There Ain’t No “I” in “We,” Our Story is Not About You: On Alice Johnson and White Intervention

Reality stars Donald Trump and Kim Kardashian engaged in a highly publicized hearing in which black woman Alice Marie Johnson’s fate was determined. The outcome was Johnson’s physical freedom, affording the white savior image to anti-black agents Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump. The coverage of Johnson’s release mirrors the reality of her foremothers and forefathers, whose validity was also determined by the consignment of white people. Though supposedly a story of triumph, Johnson’s narrative is not her own, seized by a media who is for whites, by whites— all of the time. Johnson’s “freedom” marks another victory for whites and exposes the continued enslavement of blacks via white media. While there are a number of details that make this case as disturbing as it is, I will focus on four points:

  1. Johnson has already served a life sentence

Johnson was arrested twenty-one years ago for involvement in drug-trafficking. She’s served over two decades, which equate to a lifetime. She served two decades in a formal prison for seeking to sever limbs caught between white supremacy and black disenfranchisement. She was not given choices, rather choices were made for her. Choices in which she was made to pay.  Her life, laced with tragedy and hardship from losing a job to losing her youngest child, is reflective of the high-levels of stress that accompany the black experience. With the previous statement, I am not suggesting that tragedy (in the conventional sense) does not extend itself to non-blacks. I am however asserting that blacks are not given the space to recover from said tragedy, as our tragedy is what the late Dr. Amos Wilson labeled a social necessity.

Johnson’s sentencing reflects a formalizing of the informal experiences that have shaped her collective life. Her sentencing reflects the societal desire to place the black body in a cage, this cage appearing in multiple manifestations through the global evil of white supremacy.

  1. This Pardon does not address the issue at hand

Perhaps the largest issue with the representation of the Alice Johnson case, is that the conversation it engenders does not address the true subject, or the issue at hand. Particularly, the media shaping of this case ignores the most central query:

Why was Johnson given a life-sentence in the first place?

So yes, it is “nice” that Johnson the individual was released, but this does virtually nothing for those symbolically represented by Johnson. Her release illustrates a societal willingness to grant low-stake victories, to deflect from what is necessary to issue real progress. As long as the general public elates in these empty performative gestures, the pervasive anti-black climate that suffocates the black collective, will continue to erode our emotional and physical well-being.  

  1. Her transition 

Johnson’s release, while to an extent a personal feat, precedes a difficult “transition” into a world, that like the prison that held her for over two decades, feeds off Johnson’s collective denigration. Realistically, opportunities are generally few and far between for those not born with the heuristic hue of whiteness. Once incarcerated, slim pickings become gaunt. Again, until discussions of change become actualized and freed from the imaginary, blacks will continue to harbor base  treatment, as this treatment is necessary for the stagnancy of anti-blackness. 

  1. The underscoring of “non-violence” 

One of the most problematic terms used in supporting Ms. Johnson’s freedom is the term “non-violent.” The media emphasizes that Ms. Johnson should be free because her crimes were non-violent. Ms. Johnson, presented as the good “criminal,”  implies that she is an anomaly. This deflects from the fact that her very existence actualizes the violence of a country who gloated in the blood spilled in their chicanery in symbolizing this smearing blood in their flag. Ms. Johnson, and every other black person yanked from the womb of their mother continent are the eternal victims of criminals who conveniently define what they call the social justice system. Violence is what imprisoned and will continue to imprison Ms. Johnson, the violence of white supremacy. If the “justice” system were just, the 1% would be in prison for stolen wealth. Instead they exist on a pedestal held up by the bodies buried in their climb to the fictive top. 

Closing Thoughts

In discussing Alice Johnson, it is imperative to note that what she was granted was not freedom. Johnson was granted the same thing black ancestors were granted in their discovery of the Emancipation Proclamation– the image of freedom. The preoccupation with the image of freedom, makes actual freedom obsolete. To actually free Ms. Johnson, Trump and Kardashian would have to relinquish their privileges, surrender wealth accumulated in the incarceration of people like Ms. Johnson, the death of black youth like Trayvon Martin, and systemic asphyxiation of Tawana Brawley and Sandra Bland.

Neither Kim Kardashian or Donald Trump did a good thing for Ms. Johnson. What they did was a good thing for themselves and their brands. What they did was “free” a black woman from one prison and sent her into another one where a white woman is praised for a purchased version of the African heirlooms in which black women are shamed. What they did yet again is make “our” story about them. 

In freeing ourselves from the enslavement of white supremacy, it essential to acknowledge that freedom is something that will never make the news, and something that will never garner the public praise of white supremacists. Freedom is something that starts internally, and until we turn a blind our to external representations of a freedom that is merely another manifestation of white supremacy, our collective remains in chains.

Black Power ❤

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