This piece first appeared on the site Collected Young Minds, where I regularly contribute pieces of self-reflection, and thoughts on pop-culture and of course allyship and social activism.
The past several months have been a whirlwind of emotions every time I read another story about the #blacklivesmatter movement. Each new week brings another story of a person unnecessarily gunned down, a community shocked, and families’ lives changed forever.
If there could be any greater tragedy than losing a life before prematurely, defining a situation using unconscious bias, stereotypes, prejudices or ignorance, or providing catalysts for turmoil and unrest in already tumultuous communities, it would be the opportunity we miss as a society to acknowledge and accept that systemic issues set the stage for these tragedies to play out in minority communities, and that #blacklivesmatter reflects a movement borne out of an American problem.
In recent weeks, I have been a part of conversations and observed other interactions that downplay the significance of this truth by reverting to respectability politics, unwinding and separating closely woven and inseparable issues, or explaining away a problem that clearly exists.
Like the volume of comments or “facts” that have been raised in defense of countless police officers in case after case...”Sandra Bland should have just complied”…”Mike Brown was aggressive toward the officer, he escalated the situation”…”those kids in Texas were causing trouble at the pool, they should have left when asked”…”Eric Gardner was conducting illegal activities, this would never have happened if not for that”…
Or blaming black communities for creating the environment that they become victims of…”we perpetuate stereotypes, we glorify a lifestyle that plays into the images the media portrays”…”we do have high incidents of crime in our communities, so what should we expect from people who hear and see this in the news every day?”
Or pointing out all the other possibilities that could potentially impact a person’s decision-making in unjust and unfair incidents while absolutely disqualifying the real possibility that bias and stereotypes and prejudices hold weight, or downright belittling the significance of a real problem by pointing out other real problems….”the officer really could have seen that as a gun”…”the officer was in a high pressure situation”… “the officer makes life or death decisions every day”… “deaths from black on black crime is significantly higher”… “the officer meant to use his taser”…
Frankly its frustrating. Because we are forgetting an important point…the black community is and has been a victim. Black communities aren’t “playing victim”…our history in this country was borne out of an ultimate crime, and justifying or downplaying it with sentiments such as “look where blacks are now”, or “its not slavery, so what’s the fuss”, or “we are beyond race now”, or “these things take time”, is a willful ignorance of the role that perpetual victimization and scapegoating plays not only in the psyche of black America generations later, but also the psyche of every other American as well.
And so the #blacklivesmatter movement is not just about the excessive use of force by police in black communities, but a frustration with being society’s victim yet again. And if you have ever felt victimized by an unfair situation, a hurtful person, or a unfortunate developments, then you know that being victimized is not something you just “take on the chin”. It hurts. It’s upsetting. It’s distressing. Its as much emotional and personal as it is a matter of principle and rightness.
To judge a victim then for their response to being victimized….is silly.
Victims should not have to feel sorry, excessive, overbearing, rude, or ignorant for saying enough is enough. In fact…black people should no longer have to apologize for…
Being angry. Black children arefour times more likely to live in poverty than white children. Blacks are more likely to be arrested for a drug related crimes, even though whites are more likely to deal. Black male teens are 21 times more likely to be shot dead by police than white male teens. And I am literally just cherry-picking issues. If black people can’t be angry about persisting inequalities like this…then what emotion should it be?
Being impatient. True, black people are no longer in the chains and shackles that preceded 1865; however, if this accomplishment is somehow supposed to increase black people’s capacity for dealing with a less obvious kind of equality, we’re not buying it. Just because calling a black person property is publicly accepted as taboo doesn’t mean that America earns a time-out from tackling other racial injustices in society. America does not get to tell black people the degree to which they are allowed to fight based on comparing present injustices to the past. Inequality is inequality, whether black people are held back by physical chains, economic chains, or social chains. Patience was 246 years of slavery in America, 77 years of Jim Crow, 14 years of civil disobedience, and decades of witnessing neoliberal ideals of individualism chip away at the recognition that systems can be racist too. I think black people are fresh out of patience.
Black on Black Crime. Stop it. Throwing out “black on black” crime distracts from the fact that comparing wrongful deaths at the hands of police officers to the rates of black people killed by other black people is not the same. It’s like being mad that a lemon doesn’t taste like an apple. True, both result in wrong and untimely deaths. True, both cause pain and suffering in already suffering communities. However, police – AKA officers of the peace – should be held to a higher standard than an average citizen, who is not entrusted with the protection of the public. Sorry. If that standard is unreasonable, I think we have a serious problem. Also, “black on black crime”… is a dumb phrase. It suggests that black people are walking around going out of their way to shoot a black person versus a white person. The phrase ignores the systems that contribute to the existence of this issue in the first place. Black people are killing black people because they live with black people in inner cities….inner cities that exist because of poor investment and lack of resources in the community. No one is calling murders of white people by whites, “white on white crime”.
Every other issue affecting the black community. And actually…let’s include every other issue affecting the black community. These other issues do not work as a “get out of jail free” card to use when a group of people demand accountability on another. See above on “black on black crime” for the same reasoning – these others issues do not exist in vacuum.
Not Being Perfect. Why does a protester have to be perfect for their cause to make sense? Why does a victim have to be above reproach to be seen as innocent? It should be enough that injustice exists. It should be a hard stop at “all people do not have equal access to opportunity”. Instead, society operates under modified definitions – “all perfect men are created equal” and “liberty and justice for all actions I understand” – and we either don’t know it, or choose not to accept it.