All Articles Tagged "racism"
I have spent my life, living, working, loving and hating in largely Black enclaves. The one exception is the four years of my middle school, which was spent in a racially-mixed, but predominantly White, school in the Kensington section of Philadelphia.
My presence at the school was by chance. My neighborhood middle school, which served a predominantely Black, Hispanic and new immigrant Asian population, was severely overcrowded and underfunded. At the same time, the School District of Philadelphia, which was trying to mitigate the severity of a 40-year-old school desegregation case, decided that it would kill two birds with one stone by bussing a bunch of Black kids out of North Philly into White areas. According to the Philadelphia Public Notebook, at the height of the voluntary busing program, “some 14,000 students were bused to schools outside their neighborhoods to improve the schools’ racial diversity.” I was one of those pioneers who got the privilege to wake up extra early in the morning just to take a nearly hour-long bus ride in search of more equitable education opportunities.
While interacting with Hispanics and other new immigrants was nothing new to me, this was my first time actually meeting a bunch of White people, who weren’t just teachers or representatives from some government agencies. Needless to say, that I was excited about the new experience of meeting new kinds of people, particularly in their own spaces. And as I rode the yellow bus on my first day of school through this foreign neighborhood, I had all sorts of burning questions about the mysterious ways of White folks. Did they all live in big houses with live-in maids like on the the television show, “Mr. Belvedere”? Did they really eat pumpkin pie during holiday meals instead of sweet potato pie? Did they skateboard and really say words like “gnarly” and “totally rad?” I would find the answers to those questions and more when the yellow bus finally stopped and dropped us off in front of Webster Middle School.
As I piled off the bus with the rest of the elementary school-aged Black and Hispanic kids, the first thing I noticed was that the neighborhood didn’t look that much different than the one we came from. Sure the streets were nicer and much cleaner and there were actual trees along the curb line. But the White people didn’t look as refined as the White people I’d seen on television. For one, they lived in rowhouses, just like we did in North Philly, and said weird phrases like “youse guys.” The boys were more obsessed with street hockey and the Philadelphia Flyers than anything having to do with skateboarding. While the girls were into dodging plume clouds of Aqua Net and mimicking hair bands. Plus, just about the entire student body smoked cigarettes. Fourth grader, fifth grader, sixth grader, didn’t matter. White kids were pulling out whole packs of Marlboros and chain smoking them up right outside of the school’s front entrance. In short, these White people were kind of rough.
In spite of White people being nothing like I had imagined them to be, it was still a different world than where I came from. And it would get even more different during my first gym class. The teacher, who was handing out assigned seats on the gym floor, told me to take a squat across from a White girl with a brownish-blonde mullet and the stench of a half-smoked Marlboro Light on her clothes. We stared at each other briefly before she smiled and waved at me. Of course, I smiled and waved back. And when she asked for my name, I told her that too before inquiring about hers. It was Dani.
“Hi Dani,” I said grinning from ear to ear. We sat quietly for a few moments, staring and smiling at each other. I thought for sure that I had made a new friend and had already begun daydreaming about all the fun girlfriend things we were going to do together. She was going to teach me who “youse” was and I going to introduce her to some real pie. But then, in the most sincerest of tones my new friend asked me, “Why don’t you go back to Africa, Black monkey?”
I was stunned. For one, she was still wearing that same warm smile she had when she asked me my name. And secondly, while I had heard of such racism in those old Civil Rights movies, which used to come on the local PBS station, I truly thought those days were over. Mom never once mentioned the possibility of racism; she just told me to behave and not embarrass her in front of the teachers. And Mr. Belvedere damn sure never said anything about it neither. In all the planning and rehearsing I had done that morning before school to prepare me for my close encounter with the pale kind, I had no idea of what I would do in event someone said something racist.
