How much do we value black life in America? #BlackLivesMatter time to #WakeUp

Posted: December 5, 2014 in Uncategorized


What nobody wants to say, what this #MikeBrown #EricGarner story is really about… What all of these stories are really about (because this is happening all the time) is the ongoing and systemic devaluing of black life–plain and simple. As a society we place less importance, less caring and less attention when the victim is black then when the victim is non-black. We all know it… We see it… It’s something we have gotten used to… And it’s not likely to change anytime soon. People are asking: Why are there looters and rebellions in Ferguson? Because people are rightfully angry–rageful, as any of us would be if the tables were turned. It’s called “Black Rage” and whenever it is expressed it has the double-edged effect of heaping blame– societal blame on the victims themselves in a complicated process of blaming the vicitim. “Why do they burn their own neighborhoods” is the oft-posed question. In response people should remember the old-adage “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.” They are out of answers and basically, begging, pleading — “please, don’t kill our kids.” The historic roots of why we devalue black life are fixed, deep and have been constructed over time — and exist for reasons we all really need to know more about. Hopefully that mentality will change– but not until the punishment and public condemnation (not just by black people but by all Americans) comes down so hard and swift that law enforcement or anyone in a position to change the course of a life, or end a life, or erase the future potential of a life, will think twice before pulling the trigger once, never mind 10 times. Education is part of the answer– Americans need to begin to understand the history of lynching, tolerance of violence to black bodies, cultural, literal, and figurative– in so many areas pop culture, film, literature and even cartoons (oh if only everyone could only sit down and watch ethnic notions together) then we would be one step to closer to understanding the complicated reasons people are able to shrug off the death and destruction of black lives — and why we must interrupt that process.

It never ceases to amaze me how whiteness corrects for itself sometimes. It’s increasingly clear to me that ‪#‎Ferguson‬, much like the Zimmerman verdict is about white privilege in so many ways. Why is it that a white man on trial for killing a young black man can expect to have the best lawyers, the most expensive representation, the finest coaching and fully expect without being disappointed in the God-given assuredness of being white, and therefore being rescued from a fate that so many black men know only too well. To be blessed with the words: “Not guilty.” Whiteness rushes in to save the day to protect itself. If the ethnic identities had been the opposite, it would be just another black man on trial. Which raises the question, how much do we really value black life in America? It says a lot that so many Americans still find this acceptable and yet it shows, more importantly, how little has changed. 

Much like the “swinging black bodies hanging from Southern trees” that Billie Holiday sang about in her protest anthem “Strange Fruit”, based on a poem written by Abel Meeropol, a white Jewish high-school teacher from the Bronx.


“Southern trees bear a strange fruit, Blood on the leaves and blood at the root, Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze, Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees”. (More recently Kanye West borrowed from this tradition in his song “Blood on the Leaves” which is one of the tracks on “Yeezus”.  This leap forward was a risk for holiday artistically and commercially.  Her music label at the time would not release this song not only because of its controversial lyrics and subject matter but because they did not think that it could become a commercially viable song.  Today it stands out as one of holidays signature tunes and the quintessential American protest song.  Its is probably one of the most brave acts of musical expression that one can think of and stands out as one of the greatest songs of the 20th century. The haunting melody Holiday’s coice conjures up images of those southern trees and the strange fruit that was the black bodies swinging in the southern breeze. “Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck, For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck, For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop, Here is a strange and bitter crop.” That song paired with the NAACP’s unsuccessful efforts to pass the Dyer Anti-lynching bill at the time juxtaposed with the absurd need to photograph lynchings in the south on postcards and greeting cards  punctuated the need for something to be done allowing the NAACP to somewhat helplessly fly the flag out in front of the national office as they did after a lynching that that read “a black man was lynched today.” People would walk beneath that flag and perhaps noticed it and perhaps some stopped but most simply walked by without a care.


Missouri and New York grand juries’ failure to indict is just another excuse to use this same kind of lynch-mob form of justice, to destroy black bodies, and get away without any punishment.  Considering this history, which is now being increasingly taught in Criminal Justice classrooms and textbooks, which make it very clear that in the relatively short history of law enforcement and criminal justice in this country, that only just recently have crimes against black people have even been taken seriously AS crimes; investigated, tried, pursued, etc. it points out the obvious exceptions: lynchings, in which no crimes were ever even investigated, and what we call today black on black crimes. And people wonder why black people are untrusting of the American justice system? To paraphrase Ghandi, most people when asked what they think about American justice, might respond as he did when asked by a reporter what he thought about Western Civilization when he said “I think its a good idea”. Is it any wonder then that people, many of whom have lived through this not so ancient history of lynching, or the murder of Emmett Till, or the Rodney King beating and subsequent freeing of the police officers involved, are calling this most recent episode with #EricGarner and #MikeBrown a 21st century lynching?


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