“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” - James Baldwin.
As a journalist, a Black man, and a lover of Baldwin’s work, that quote has become chiseled into my version of the truth; I say my version in admission that there are other truths. The Carolinas and Alabama are where the bulk of my truth is rooted. From slavery through the Great Northern Migration, the specter of white supremacy and racial prejudice have shadowed my family, their effects a static constant.
Many old prayers are as responsible for my birth as my mother and father. That faith in a better tomorrow is what guided most. They were deeply religious in the midst of the Confederacy, the KKK, Jim Crow and segregated housing practices in the North. When last I visited the open fields and dirt roads of Jones County, North Carolina, I caught myself daydreaming about the possibility of long-forgotten uncles and cousins shook from their sleep at by white sheets and burning crosses never to be seen alive again.
I was only 13-years-old then.
Almost 30 years have passed since those musings from the back of a hot Ford Escort and I still find myself in a racially toxic country today, still visited by those same images. Yet to hear some Black folks tell it, racism is a rare thing. Black movie stars, rappers, journalists and athletes have all downplayed both the voracity, frequency and lingering effects within the past year. A year ago I would have been inspired to write a scathing letter about selling out and how the Black race needs more allies and advocates and fewer critics and accusers. With everybody pointing fingers at Black people, even Black people, the number of people on my “Dear Black Celebrity” list I thought about pitching just wasn’t feasible.
Many Black celebrities are willfully blinded by their stardom. Successful Black business men convince themselves that the only color that really matters is green. Black journalists getting rich for defending White sensibilities from their own people. Trill Blacks too busy hustling and posing for social media and Black humanists saying there is no such thing as race. Black metaphysicals try to meditate it away while respectability Blacks believe titles, houses and cars will buffer them from its effects. Black religious folks try to pray it away, military Blacks believe service to country and valiance in the line of duty will win over their White counterparts and working-class Blacks are too busy trying to feed themselves and are generally untrusting of one another to do anything wholly unto themselves.
But racism hasn’t gone anywhere and is more voracious than ever thanks in large part to these points of view.
The coup de grace with editorials and opinions is achieved when the perfect “click bait” headline is crafted and the article is published. But to what end? It was satisfying at one time, using my platform to “pop off” with opinions like a dog barking at airplanes. In the end the dog gets a sore throat and is exhausted and no one on the plane can hear the barking anyway. This analogy is appropriate in describing the manner in which some insulate themselves from the facts of America’s racial legacy. But facts are inherently unsexy.
The degree to which some are repulsed by facts, and their willingness to believe in the absurd, are directly connected. "All Lives Matter" is absurd. Excusing the murders of nonthreatening, unarmed people by law enforcement is absurd and the continued refusal to recognize the obvious is absurd, the obvious being that America is built on the practice of white supremacy and racial prejudice maintains that status quo.
Again, that is largely conjecture based upon the available facts, facts that I have been intimately aware of ever since I was a boy. Yet many respectable Blacks of all types will scramble to discount the effects of racism by claiming some spiritual high ground, chanting it into irrelevance or flat out defending the feelings and sensibilities of “good” White folks. In this environment, the conscientious and concerned citizen is cast as wearing the same clothing as oppressors. But what do the facts say? The following is a list of a select group of the more racially polarizing storylines in the national media over the past year.
Hateful and Abusive Law Enforcement
On October 20, 2014, Officer Jason Van Dyke arrives on the scene and is there for 30 seconds before sentencing 17-year-old Laquan McDonald to death by firing at him from 10 feet away. The officer continues firing even after McDonald hits the ground. The City of Chicago holds the footage for over a year and deletes some footage according to a manager of a local Burger King. Court documents say the officer emptied his entire clip and was trying to reload. The Police Chief Gary McCarthy has been fired by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and there are still calls for the Emmanuel to resign. Officer Van Dyke is currently out on bail. The city held on to the video tape for more than 400 days before it was released fearing it would spark a riot.
A recent report in the Henry County Report highlighted details in leaked documents showing how officers in the Dothan, Alabama police department planted drugs and guns on young Black men since the mid-1990s with the approval of their commanding officers-one of which is Alabama Assistant Director of Homeland Security Andy Hughes and current Dothan police chief Steve Parish. The documents show the department ignored complaints by Black defendants and White officers who reported their suspicions as well. Twelve officers underwent a polygraph test in an internal investigation and most of them failed it. The department did not report their investigation to the Department of Justice nor did they notify defendants’ representation about the investigation. This information isn’t ground-breaking at all considering similar cabals of injustice against Blacks have turned up in Texas, Georgia and a multitude of other municipalities.
