On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown and Darren Wilson met on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. A short time later one of them was dead, the other was mired in controversy, and this town had become an emblem for the complex tangle of issues that roils the politics of racialized states. How do we position ourselves to face these issues productively and intelligently?
I will argue that facing Ferguson means refusing the seductions of racial innocence. I will develop the notion of racial innocence from its roots in the work of James Baldwin, and then draw out some implications for contemporary democratic politics. The main suggestion will be that one form of racial innocence leads to the temptation of despair, and that we can only understand this temptation, and prepare to resist it, by shifting our focus from spectacular violence to persistent vulnerability.