I ran into an old professor who I love and respect, and me and her have discussed the level of engagement of students over the years and how it seems as though things have definitely shifted. Whereas in the past students had a different level of respect for their professors and also they had higher expectations of themselves. And usually I agreed and probably threw some random statistic that was swirling in my head at her to explain, possibly, how we found ourselves in this situation. I recently mentioned a murder in my apartment complex (something I’m still trying to wrap my mind around two days later) and just how stunned I was that this happened within the confines of my gated community. And she somehow made the jump to talk about black-on-black crime and “why it’s always the blacks against blacks.”
Lately, I’ve grown weary have to explain my blackness to people. Dammit, can I just be?
Earlier this month I was sitting waiting for a meeting a white guy, whom I’ve never spoken to before, asks me did I think this was racist:
Yes, someone created this and I discovered it right after the Grammys and it provided me with a few chuckles. There had been some speculation that Lorde really wasn’t a 17 year old Kiwi, but really an old cat lady from Waterloo, Iowa. Why? Because she just looks old. Granted, I don’t usually use my blogs for this type of conversation, I can’t help but agree. She doesn’t look like she will age at all. That notwithstanding, the white gentleman in the waiting area actually asked was this racist–straight no chaser. I had already seen it and I said I didn’t think it was racist, prejudiced at best, but I really saw it in the light of pure comedy. I asked him had heard the phrase “Good black don’t crack” and he said he had, but just “Black don’t crack.” And I made sure to emphasize that there’s a difference and that it’s really “Good black don’t crack.” He went on to ask me did I think that this was appropriate to put on a Facebook page and it was at that moment I realized that I was defending my blackness to a random white stranger.
I was having dinner last week with some colleagues and the conversation topic turned to Jordan Davis undoubtedly and I was quickly recalling my previous post “The Redemption of White Men” with the level to which white men are redeemed and black men are criminalized, one at the direct expense of the other and what this has done to manipulate an entire national narrative on race and gender. In the midst of talking, I automatically rattled off that Jordan Davis came from a good home, he knew his father and had an upper-middle class background, and someone at the table paused me and said “I hope you see what you’re doing. You know you’re justifying his humanity.” And it was something so simple I missed it. Ta-Nehesi Coates in his conversation with Lucia McBath, Jordan Davis’ mother, Coates writes
She wanted you to know that Jordan Davis was an individual black person. That he was an upper-middle-class kid. That his ancestry was diverse. That he had blacks in his family. Mexicans in his family. Panamanians in his family. That his great-grandfather was white. That some of his ancestors had passed.
She wanted you to know that Jordan Davis was not from the “Gunshine State.” That he was from Atlanta—Douglasville, Georgia, to be exact—where black people have things, and there is great pride in this. She wanted the world to know that Jordan Davis had things. That he lived in a three-story home in a cul-de-sac. That most of the children there had two parents. That original owners still lived in the development. That she was only the third owner. That Jordan Davis had access to all the other activities that every other kid in the neighborhood did, that he had not been deprived by divorce.
Because the dominant narrative of black males in this country under a certain age is that we are guilty until proven innocent and that we are automatically presumed less than and are required socially to defend are humanity and our citizenship at all times. It’s still fresh enough in most people’s minds the conversation surrounding “thug” as it relates to Richard Sherman. Combine with him being a brown skinned guy, with dredlocks and he was just loud as all get out made him a threat. Richard Sherman’s loud mouth to the wrong white guy could have easily gotten him killed just as Jordan Davis’ loud music got him killed–literally.
In the midst of a conversation that weaved in and out of topics all circling the notion of ontological blackness at the dinner table, one of my other co-workers noted that this has also to do with the problem larger society has with historically black colleges and universities. No one has a problem with historically black public schools, the Thurgood Marshalls and Martin Luther King and Adam Clayton Powell and Frederick Douglass elementary and high schools that populate our inner cities have yet to be asked by any reporter what’s the need for their existence. Similarly, no one questions the need for Mormons to create Brigham Young University or Jews sending their children to Brandeis. But let someone speak out for historically black colleges and universities, then suddenly all hell has broken loose in an allegedly post-racial society and you’re accused of being a reverse racist.