28-year-old former Oklahoma City Police Officer Daniel Holtzclaw is currently on trial for using prey upon Black women. He is being charged with 36 counts of rape, forcible oral sodomy, sexual battery and many other charges that could result in him recieving a life sentence. A similar case was filed in Oklahoma against Stephens County sheriff's deputy Brandon Balthrop, who was accused of assaulting two women and a teenager during traffic stops. The county settled federal lawsuits and the officer had his record expunged. Also, a Florida jury acquitted pffocer Stephen Maiorino of raping a 20-year-old woman even though the judge said there was "overwhelming: evidence pointing toward a crime. The city later agreed to an $875,000 settlement with the woman. Race wasn't a factor in either of those situations and both of the accused were acquited. Race is a factor in the case against Holtzclaw and I fear that leaves too much wiggle room for white supremacy and misogyny to come in to play.
The religious terrorist that killed three people at a Planned Parenthood Clinic in Colorado is taken into custody alive. White Supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof killed 9 people as they worshipped in church and was taken into custody unscathed. The arresting officers even treated him to Burger King before taking him to lock up. Both were armed and dangerous. Meanwhile, African-Americans are twice as likely to be unarmed as their White counterparts. Yet are seven times more likely to be shot by police than White Americans.
A 19-year-old Sarah Furay, a white woman who was caught with 31 grams of cocaine, 126 grams of high-grade marijuana, 29 "ecstasy" tablets, methamphetamine and 60 doses of an LSD-like drug31 grams of cocaine, 126 grams of high-grade marijuana, 29 "ecstasy" tablets, methamphetamine and 60 doses of an LSD-like drug, was called an "adorable kingpin" in the media as she smiled for her mugshot. Her father is a DEA Agent as well. Her bail was ridiculously low and now she's out. Such leniency is a prime indicator of white priviledge.
Five African-American males affiliated with Black Lives Matter were shot while protesting the shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by police. The assailants escaped despite the high likelihood that the protest was being monitored and infiltrated by undercover cops. Some protestors allege they were pepper sprayed by police as they tried to render aid to their stricken comrades.
Black Opportunists v. White Acknowledgement
When I look at the Black conservatives (Sheriff David Clarke, the Black preachers who support Donald Trump) I see people that look like me boy voice the concerns of the elite, yet those non-Blacks that speaks up for the rights of Black people are immediately attacked. Quentin Tarantino is a prime example. He marched in protest against the gestapo tactics of the NYPD and was immediately taken to task by the immensely powerful NY Patrolman’s Benevolent Association.
These unfortunate and damning circumstances loudly scream several things; the Black man’s enemies are many and they are powerful and deeply entrenched in America’s most respected institutions. Yet many Black men are ignorant to these nefarious individuals, apathetic at worse. Their removal will be bloody and very painful for the American status quo, so much so that even well-meaning Americans would rather see Black suffrage continue than truly dig in their boots to root out these cancers.
I recently attended a book signing party and had the obligatory Black guy conversation with a young man from another publisher. He mentioned a higher up who wanted more material highlighting the turbulent racial times in which we live.
“I didn’t say anything, but I knew that idea wouldn’t work for this publication. I mean, everything isn’t always racial,” he said.
At that moment, a crowd of people brushed by us in a mad stampede toward the bar, and that was my cue to keep it moving.
I was deeply offended by the fact that another Black man couldn’t see the turmoil that is engulfing the United States. The vicious demagoguery being perpetrated by leading presidential candidates, mounting data from a multitude of academic institutions detailing the pervasiveness of racism in our society and the glaring spotlight being shined on the grotesque tradition of shooting Black people dead simply for being Black electrified my mind as I walked away from this Black naysayer. Initially I identified the feeling as anger at someone whom I perceived as being ignorant, but I was reminded of a quote from a very popular film.
'You have to understand. Most people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured and so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.' Morpheus- The Matrix
So what is a brother who admittedly is very sensitive to discussions of race, prejudice and white supremacy in America to do? Some march, some protest and others still take to the television airwaves and yell punditry at one another. So I’ll continue trying to do what I can and be ever hopeful of that.
Recently, 13-year-old CJ Pearson, who gained social media notoriety for excoriating President Barack Obama on several occasions, came out and announced he was no longer a conservative due in part to a conversation he had with a friend regarding the shooting death of 17-year-old LaQuan McDonald in Chicago in which he was urged to use his platform to speak up against racial discrimination. Up until recently, young Mr. Pearson was the president of “Teens for Ted”, a group of young people supporting Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign.
“If there’s an issue I take issue with then I definitely want to talk about it and give my opinion on it, free of labels,” Pearson says. “I need to be my own person, be my own voice. I can’t do that if I’m constrained by an ideology.”
If Pearson can be wise enough to recognize the need for all individuals of African descent to politick about the common interests of the group then others can as well.
Maybe there’s hope after all. If not, well, there’s always Canada; maybe Belize or Ghana if you got the bread.