality is that he feels something drove him to this brink. His manifesto reveals years of racialized experiences and abuse at the hands of white people from the time he was in grade school through his time on the police force. Whether this was his perceived or actual reality, he felt the weight of discrimination and mistreatment as do the vast majority of Blacks and other Americans of color.

American racism imposes constraints on the material conditions of life by limiting access to society’s valued resources, which are the fundamental building blocks of good mental health and social well-being. When opportunities to fully participate in society as co-equals are denied or restricted because of arbitrary and superficial differences in melanin, some black Americans, understandably, crack under the constant pressure of having to measure up to white societal standards and norms of an imagined community where colorblind understandings of race prevail. Though most do not see murder as the outlet, black men in America from all socio-economic strata can relate to Christopher Dorner in at least one important way, his persistent frustration working in a predominately white and hostile work environment (LAPD has a long, tortured history of discrimination) where people of color are made to feel less than fully human in a supposedly equal society.

The degree of social isolation and exclusion that Dorner writes about is a reality for many black people, especially black professionals, who know all too well about the difficult and lonely experiences they encounter in white spaces, particularly when the environment has a rich legacy of racism which looms large in every major sector in American life. Black folks in white social settings are keenly aware of the dangers of white perceptions and the idea around “playing the race card” or complaining too much about race. In white social settings, Black Americans must learn to manage their emotions in the face of white micro-aggressions while simultaneously being made to doubt their feelings and intuitions of race-based mistreatment in the first place. Whether they address the issue to higher authority (which often results in skepticism up the chain of command) or remain in silent acquiescence of pain, both come at a cost to the soul. This tactic is frequently and often unconsciously employed by white people to instill self-doubt as a way to silence people of color. Predominately white work environments, however, have a responsibility to foster group cohesion.

When white Americans remain aloof, neglecting to acknowledge matters of race and, worse, partake in race-related slights, insults and other dehumanizing behaviors directed at stigmatized groups, the cumulative effect can undermine black confidence and have a pernicious effect on self-concept and feelings of inadequacy. Ignoring the perceived experiences and lived realities of subaltern peoples and seeing them as less competent than their white counterparts has been shown to result in a higher probability of mental health disorders among Blacks.

For Dorner, it is apparent that he felt the need to consistently to prove his worth in a white-dominated society. Dorner, who articulated that he grew up in a predominately white setting (1% black), likely developed white sensibilities. He went to school with white folks, hung out with white folks and saw himself as not unlike them. But the world saw him differently. Though he didn’t identify with the stereotypical “black man” caracterature in his mind (a white frame that he seemingly bought into) as expressed in his manifesto where he declares “I’m not an aspiring rapper, I’m not a gang member, I’m not a dope dealer, I don’t have multiple babies momma’s,” he felt the white surrounding world still treated him as such. He hated his blackness (as one ex-girlfriend declared) while at the same time feeling the injustice of living in a black body. It can be argued that he literally lost his mind trying to reconcile this duality in his life.

People of color, in general, and African Americans, in particular, have a heightened sense of awareness for race-based mistreatment through discriminatory behavior and actions at the hands of white folk, an experience that remains invisible to most Whites who are unable to comprehend what it is like to live inside a black body. Christopher Dorner’s articulation of this reality for African American men fell largely on deaf ears and served, in part, as a propellant for his anger, as reflected in the innocent deaths and threats to his intended victims.

Racism and other forms of inequality have plagued our nation since its inception. Whether oppression of “other” religious groups, women, Native Peoples or black Africans, America’s development as a cohesive society was largely sown through the blood of the innocents, those considered the “least of them” in society. America, sadly, is a country that was founded on indifference and intolerance and that legacy continues to take a heavy toll on black Americans and other Americans of color. Although not adopted, Dorner’s struggles with race, racism & discrimination in predominately white enclaves throughout his life and his obvious, disturbed cry for help should serve as a warning sign for why white adoptive parents of transracially adopted children so desperately need to sustain contact and integration with the black community. Many transracial adoptees, who suffer from mental health problems such as depression and feelings of self-hatred, failed to develop effective coping strategies that would provide them some protection against the persistence of whiteness that they inevitably encountered, coping strategies that the vast major of whites simply can not provide given their belief in a colorblind world.

There is no justification for murder, for the taking of precious lives, especially as a means to draw attention to one’s cause or pain. And at the same time, there is no justification for the enduring legacy of centuries-old white racism and our refusal as a society to atone for and uproot all vestiges of our racist past. These two ideals can stand strongly and independently in the case of Christopher Dorner.

In the words of the late James Baldwin,

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that……You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity……Please try to remember that what they believe, as well as what they do and cause you to endure, does not testify to your inferiority, but to their inhumanity and fear……Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity.

Follow me on twitter @drdarronsmith or visit me at


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