Still, I wasn’t no punk. So I said the first thing that came to my mind: “Shut up, b**ch! Why don’t you go back to the North Pole.” Because I was 11-years-old and from North Philly (hence the familiarity with cursing a person out with ease) and the North Pole was the whitest place I could think of. She laughed and shook her head at the ridiculousness of my comeback. And so did some of the other White kids, who had been listening and mocking me also nearby. I however shrank a bit into myself…
That incident came across my mind after reading the story of the little brown skin girl who too was also forced to shrink after facing similar degradation. According to the Grio, Tomeka Fisher was left speechless when she recorded a video of her 4-year-old daughter Londyn crying her little eyes out after being told by her class mates that they didn’t want to be her friend because they didn’t like Black people. If you can stomach it, you can watch the heart-wrenching video here. Fisher had also posted the video to her Facebook page with the caption: “My 4-year-old is crying her heart out, and so am I. I don’t know what to do or say.”
Nor would I. Already scarred by the Africa incident, among others, I probably wouldn’t handle that entire situation very well. And to be totally honest, I probably wouldn’t even allow my kid to be put into that situation in the first place. And not that I’m blaming Fisher for any of this at all. Just like my mom, and so many other Black parents who have steered their children towards more “diverse” educational experiences, the end goal is to better position our children so they have a greater chance in a society, which is still deeply rooted in White supremacy. With that said, how better of a position can we really be putting our children in if it makes them feel ashamed of their color and accomplices to their own oppression?
After the Africa incident, things at Webster got better. And I actually started to make friends with some of my other White classmates. I found out that in spite of our differences, we also had some things in common, like our love for “Mr. Belvedere.” However our friendships were definitely on their cultural terms. I couldn’t even sway them with a slice of grandmas homemade sweet potato pie. And I often felt like I had to overcompensate when I was around them. I had even gotten to the point that I was rocking the “Stairway to Heaven” bangs and talking about “youse” people. Although I had lots of White friends, culturally I felt isolated. And after a while, I started hanging out more with the bussed-in Black kids at lunch and recess. They too felt some kind of way about their new friends…
Race relations may be better than they’ve ever been, but some of these celebs might need more time to get comfortable in their own skin. From “dark butts” to “blue eyes” these are the comments that give black fans of these black celebrities pause.
So I finally watched OWN’s premiere of Dr. Maya Angelou new music video for “Harlem Hopscotch” and it got me seriously wondering to Sal, “how come you ain’t got no brothers up on the wall here?”
If you haven’t seen the video, you can check it out above. In fact, I implore you to watch it first, before continuing this essay. If the name of the song and lyrics sounds familiar, the song is really a re-conceptualized version of Dr. Angelou’s 1969 poem of the same name. According to BET.com, the song is the first single from Dr. Angelou’s posthumous 13-track album called Caged Bird Songs, which was released last month. The album, which was produced by both her estate and RoccStar and Shawn Rivera (formally of the group AZ Yet), features Dr. Angelou’s vocals and poems over pop and other contemporary beats.
Rolling Stone wrote a brief article about its release in October and included a free listen of album, if you’re interested. Apparently the album was a dear project of the late poet, writer, dancer and activist. And as quoted in the Rolling Stone article, Dr. Angelou said of the importance of the album: “It’s woven into the tapestry of our lives, and we’re being serious and giving and kind about it. So obviously, it’s going somewhere. And we have to release it to go there.”
According to the BET.com article, the video, which was directed by Emmy Award-winning duo Tabitha and Napoleon Dumo and premiered on Oprah.com the Tuesday before Christmas, is said to use “dance to interpret Dr. Angelou’s inspirational poem about persevering through life’s challenges.” But in spite of its aim, it’s actually hard to see how video actually corresponds with the poem itself. For one, while it is true that some parts of the video were filmed in Harlem, New York, particularly the beginning; the rest of the video takes places in other locations far outside of the track’s namesake, like Hollywood and Los Angeles.
In fact, we would be hard pressed to see any bit of “Harlem” in this video. I mean, it is there, but sparsely and it looks a lot like the newly gentrified Harlem with the high rents and higher incomes than the one Dr. Angelou wanted us to know about in 1969. In fact, the main focus of the video is a bunch of smiling faced, happy feet celebrities, including Alfonso Ribeiro, Zendaya and one of the dance crews from So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew, who dance along side of chorus line of mostly smiling White faces in the streets of Hollywood.
