Why is a black life worth less than a white life in America? Or rather, why is that still the case in America after hundreds of years?
The refusal to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Mike Brown and the refusal to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner—and remember, an indictment is only the decision to make a case to go to trial, not a conviction—is shameful, and it’s not an aberration in American society. It’s just the latest outrage, except outrage might not be the right word. How outraged can we be if we vent in a series of tweets? How large can an injustice be if you can sum it up in a 140 characters or less or in a Facebook post? And I’ll admit: a blog post is poor solace as well.
We have all reached the point of helplessness, and we’re crying out because we have no idea how to change our current situation, or, perhaps more depressingly, we don’t want to. What’s our motivation if we feel we’ve reached catharsis with something we can type out on our phones while we’re in line at the store? With all the deaths of black people gunned down by cops, shouldn’t we have been motivated by now?
This is not a recent development. This is the lives of black people in America from the moment we dragged them here and enslaved them. And when they were free from slavery, they were segregated and killed with impunity by angry mobs. And when segregation was struck down, they were economically segregated and imprisoned.
The latest development is the most insidious because there’s no clear villain. There’s no plantation owner. There’s no George Wallace. People in prominent positions of power aren’t being openly racist. They simply allow racism to exist because reforming the prison system or cracking down on crime might make you look soft and there for unelectable, and that only by punishing the black people can the world be safe. And if you’re white, you are already absolutely safe from institutionalized discrimination.
If Officer Wilson or Officer Pantaleo killed a little white girl, they would quite simply be dead. The grand jury would indict in less than 10 seconds, and they would be convicted of first degree murder in less than 20. Meanwhile, police can shoot a little black kid who was playing with a toy gun because fear and itchy trigger fingers qualify as justified self-defense. Of course, they would never kill a little white girl, because they’re not threatening. Black people, in particular black men, are inherently threatening because that’s how they’re depicted in the media.
And I don’t know how you undo fear, and I certainly don’t know how you do it in the 21st century when whining on the Internet stands in for actual protest. Watching Selma a couple weeks ago, I was reminded that people had to physically organize, go outside, and then accept that they would probably have the shit kicked out of them regardless of race because they had the audacity to try and exercise their right to vote. It helped that there were clear battle lines, and now that those lines are gone, people seem to be lost at how to fight this battle.
We know right from wrong, but we don’t know how to right this wrong. Our African-American President says we should put cameras on police vests. It’s a practical solution, but also one that in no way addresses the core problem of racism in America (I believe Obama’s best service to the African-American community is to be a source of inspiration, because he certainly hasn’t done anything tangible for them even though they pretty much voted for him unanimously). Racism has become engrained into a far more difficult sphere—poverty. How do you solve poverty? How do you stop prejudice in our judicial system? There are huge socioeconomic factors at play, and they’re difficult to unwrap. It’s telling that we’re looking to entertainers like Chris Rock and Jon Stewart to provide solace because there’s no one in actual power who can change anything, and we’ve directed our energy towards brief reprieves of commiserating on the Internet.
I’m no better. I’m shouting into the void because I’m confused, lazy, upset, and deflated. This is a blog post on a blog nobody reads. I look at the sad cases of Mike Brown and Eric Garner and every other black man who is gunned down by cops for the crime of being a black man, and I feel awful not only because people are getting away with murder, but because I feel powerless to stop it. I see people going out and protesting, but what are their protests seeking to change? Slavery is abolished. Segregation is gone. What do we have other than feeling guilty, words on a screen, and then going about our business because deep down we feel that there’s no way to fix this problem? And if there is a long-term solution, I doubt it will come from blogs, tweets, and posts. It’s not enough, but after 400 years of how America has treated people of color, I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to do enough other than be ashamed.
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