This week in America has shocked some, scared most, angered others and left many with a series of inquiries. The murders of Alton Sterling, and Phillando Castile echo previous racial injustice seen in slain black bodies such as Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner , Freddie Gray and Mike Brown. However, this week’s tragedies occurring just after July 4th or “Independence Day” perhaps could not be more appropriate. Every year fireworks light up the American sky to commemorate freedom. Yet, this “freedom” or “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in its past and present implementation, excluded black bodies with an indifference so ingrained in western mentality it goes largely unnoticed. Thus, what should be a time to reexamine the laws that continue to disenfranchise us remans veiled behind for liberties circumscribed from black existence.
The murders, happening hours after one another, prove that the Constitution and the American government in its entirety continue to disenfranchise the black body through murder. Both murders made their way into the general public through graphic footage. Physically detained by police, Alton Sterling endured fatal shots issued at point blank range. Castile- following instructions issued by a police officer— endured four fatal bullets discharged in front of his girlfriend and a four year old child seated in the back seat. The cameras reel in a reality that mirrors a past where black bodies were lynched, torched then dangled as a public spectacle before a feast of eyes. The similarities in dismantling and displaying black injustice makes the past ever so present amidst the illusion of hope and change. Sterling and Castile’s murders substantiate a reality of white privilege fostered by systemic racism which discounts black life to uphold white supremacy.
For centuries, we as a black community watched as black bodied endure death, defilement and destitution to which our oppressors meet no consequence. To bear witness to continued injustice prompts anger, frustration, and helplessness amongst the black community. However, despite our disposition, our continued crises suddenly disappears when juxtaposed to a slain gorilla or lion. This is not to denounce the tragedies of Ceil (2015) and Harambre(2016), but to expose a societal double standard where animal life trumps human life when the humans are black.
Yet in wake of the turbulence cast upon black bodies since our arrival in the seventeenth century, the recent scenarios in Dallas produces empathy for the police and not for Micah Johnson, the alleged assailant. Johnson, a young black men slain in effort to balance a system unbalanced by systemic racism, is instantly cast as a villain. Johnson becomes a victim despite his victim status in a country that haunts his young black body with past and present events rendered to ingrain inferiority into his mind. Johnson, like countless other black faces within the black diaspora, most likely felt angered and silenced by the consistent attack on black bodies. The police as soldiers of white supremacy commonly inflict black injustice sans culpability as their actions maintain a false valor extended to white bodies who perform acts of racial genocide onto blacks. Johnson faces heavy castigating citing that violence should not meet violence. However, this logic quickly dissolves in the silence surrounding Johnson’s obliterated body rendered by a robotic bomb. His murder mirrors the murdered black bodies that sparked his outrage- slain with no principle and no regard for the human being who exists on the other side of the attack.
Although slightly tangental, it is fascinating how white bodies, when faced with crime, experience unrelenting humanizing efforts. Black bodies, however are always made into the villain. As shooters in mass murders white youths are commonly described as “abused,” “troubled,” “mentally handicapped” or some other adjective that victimizes the villain. Similarly, the media commonly describes white cops who kill blacks as “afraid” or “acting in the line of duty.” Blacks who commit crimes are almost always guilty of “reacting” to the negative stimuli placed in their path, which makes them victims not villains. In Johnson’s case he imbues reactionary acts to reflect a revolutionary mindset that opposes racial injustice. Yet, his body suffers a murder Johnson and conscious members of the black community anticipated with the indifference required to implement change. The news suggest that Johnson posed a physical threat which provoked his murder. However, it was the mental threat Johnson induced that prompted his murder. For blacks to feel empowered to take matters into their own hands threatens a country established on black helplessness. So Johnson, like any other black body that dared to remove his own chains, must face death to dwindle the spirit and courage of possible followers. It is also worth mentioning that the label “cop killer” as projected on to villianized black bodies, also lacks originality. In the late sixties and seventies, Black activists and freedom fighters Huey Newton and Assata Shakur endured lengthy and highly publicized trials. Both cases centered on accusations that the named black bodies killed police officers in cold blood. Prior to their murder trials, Newton and Shakur were prominent and fearless pillars in the black community tirelessly fighting for justice in an unjust land. Commonly, Johnson, Newton and Shakur faced varying consequence that depleted their means to directly impact their causes.
Nevertheless, this has indeed been a sad week. However, moreso than the events themselves I am saddened by the black bodies who empathize more with slain officers than a young black man who faced death fighting to be heard in a country that flourishes in his silence. I am more saddened by the black bodies who see these cases and continue to covet white wealth, white institutions, white standards of beauty or even white standards of success and worthiness. I am most saddened by the black bodies who turn the other cheek, deeming courage much too costly.
Now is not only the time to say as the late James Brown sang “I’m black and proud” but a time to maintain an unapolegtically black existence. It is a time to say without hesitation that #blacklivesmatter*. Any evil extended to #blacklivesmatter—a phrase uplifting a community that experienced every tragedy yet remains standing— demonstrates that all in lives in fact do not matter.
All lives clearly do not matter as demonstrated by white supremacists and white conservatives who call for a return to “the good ole days” or “Real America.” The quotes terms refer to a time where blacks generally failed to see their own greatness and praised rather than challenges whites. The “good ole days” references acts of white terroism veiled by white hoods that killed black people, raped black women and torched black businesses.
However, I too wish for a return to the “good ole days.” By the good ole days, I reference Black Wall Street or pre-integration where black communities featured abundant black businesses. This is a grave contrast to contemporary black communities that are entirely outsourced to whites and migrants who achieve the American dream by way of the black dollar bereft appreciation for black people. No, a separatists existence does not solve every issue plaguing the black diaspora. It does however present a platform for self-determination granting equity to the black experience. Simply put, a white supremacist system that is never courteous, professional or respectful should bear no presence in a black community. White bodies or any body bearing a western mindset should not patrol our bodies, teach our children or foster any guidelines by which we live. White presence in black affairs yields the suffering outlined by black psychologist Bobby Wright:
Therefore, suffering for Blacks was and is a way of life, not death, It was out of this cultural imperative that the “Blues” developed (and is now being stolen) and revealed the incomparable “Soul of Black Folks.” Centuries before Whites “discovered” existentialism, Blacks has accepted (unfortunately) that “to live is to suffer and the ultimate test is the meaning a people find in that suffering which dictates they way they live and die.” (Wright 16)
Pegged a prejudice murderer, Johnson suffered a life doused in reminders of a false inferiority which inspired his extreme measures to obtain visibility. He suffered as he took his last breath amidst the smoke and flames that hovered over much of his life. Flames and smoke that summoned him to his knees when he strove to live on his feet. Flames and smoke that reduced him to a boy even as a grew into a man. Blacks suffer as a collective consequence of white supremacy. Our identity is muffled by white imagination which fuels a suffering in variance from murder to assimilation. I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of suffering too.
Black is beautiful. Black is worthy. Black is power.
No justice. No Peace.
*The Whispers of Womanism does not align with black lives matter the organization, but does employ the phrase as truth.