Now granted, I can appreciate the fact that lots of people of various colors and ethnicities also appreciated Dr. Angelou’s work. And I can also understand that the Phenomenal Woman belongs to us all. But that’s the thing: there is a difference between appreciation and straight up white-washing over the woman’s work in order to not offend some folks’ sensibilities. White folks’ sensibilities. And for that reason, I kind of have a huge problem with this music video.
For more clarity, let’s look at the poems stanzas:
One foot down, then hop! It’s hot.
Good things for the ones that’s got.
Another jump, now to the left.
Everybody for hisself.
In the air, now both feet down.
Since you black, don’t stick around.
Food is gone, the rent is due,
Curse and cry and then jump two.
All the people out of work,
Hold for three, then twist and jerk.
Cross the line, they count you out.
That’s what hopping’s all about.
Both feet flat, the game is done.
They think I lost, I think I won.
Without previous knowledge of the “Harlem Hopscotch” poem, it would be easy to conclude all sort of whimsical irrelevancy to the current “Harlem Hopscotch” song. The danceable beat and upbeat tempo of the song does help sell the theme. And in fact, the music video does a good job of playing up the whimsy angle of a game of hopscotch without any mention of the poem-now-song’s deeper meaning. To be even clearer: the poem/song is actually about poverty – Black poverty to be more exact.
A good and simple analysis of the poem comes courtesy of this blog post, which writes in part:
“Harlem Hopscotch” adds a whole different meaning behind the actual game of hopscotch, being that fact that this game is being played in a community full of poverty. Usually when one plays a game, in this case hopscotch, it can almost always be associated with fun. However, in this scenario the game is to teach the children a lesson of the rough times in life, letting them know not to expect good things. Comparing poverty and struggle to a game of hopscotch emphasizes the real meaning of poverty in the sense that a game of hopscotch is looked at with complete innocence, according to Sparknotes.com. Racism is tied into the poem because of the fact that the game the children are playing takes place in an extremely poor black community, Harlem. “Since you black, don’t stick around”, line 6 from the poem, exemplifies racism because the whole point of the game is to move forward, and this line commands the question of who should move or not. There are many different ways to interpret the theme, and many different ways to state what the theme is. The overall theme that is clearly expressed is childhood poverty, struggle, wealth, work and leisure in the African American culture.”
All of which is not featured in the video.
And I get it: poverty is depressing. I mean, who really wants to watch a video of some sad-face poverty stricken Black kids, playing chalk hopscotch in the age of Playstations and iPads? Nobody. I don’t even believe Dr. Angelou intended that with the poem when it was drafted in 1969 – at likely the height of poverty in Harlem. But when the alternative is to create visuals of a multi-racial bunch of celebrities as well as random White people dancing in streets, which are not Harlem, we kind of gloss over what Dr. Angelou really wanted us to pay attention to in the poem.
And intentions matter. No one convinced us of that more than Dr. Angelou herself, who a few years before her passing, publicly denounced the Dr. Martin King Jr. Memorial for how the statue’s inscription misrepresented the civil rights leader’s words for the purpose of brevity and space. In many respects the washing over the poem and now song’s theme is guilty of that same misrepresentation.
Unlike what the description for the video would have you believe, this was not an inspirational poem “about persevering through life’s challenges,” but rather this was an inspirational poem about Black people preserving through poverty and racism. And as good stewards of Dr. Angelou’s legacy, intention as well as the issue of Black poverty and racism in general, we should not allow those themes to be written out of the narrative.
It’s difficult to have a candid discussion about racism in America. So it was refreshing to hear that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz is urging “the company’s 191,000 employees to talk about race in America and other issues raised by police killings of unarmed black men in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City,” reports The Huffington Post.
Last week, Schultz called an impromptu meeting at Starbucks’ headquarters in Seattle with more than 400 employees.
“The last few weeks, I have felt a burden of personal responsibility,” Schultz told his employees. “Not about the company, but about what’s going on in America.”