But, please note the pattern here. There’s a problem with black colleges: historically black colleges and universities; why do you need black only television networks: Black Entertainment Television; Black power movement; black liberation theology–it’s the fact that it says black. Tell the truth, it makes some white people uncomfortable, no matter how liberal they say they are to see black people self-identify as black.
I’m black. Deal with it.
It’s bothersome because no one raises an eyebrow on St. Patrick’s Day and everyone of Irish heritage comes out of the woodwork. Even still beyond nationalities, no one raises a big stink about those of Latin descent celebrating their own, but as soon as the actual word “black” has to be attached to a name, a title, or anything then suddenly larger society shifts the narrative placing a negative association to it, and if it is a black male, going through the lengths of criminalizing it. This is exemplified with my old professor when I rebutted that just because you see blacks on the news committing crime doesn’t mean whites aren’t. She didn’t even want to accept that as even a possibility choosing to focus on the fact that these were violent crimes to the likes of murders and other drug related crimes. She even said “well hasn’t it been long enough” when I did attempt to trace some of these systemic problems back to Reconstruction. Honestly, I didn’t even know where to start.
While I don’t feel the need to defend my gender, couple that with my race, my ethnicity, my blackness, suddenly I become verklempt. I shouldn’t have to hear victims family members automatically go into defense mode when a black boy gets killed. There is something fundamentally wrong when black boys have to get two “The Talks” when being raised in this country. While white boys are being told about the birds and the bees by their parents, black parents are telling their black sons about how to respond when pulled over by the police, or how to be unassuming when you walk into the store so that you don’t get accused of shoplifting just because you “look” suspicious. My black skin alone makes me a suspect.
Let that sink in for a moment: my black skin automatically qualifies me as suspicious when I walk into a store.
When I started riding the bus by myself for the first time, one of the first things my mother told me was that I need to be careful how I carry myself because I was big enough that people might think I’m older than what I really am. That was my mother’s code word for saying “You’re a black kid who’s 12, but you could pass for 16 and people may automatically criminalize you for no reason just because you’re a black boy.” This is a lived reality for many in this country. This is a second America that white privilege has wondrously insulated many from having to ever visit or live.
The lens through which our blackness colors our reality is still yet a reality and fie upon those who seek to remove the shade in which I chose to see myself. I am black and beautiful–at the same time. To be black in this country is be seen as “other” at best, and “less than” at worse, but ultimately such a self-identification automatically marginalizes your existence. But I ask the question, why do we live in a country where being pro-black is seen as being anti-anything else? Why does one’s self-determination, self-identification and self-definition as black become transmogrified by the media as something negative and even criminal at times?
This is what racism has produced. Systems were in place for so long that there is no author of racism. There is no wizard behind the curtain singularly operating the levers on some of this de facto racism. While I do honestly believe there are members of the 1% that make these power play moves that directly disaffect blacks and Latinos when it comes to for-profit management of the education system as well as the prison industrial complex, and the likes of the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch’s owning of large news media, they are merely responding to the sentiments that many people hold. They feed on those fears to generate large profits from the fear-mongering. This still does not remove personal agency from us as individuals, and it requires us to do some hard work to move past those fears. It really does require us to look from the other side.
I think that’s what made me uncomfortable about the sentiments that my old professor had and quietly incensed when the white guy in the waiting room asked me was a satirical Tumblr page racist. They both said what they had to say from the seat of privilege and automatically asked questions that were asking me to defend a point of view that they assumed I already had; those were loaded statements and loaded questions.
The parallel with the character Radio Raheem and Jordan Davis are almost eerie. Radio Raheem, the character from Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” through a series a grossly unfortunate events ended up killed by the police in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood on a hot summer day because he didn’t turn down his music.
Either Ta-Nahesi Coates is really just a damn good writer or yet again the story of Jordan Davis’ death hits far too close to home, but I was definitely moved by reading Coates’ article “I Am Still Called by the God I Serve to Walk this Out” in The Atlantic, but I leave you with the final words of his article as he finished his conversation with Lucia McBath.
She stood. It was time to go. I am not objective. I gave her a hug. I told her I wanted the world to see her, and to see Jordan. She said she thinks I want the world to see “him.” She was nodding to my son. She added, “And him representing all of us.” He was sitting there just as I have taught him—listening, not talking.
Now she addressed him, “You exist,” she told him. “You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid of being you.
Simply stated, being a black man is good enough.
Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL