How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? The Missing Kerner Commission Report

one missing puzzle piece in a large white puzzle

In 1968, President Lyndon Johnson formed the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, better known as the Kerner Commission, to help understand and control the surge of black urban uprisings that occurred in 1967.

According to the Commission report, the so-called race problem in America is characterized as a black people problem. The onus for resolving these problems, then, rested primarily on black people’s ability to conform to white cultural norms.

In this article, we examine how the Kerner report interprets black rage or social circumstances while failing to acknowledge or analyze white rage and its manifestations.

Key Findings

  • While white-initiated race riots have often led to a significant loss of black life, black-owned properties, and black civil and constitutional rights, very little has been written on these costs and casualties. The recording of white deaths from riots are exact, but the estimated loss of black lives can vary widely.
  • The Kerner report widely ignores the experiences of black women, while applying a disproportionate lens to the role that well-behaved black males can have in the community.
  • Both the Kerner report and the 2015 Task Force on 21st Century Policing struggle to make meaningful, let alone effective, recommendations for remedying police brutality.
  • Future commissions must first explore and recognize the truth of how systems, not individuals, create racism and sexism–before they move forward to try to solve these problems.