He continued: “This is the issue of race relations and what this could turn into if we just keep going about our business and ringing the Starbucks register and ignoring this.”
Schultz has gotten his company in political discussions before– from petitioning an end to the federal government shutdown to sponsoring the Concert for Valor in Washington for vets, during which he pledged to hire 10,000 veterans over five years.
Race is perhaps the toughest subject Schultz has opened for his company.
“Indeed, despite the raw emotion around the events and their underlying racial issues, we at Starbucks should be willing to talk about them internally. Not to point fingers or to place blame, and not because we have answers, but because staying silent is not who we are,” Schultz wrote in a letter to employees.
Schultz and the Starbucks leadership team plan to host similar employee-only open forums nationwide. They also plan to begin next month in Oakland, CA, a major center of anti-police brutality protests in recent weeks, followed by St. Louis and New York City.
Now if other companies would take Starbucks lead.
Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who has been identified as the shooter of two NY police officers, might have been triggered by the energy around nationwide protests as well as against police violence and lack of judicial responsibility. But he is no Nat Turner.
For one, Turner as well as all the other leaders of Black freedom uprisings were organized. That means folks had to sit down together at a table – or in the cut somewhere – and plan some things out. That’s not what happened here. To the contrary, Brinsley was likely just a man hurting in need of intervention and help. And before taking his alleged vendetta out on police – for what he rationalized in his mind was for the benefit of the justice movements – his first victim was his girlfriend. Thankfully, she is expected to live.
The Facebook page, Black Women What Not To Buy had a photo gallery (courtesy of Facebook user Breukelen Blue) of some of Brinsley’s other controversial social media ruminations, which most of the media has skipped over (much like the attempted murder of his girlfriend). Note: While most of the screen grabs have been flagged and deleted by Facebook I was able to write down some of the updates. In particular this lovely sentiment, which he posted on September 3rd :
“I Don’t Fuck With None Of You Punk Ass Bitches, Most of You Bi**hes Is Fraudulent As Fuck And A Waste of Time. You Want A Nigga To Keep It Real With You…..? Okay, Well I Really Just Want To Feel If Your Head Game And Pu**y Feels Better Than The Last Bi**h I Ran Through. And Maybe If IT Is You Can Stick Around For Awhile. Other Than That, I’m Not Interested. I’m Not Tryna Chill Or Go On A Date With Your Wack Ass. It’s Only 1 Of Me And Thousands Of You. :)”
That doesn’t sound like something Gabriel Prosser would have said to the hundreds or so Black women, who too were ready to join in the insurrection against slavery in 19th century Virginia. In addition to his feelings on women as disposable objects, he also talked a bunch about hustlin’, beating up homeless people and some other craziness. And in this status update on August 3rd, he provides the most insight into his mental state:
“As I Lay Here Trying to Go To Sleep, All I Can Do Is Think…..I Have Sooooo Much ON My Mind. I Am IN A Limbo With Success, Jail, Death And The Most Unwelcomed Guest Around the Corner….Karma. It’s Like Every Time I Get Comfortable Or Let My Guard Down I Get Smacked In My Face With The Reality of REALITY. Everybody Is Not Your Friend Or Have Your Best Interest At Heart. And Then To Top It Off I’m Losing Good Friends To Jail, Death And Most Of All “Mental Stability.” It’s Like Now That I’m Making Money I Traded It All For Happiness And Fraudulent Individuals I’ve Allowed In My Circle…..”
Clearly, this man had issues and could have benefitted from some therapy. And I’m being serious here, folks. He wasn’t banging for justice. He banged out because he was personally hurting, angry and more importantly, didn’t want to live anymore. Those, who want peace do so because they want to ensure a better world for themselves and the future generation. Folks who want peace might be willing to put their lives on the line for it, but no way would they kill themselves after putting themselves on the line. That’s internal self-hate. And honestly, if it hadn’t been those cops, he probably would have found some other reason to kill a bunch of folks, more than likely, women.
