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I See No Changes: Race And Racism In 2014

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Flickr / Debra Sweet
Flickr / Debra Sweet

I watched a video last night of a Black woman being dragged out of her house naked.  The lady was 48, a grandmother, and the NYPD was called because of a supposed domestic disturbance incident; the event took place on August 1st. For some reason, the protocol was to let this woman be bombarded by a bunch of male police offers in the hallway. Collateral damage of the event also saw a four year-old boy pepper sprayed. The woman was allowed no dignity. Reports have come out that reveal the accusations that were made against this lady were false. Other reports claim the police intervened in the wrong home. Either way, the lady, Denise Stewart, was shamed and dehumanized.

Notwithstanding this incident and the events surrounding Renisha McBride and her outrageous death, it is a fact that Black men and boys tend to face the most brutal treatment by the police, and members of society who take legal matters into their own hands. Mike Brown, John Crawford, Eric Garner, are just a few in the host of Black men who faced unjust deaths that are  unequivocally tied to race and racism. And then of course there is the Trayvon Martin story which swept the nation last year. But these are just the names we remember or the names that grab the media’s attention. Beyond police brutality, in Chicago , where I live, few people care about the names or the stories of Black people who are slain every weekend in what I call “the other Chicago.” In the imagination of many people, the situation is written off as simply “Black on Black crime,” which they believe is not their problem.

But we have a Black president, right?

And the above sentiment has plagued almost every racial conversation for the last six years – Obama as president, that is. Mind you, as someone who takes part in both formal and informal dialogues on race, I often find these conversations to be unproductive and superficial. In the first place, not many Americans (of any color) are adequately educated on the country’s racial history. Nor are many willing to confront the racial realities of this country that exist. Many will read one or two books, watch Dave Chappell comedy (without noting the critical work behind it), and attempt to have scholarly conversations with Penny-wise, Pound-foolish psychoanalysis, and dare to believe in their incredulous pseudo-opinions.

Because I am not from this country and grew up outside of it, I have had to learn through experience as well as research and reading, what it means to be Black in the United States – an experience that is determined by gender, socio-economic class, and education, among other things. Because I come from a particular upbringing and was, and continue to be surrounded by a particular professional class of people, I often get asked why I am so interested  in telling uncomfortable truths when I probably have it better than most Black people in this country.

After all, nobody sees color anymore, right?

Yes, the colorblind generation seems to think that avoiding seeing other people as they are, for what they are, for what they are proud to be, will solve the deep-seated racial inequalities, both at a structural level and on an individual basis. Yet I find it rather curious that a nation which testified to the inhumanity of Black people for so long, formally considering them as property, proceeded to segregate them after their emancipation, and with less than a lifetime being gone, expect Black people and in fact all people of color, to buy into a “colorblind” perspective on race. It would be laughable if it wasn’t so pathetic.

The consequences of race in the United States in 2014 are both complex and simple. Complex in the sense that the question of “How do we move forward?” is a burden of a generation that does not quite understand the sins of the nation they inherited. Paradoxically, the generation has convinced itself that because they can point to the odd Black person or other person of color in a position of some power, that racism is dead; that all events that have to do with racism must then be isolated incidents – an absolutely false claim to anyone who knows the relationship between race and class, and education, and economics and social and political power.

Yet these consequences of race are also quite simple to people who refuse to close their eyes and turn away from the harsh realities of the United States’ pervasive anti-Blackness, which extends beyond its Black-White racial binary to all communities of color, including Black communities. And that this anti-Blackness is present in a way that makes it unsurprising that in 2014, the unjust death and dehumanization of Black people, and the subsequent silencing of Black voices that resist, or show their justified anger, is a normalized experience.

But SOME things have got better, right?

Sure, relatively. But I do not hold the standard for equality by measuring it against the oppressions that a people previously survived. And in many ways, I find that racism rears its ugly head in a different way than it did in the past. In ways that are coded in “inner city” and “urban youth” rhetoric; in ways that suggest “colorblindness” is a worthy approach as if it is simply not a tool to ignore the collective past that positioned a collective people in a specific political, economic, and social situation. I tend to be vigilant about this term “progress” when the incarceration, education, and economic statistics, and even the bloody comments sections of any Internet article about race ever, appear to tell a different story than what the powers that be would have me believe. That truth is stranger than fiction, applies here too.

And living in one of the USA’s co-called “progressive” cities, I deeply resent the notion that certain parts of the United States’ are afforded labels of “being better” when the fundamental problem that exists is a structural racism that has gone from being the de facto law of the land to the de jure principle of the land. This progressive city is the site of Black deaths that are most often met with apathy; this progressive city is one of the most segregated in the nation. North of our state is Wisconsin, which has the highest numbers of Black men incarcerated. What is this progress we are so quick to discuss when the methods have changed while the heart of the matters remain the same?

Why do we talk about the new Klan members in the towns and cities of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, when we have men in suits and men in uniform wreaking havoc in Chicago, in Detroit, in New York City? I have said it time and again: I respect the men in the hoods over the men in suits or badges – because at least with one, I know how to defend myself and what to expect. Malcolm X put it best, “Don’t talk about the South. As long as you are South of the Canadian border, you are South.”

So I don’t know where we go from here. But I do know as someone who comes from a nation that is dealing with its own evils – Boko Haram – it seems almost laughable that family members are concerned for my safety as a Black person in this country, even with all the privileges I have. And yet they are. I think because in Nigeria, we have enemies that we can see and touch and feel; we know who they are. But in the United States, the enemies within the United States are not people, but ideas – ideas that make up the fabric of this country – one of them being anti-Blackness. How do you cure a 600 year-old ideological disease? I guess we start with the truth – trying to find the truth, to tell the truth, in all its ugliness, and making it known to ourselves and others, and refusing to be intimidated by what we find. Till then we are aimlessly trying to catch the wind, till then we are endlessly wasting our breath – treating symptoms of our racial past and present, and nothing else. Yes, even in 2014, those enduring Tupac Changes lyrics stand: I see no changes. And that’s just the way it is. TC mark

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