maybe the reason the media covered this as much as they did was in part to condition us even more so into accepting a police state, and even martial law. To show that the National Guard has matured since the days of Kent State and were able to ‘save the day’ in Ferguson. This isn’t about a specific black teenager or a specific cop (not necessarily white) it is about the fact that black people were never re-humanized after slavery and are viewed as less than expendable. You cannot enslave someone without first dehumanizing him, and you cannot kill someone without first dehumanizing him. The problem is that since the 1860’s, there has been no attempt to re-humanize those long dehumanized by society. It doesn’t matter if the victim of this particular shooting had stolen cigarettes, or even a car, or even robbed a bank, it isn’t about him, and it isn’t about an extremely small number of ignorant idiots using tragedy as an excuse for chaos (looting, etc). It’s about why, if the cop Wilson was scared of this black teenager, why he was scared. I have some professors with PHD’s and spotless criminal records who, when wearing anything but an expensive suit, (and even then) illicit that same fear in police, in passersby, and even in some students. One professor (an older black man) wore a hooded sweatshirt for an entire semester to prove a point. He always had his credentials on him, which he needed to produce a number of times even on campus. If you feel at all afraid when you see a young black man, as this cop really might well have, that says far more about you and about your socialization than it does the individual. As a child and teenager, while i wouldn’t call it racist, i was certainly ignorant as fuck. Denying this, revising the history of my youth helps no one. I know I am a good person today, but i was on my way to becoming part of the problem, and i was part of the problem… ignorance certainly shouldn’t be considered bliss. To care more what your peers think than what your heart tells you…that needs to change. I knew better, but i just went with it.
More than once in middle school and high school, i remember returning the “insult” of “you’re a nigger” with, “no, you’re a nigger”. Though the same can be said about about every homophobic term in the book. I’m ashamed of how ignorant and stupid i was, but i was by no means unique. When we had respected couches we looked up to using this language, adults in positions of power and authority, who were we to question it? (though my mother certainly taught me better, and slapped me so hard my face was red the first and only time she heard me say the ‘n’ word. It wasn’t from my parents or family, but peers and couches and bosses are a bit more influential for some pre-teens and teenagers than their parents. My first job, working an a farm in Sunderland, I heard probably every hateful term about every group imaginable. Even a white teenager who stuttered wasn’t safe from the bosses abuse, and he was ridiculed for his stuttering. (for what it’s worth, the boss was a former police officer). I finally got the nerve to quit when he said, upon my 3rd request for ONE DAY off to attend the Warp Tour (music festival) as a music loving 13 year old kid, he said the day before the concert “don’t be a faggot, you’re not going to that gay shit and that’s final, try it and you’re fired” (after i told him off, he called my father to ‘talk some sense into me’ but thankfully my dad talked some sense into my old boss). This was also a man I hid my cartridge ear piercing from under a bandana, for fear of what he would say or do. So, by 9th grade, i had already had a boss (an abusive boss whom i looked up to and respected for too long) a couch, and more than a handful of friends casually dropping racist and homophobic language (usually as some type of insult). At a minimum, non-white people were ‘other’ and nothing was done to reverse that. My mom tried her best with talks about how everyone is the same and we’re all one, but i came to understand that as the language of ‘crazy hippies’. It made sense, but i never gave it a second thought, mainly because i never had to. I didn’t see how in the world my friend, or my couch, or my old boss using a ‘word’ as an insult aimed at me or someone else, was bad ‘but it doesn’t mean anything’ and after all, in those days the high school mascot was the “Redskins”. at 14, 15, 16 years old, we have no idea the weight that words actually have. We have no idea the conditioning that is taking place when we’re 8, 9, 10 years old watching COPS, since after all, it is just ‘TV’. As a child, and probably until i bought my first bag of weed in 8th grade, i was pretty certain that DRUG DEALERS were all black, maybe a Latino or two now and then. But every drug I ever bought in high school was from a white person, all of my friends who had serious problems with hard drugs, well, their dealers were almost without exception white. Hell, the DARE officer of a loved one of mine from when he was in 6th grade, that DARE officer’s son (a white kid) was among the worst offenders. Lets not kid ourselves. We are all the fucking same, we are all products of our environment, and REAL STRUCTURAL FAILURES have created the environment in which a lot of black and brown people live. There is such a thing as white privilege, and no it