Therefore to position the nationwide anti-police violence protest as the center of this man’s provocation, while white washing over the other senseless attempted murder of his girlfriend, just seems haphazard and inflammatory. Yet that’s the narrative we see being played out in the media. And worse, among some law enforcement agencies and their supporters.
More specifically Patrick Lynch, the president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association of the City of New York, who not only blamed the nationwide protest against police violence and the lack of judicial accountability for the shootings, but New York mayor Bill De Blasio as well. According to the New York Times, Lynch tells reporters:
““There is blood on many hands, from those that incited violence under the guise of protest to try to tear down what police officers did every day.”
“That blood on the hands starts on the steps of city hall in the office of the mayor.”
A similar sentiment would be echoed by former New York Governor George Pataki, who tweeted out:
“Sickened by these barbaric acts, which sadly are a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric of #ericholder & #mayordeblasio. #NYPD”
Not to be outdone former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani decided to be more direct with his blame game, by citing President Obama and Black people in general as the source of this man’s personal violence. In particular, he tells FOX News Sunday:
“This mayor is pursuing the wrong policies. He should change those policies. He should speak to his police officers; he should embrace them. And he should make it clear that when he is talking about police violence against Blacks, he’s talking about a very small number of incidences. But when he is talking about crime between and among citizens, in his city, it is mostly Black against Black. That’s when he is really talking about the problem. That’s when he is really saving lives. The other part is propaganda. We had four months of propaganda, starting with the president, that everyone should hate the police. I don’t care how you want to describe it, that’s what those protests are all about.”
Clearly, Ismaaiyl Brinsley is not the only one out here misdirecting anger. For the record, no one has to be told to hate the police (if that is how folks feel, which I believe the majority of folks out protesting for justice likely don’t). Bad cops, as well as the broken judicial system, which continuously fails to prosecute bad cops, do a good job of propagating those feelings. Hence the protests…
I will say how astonishingly bizarre it all feels that after every single bad grand jury (or even jury trial) decision, which exonerates bad cops for killing or maiming folks, the Black community was told to temper ourselves for the sake of peace and calm. However there are very little checks and balances in place for every police-friendly politician and ally, who makes inflammatory statements on television, in the newspaper and even anonymously on the Internet.
What also doesn’t happen when cops are killed is the blaming of the officers themselves. No one questions their character and theorizes about whether he or she deserved it or not. There is no speculation about the officer(s) family or activities outside of work. Nor is there any public discussion about citizen complaints or any alleged wrong doing on the job. When it comes to the death of a member of law enforcement, just about everyone, including many of detractors of law enforcement’s current policy and structures, go out of their way to express sympathy and draw distinctions. It’s like the victim gets to be a victim.
And honestly that’s how it should be. Anyone, who is savagely and senselessly a victim of a crime, needs to be viewed and treated as such. However our cultural indifference to crimes committed by police, while also white washing over the ways in which Brinsley’s crimes were not protest-motivated, reinforce what is at the heart of the nationwide movement for justice. And that is ending the long-held cultural norm, which places greater importance on -and reverence for-certain lives while discarding others.
“It Drives People Insane To Be Constantly Smushed” Jesse Williams Talks Racism, Insecure White Folks & Hollywood’s Ridiculousness
I’ve said it before and if he keeps talking like this, I’ll have to say it again. Jesse Williams is bae. Straight up. With his recent and consistent activism, speaking out against the injustices perpetuated against Black people, The Washington Post likened Williams to this generation’s Harry Belafonte. Of course Williams is his own person, but that’s a pretty honorable comparison. In addition to his appearances on major news networks like CNN, MSNBC and several other venues, he’s not afraid to talk to folks on the ground either.
In what appears to be an impromptu, street interview, Williams talks about racism in this country, White privilege, media depictions of Black folks and the very real racism that still exists in Hollywood.
Racism and lack of exposure
It’s also hard to relate to things you can’t relate to. By the way if you don’t live around Black folks and you just watch tv, you’re going to be racist. I’d be racist! It’s a mathematical equation. You and the media and a fake ass history system that makes you believe that White people created any of this makes you think that Black people ain’t worth a damn. Of course, that’s the way the algorithm works. So you need to put an effort forth. Just like what was happening in the gay rights community. Back when I was a kid, everybody said f-a-g. Because we didn’t know anybody that was gay and that’s what people said. And you meet some people and you step forward instead of back and you realize ‘Oh, that’s a human being. I’m an asshole. I shouldn’t be talking like that. That hurts people.’ And you move forward. Look how quickly the gay rights movement moved forward that also involves White folks and gay people are a part of your family. Black people aren’t necessarily a part of your family, unless they are.
We’re 11 percent of the population, which is staggering considering how dominate we are and that we are the most profitable export in this country, our culture and every single thing that we do.
If it ain’t you… What do they say? ‘If I throw a rock into a crowd, the person who gets hit, is the one that squeals.’ Don’t be hit. If I’m not talking about you… If I’m talking about slavery, you ain’t a slave master then why you stressing? Why are you insecure?
Why are White people so defensive?
Because when you’re privileged and you’re a fucking spoiled brat you complain about everything. When you get everything that you want, at all times, you complain when you don’t get it. If you’re rich and you fly first class for the first twelve years of your life and suddenly you ain’t rich no more and you gotta fly coach, you’re going to bitch about that. That’s going to be uncomfortable. Something was taken from you. The thing is that we’re not taking anything from anybody. We’re not more violent than anybody. Fact. It’s backed up by data. We’re not more prone to misbehavior in school, yet we’re brought directly into the prison system from suspension at incredibly disproportionate rates. We’re not more prone to crime. We are more prone to poverty. And generational poverty is a very real thing. You can’t corral an entire segment of the population into ghettos and away from the American dream and wonder why it doesn’t look like a Norman Rockwell painting. Why would it be? You’ve decided that it can’t be. Housing discrimination is the biggest fucking secret in this country. The suburbs were invented to uplift White America and to create a middle class and subsidize upward mobility when it was against the law for Black people to get those loans, against the law for Black people to own the actual deed to their homes.
On Cultural smudging (to steal a phrase from Azealia Banks)
It’s like understanding Gun, Germs and Steel, what really emboldens White supremacy to wonder why you’re so dominate. [It’s] a very important text to understand the intersection of coincidence and why we think it’s ok to have a movie like fucking ‘Exodus’ where White people look ridiculous dressed like Africans. You look ridiculous because we know it’s make believe. ‘But it’s just a movie, it’s just a movie.’ Nah. It ain’t just a movie. That’s the shit that gets Mike Brown killed. And you people think it’s ok because he’s a fucking animal. All of this stuff is connected.
On racism in Hollywood
And that’s what you learn out there in Hollywood playing games. You know how many fucking jobs I have to turn down and how many people I have to fire because of the racist shit I get offered? And I’m as White as you can get being a Black person. I have a fucking struggle. You got to decide whether to wear a du-rag and rob some White person on a tv show or pay your mortgage and raise your family. And that’s no fucking joke. Those are five of my closest friends who have to decide every three days whether they want to chip away at their own soul and chip away a piece of themselves to dance and shuck and jive for White America. To fucking rob some White person on tv or play some demonstratively Black piece of shit in some movie in order to pay their rent. 35-40 year old grown ass men with degrees. It drives people insane to be constantly smushed.
And that’s lovely Hollywood, that’s not Ferguson, Missouri.
A struggle is stifling it’s suffocating.
The double standard between Blacks and Whites
Poor people stealing…is stealing bad or not? Because the whole financial structure…Goldman Sachs just destroyed this country and destroyed people’s lives, real lives. And none of them are in jail, you don’t know any of their names. You can’t name one of them. So is stealing ok or not? It’s a schizophrenic society where we’re told violence is not ok and Michael Brown is a thug because he muscled some dude in the store. Great. That’s not great but you just blew his fucking head off, so is violence ok or not? It’s a very fair question to ask.
You can watch Jesse Williams’ full interview in the video below.
Have you seen the racist restaurant receipts making their rounds around the internet? They’re calling it Dining While Black and racial slurs on receipts are just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re black and hungry in the United States, apparently these things can still happen to you.