doesn’t mean that you haven’t struggled and haven’t worked hard for everything you have. Look beneath the surface. Need an example? walk into MACY’S. Walk around for twenty minutes, try on a shirt, maybe some pants. when you’re not followed, what do you call that if not privilege? My team leader from Iraq spent a long time in the military, and now works in law enforcement (one of the good ones, i swear). He’s never been arrested, never committed a crime, never taken a drug and doesn’t drink. Clean cut, clean shaven, dresses better than I do. To have witnessed the shit that he, and countless others i worked with through the years, has to deal with, and never having dealt with any of this myself, that alone is privilege (though that’s barely scratching the surface of the problems). If i am not mistaken, there was a fad years ago when i was in maybe 6th or 7th grade, and my sister was in 8th or 9th grade. White kids from our school, from her class, used to fucking steal everything they possibly could from Abercrombie & Fitch, and from a music store called Media Play. A shit load of clothes and a shit load of CD’s. I know a lot of people who have done and still regularly do coke, and some who smoke crack. the majority of them are white. not just white, but from “good families, good neighborhoods”. At 18, serving in the military with Black teenagers and men who, and getting to know non-white people for the first time, i couldn’t help but think about everything i had heard from friends, mentors, the media,…about how “they” were criminals: they stole shit and did and sold drugs. well, well, well…here were a bunch of black people in the military, honorably serving their country, NOT stealing shit or doing drugs,…and i had friends back home from high school stealing shit and doing and selling drugs. How strange. Then, even outside of the military, getting to know some of my sisters friends from Smith College, then no longer being afraid to befriend, and god-forbid date, people who didn’t look like me. I never hated or disliked non-straight-white, (etc) people,…but for the most part I was indifferent. A fear, not of interacting with people who didn’t look like me, but a fear of what people who did look like me would think if i did… they remained “Other” and likely would have had I never left my home town. Maybe, maybe not. Not a dislike, hate, or fear, but an indifference and misunderstanding. Only as i began to leave my teenage years were non-white people RE-HUMANIZED, and i credit a number of friends and loved ones and lovers and teachers and BOOKS for this, but certainly not society. Had I not gone against the grain, these other groups would still be the “other”, something unfamiliar.
When we aren’t familiar with something, we often use our imaginations to fill in the blanks. Well, for generations, even ‘progressive’ and ‘liberal’ Americans were free of the burden of imagination or curiosity, and the media filled in the blanks for us. The TV show COPS worked wonders. COPS represents all black people about as accurately as the TV show Breaking Bad represents all white people. or for that matter, about as accurately as COPS represents all white people. In and of itself, it’s not a problem, but when COPS becomes the only exposure that white people have to black people, and white people can look anywhere and see positive representations of white people, they start to believe that black= bad, and white of course (like them and their neighbors) =good. This idea gets reinforced on nightly news, in movies, and other tv shows. Never once in all my years of education through 12th grade did I hear anything about any structural issues than have grown out of the ashes of slavery. Not until i went in the military and became friends with people who didn’t look like me for the first time, did i realize that things are pretty fucked up, and that aside from that, on a human level, WE ARE THE FUCKING SAME. As long as we only talk about current social problems, and never address the enormous structural shitstorm that incubates social problems, as long as the death of a young black teenager leads us to seek excuses, while the death of a young white teenager leads us to seek answers, seek the truth, seek justice, we have work to do. I don’t think it matters whether or not this kid stole cigarettes, because the last time i checked the punishment for petty theft isn’t the death penalty. It’s sad if this is what it takes to get any sort of a conversation going in america, but it is a conversation that needs to happen and has never happened. Malcolm tried getting the conversation going, and we see what happened to him. Dr. tried to get the conversation going and we see what happened to him. and i know ‘slavery ended a long time ago’ ‘Jim Crow is over’… well, that’s not good enough. Rather than yell at me if you have a problem with what i wrote, for starters, read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. There are more black people in prison today than were enslaved at the height of slavery. black men are more likely to wind up in prison than college… As i mentioned, it’s certainly not because they are more “prone” to “crime” than their white peers… so, what is it?
Remember, it’s not about one teenager or one cop or one city…it is about truth and justice, freedom and equality…human rights…