“Why Didn’t She Put ‘Sexy N***A’ On The Check?” Man Complains Bartender Called Him The N-Word On Restaurant Receipt
From The Grio
A Pennsylvania man says he was taken aback over the weekend when a bartender used the N-word instead of his name on the receipt for his food.
Marquis Moore told The Patriot News that he was just about to enjoy his food from Zembie’s Sports Tavern in Harrisburg when he noticed the word “n***a” was written where his name was supposed to be.
According to Zembie’s owner Angelo Karagiannis, this is all just a misunderstanding and the word was meant as a light-hearted joke. He claims bartender Megan Bonsall says Moore was busy talking to people at the bar, and so she asked a friend for his name. That friend then allegedly showed Moore’s Facebook page to Bosnall, where he described himself as a “sexy n***a.”
She said that she wrote down “n***a” on the ticket as a way to be playful. But Moore isn’t buying that explanation. He suspects the bartender had searched the comments on his Facebook page looking for an excuse after she was caught. “Even if that is the case, why didn’t she put ‘sexy n***a’ on the check?” Moore pointed out.
Read more about this man’s experience at TheGrio.com
Esaw Garner, the widow of Eric Garner, who died after being put in a chokehold by police, appeared on “Meet the Press” about a week ago (not this past Sunday) to share her feelings about the national fallout over the recent acquittal of her husband’s killer, officer Daniel Pantaleo.
With the Rev. Al Sharpton by her side, Garner responded to host Chuck Todd’s question about what she felt about her husband being the face of law enforcement in America. To which she replied:
“I feel that he was murdered unjustly. I don’t even feel like its a Black and White in my opinion. I just feel like it is something that he continued to do and the police knew. You know, they knew. It wasn’t like it was a shock. They knew him by name. They harassed us. They said things to us. We would go shopping and you know [the cops would say] ‘hey cigarette man. Hey cigarette man wife.’ And stuff like that. And I would tell him to just keep walking, don’t say anything. Don’t give them a reason to do anything to you. And he would feel like, ‘baby the keep harassing me. And I’d say, ‘just ignore them Eric. And he would say, ‘how can I ignore them?” And I would say, “Just stay off of that block, you know. Just find something else to do.’
And he would be like, ‘what else is there to do? I keep getting sick.’ He tried working at the parks department. But he had asthma. He had issues, you know. A heavy guy and he was very lazy. He didn’t like to do anything. He wasn’t used to it.
The perfectly normal imperfect human being. Such a novel concept these days…
Garner’s wife would go on to clearly state her belief that, in spite of all of his imperfections, her husband was murdered. And it is this belief that makes her most fearful for her young sons, including a 20 year old that is currently in college, whom she now keeps on short leashes. And how she had to move out of the area to seek some emotional refuge to deal with her own fear of the police. But folks mostly tuned out before she even mentions that including all the apologists and racists treating this as some sort of gotcha moment, which proves that the police officer was justified in killing unarmed neighborhood loosie man.
As well as some of the less forgiving defenders of Black male lives, who have accused her of not only making her husband look bad on television, but also suggesting that she has “sold out” for not saying for certainty that police brutality was a Black and White issue. To whom and for what? I have no clue, but I’m certain the conspiracy theorists on Twitter will conjure up something shortly in a meme or two.
What I’m saying is that, it is a shame that our folks just can’t be victims.
Unlike some folks, what I witnessed in that clip was Garner having a sincere and raw moment of reflection. Anyone, who has ever been victimized in life (and not just by the police) knows the process of blaming yourself or the person, who is no longer here. The “if only” game. If only he hadn’t been on the block that day. If only he hadn’t had a weigh problem or asthma. If only he had a regular 9 -to-5 gig. If only our loved one, would have done something that could have shielded them from that fate.
It’s an emotion games of hypothesis most time rooted in unnecessary guilt and shame, which has been reinforced by law enforcement, the failed justice system and the media itself. If only Mike Brown hadn’t allegedly taken a box of .99 cent cigars. Or if only Trayvon Martin wouldn’t have fought back. And If only Reneisha McBride didn’t have weed in her system the night she knocked on a stranger’s door. Or if both John Crawford Jr. and Tamir Rice didn’t have toy guns. We blame and hold ourselves and people, who look like us, accountable for being perfectly imperfect human beings instead of the over- militarization and policing of our communities, followed by the failure of the justice system to remain unbiased when it comes to prosecuting perpetrators of violence against Black and poor people.
And let’s remember that Esaw Garner did not ask for this. She did not go to college to study and practice being a victim. Yet, she’s now expected to be the perfect illustration of critical race theory in order for her to have a right to speak about her own feelings about her own husband. A man, who for all intents and purposes was not perfect, but in spite of being imperfect, did not deserve to die that day.
The only thing Esaw wants is justice. And in the end that justice and fairness is all that matters here. Not moral purity. And justice is not the right of the perfect nor a reward for living right. It doesn’t know color or creed or weight problem. That’s why Lady Liberty is blind – well she’s supposed to be blind because clearly she is peaking through that blindfold and deciding things on a bias. Not to mention that it has been reported that Garner was on the block that tragic day breaking up a fight. The police should have been thanking him for saving them the paperwork. Instead, this is how they reward perfect citizen behavior.
But the point here is that our jobs here is to ensure that justice is blind and fair. Garner’s main crime that day – besides being a Black man on the street – was allegedly selling loose cigarettes without a license. His punishment of perhaps a citation should have been fitting. Instead he was given death – without a trial, conviction or even grand jury.
And quite frankly Esaw is partially right: it ain’t a Black or White issue; it’s a blue and red issue. It’s a law enforcement issue. It’s a policy issue, which treats petty crimes like reselling individual cigarettes (without giving Uncle Sam an additional cut) as a broken window, meanwhile ignoring the burning house by way of much more important tax crimes happening only a train ride away in the financial district.
And of course, this is respect thing. Garner was a man, who in spite of his imperfectly rightfully called attention to how wrong it was that he was being harassed, followed, taunted and basically threatened daily by law enforcement. This is demonstrated by his famous last words, in which he said:
“Get away [garbled] … for what? Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I’m tired of it. It stops today. Why would you…? Everyone standing here will tell you I didn’t do nothing. I did not sell nothing. Because every time you see me, you want to harass me. You want to stop me (garbled) Selling cigarettes. I’m minding my business, officer, I’m minding my business. Please just leave me alone. I told you the last time, please just leave me alone. please please, don’t touch me. Do not touch me.”
We all should know by now that even if Garner was a Black man in a three-piece suit, coming home from working 16 long yet happy crime-free hours at the local benevolence society, he still would be in danger of being jacked up by the police as well as having his assault or even murdered ignored by the justice system. So it goes without mentioning. But what needs to be made clear here is that even if Garner was a fat, lazy slob, who sold loose cigarettes illegally, those bad traits are in no way justification for what happened to him that tragic afternoon. And to give into the perfect victim trope is to fully accept the long held racist idea, which suggest Black people must be twice as good as White people, even within their victimization.
Garner wasn’t a perfect human being. But neither was the cop, who choked him that day. I’m sure he didn’t score that high on his SAT’s neither. The only thing that mattered was what happened out on that Staten Island block that hot July afternoon. And Garner, along with the other perfectly normal imperfect human beings deserve justice. The bottom line here is if we can’t expect law enforcement as well as the judicial system to uphold the laws and respect each and every individual right to them within our civilized society than what exactly are we policing for?
Most of us are still seething mad about the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial. Our black boys and men are in constant danger of being killed with absolutely no consequences for the perpetrators, despite working hard to dispel the unfair stereotypes they have to endure on a daily basis. These boys and men may not be seen as sons, brothers, husbands, or friends to all of society, but that is exactly who they are to their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, friends, and us. In the wake of the unfortunate Trayvon Martin verdict, this list is a cold reminder of black males who’ve died unjustly over the years and whose deaths sparked national uproar and protests.