Around this time on 12/13/14, a date that will not only be remembered as the last sequential date of this century but also a date when thousands across the nation marched against systemic racism and police brutality, I too marched as one in the crowd of the Millions March NYC. This was my first time participating
in a major organized march as the march following the no indictment of Daniel Pantaleo was more a spontaneous gathering that had power to stop traffic due to the large amount of people gathered together. Marching this time I still felt the sadness as I did that Thursday night but I was happy to be there in the freezing cold in a sign of solidarity against the racism in America. My sign read, “My PhD Won’t Protect Me, End Police Brutality, #BlackLivesMatter,” because I wanted to provide a commentary on the whole notion of respectability politics that are raised following the murders of unarmed black men in America. People often find a way to blame the victim in these instances and say thing such as “If you’d only pull up your pants, police officers would respect you and not kill you,” which isn’t true because many Civil Rights icons were murdered in their Sunday’s best. A PhD is one of the pinnacles of success and anyone who has earned one deserves respect. As I am new to this entire process and still adjusting, the recent killings continue to show me that a black body is criminal always no matter who that person is. We have had examples of many black celebrities or well known figures being pull over for driving their expensive cars so there is no reason to think a PhD would prevent me from being unfairly targeted just look at how Arizona State University Professor Ersula Ore was treated. Many black PhD students came up to me and encouraged me as we marched. Yet later after I was tired from hours of marching and was catching the train home the looks people gave me when they saw my rolled up poster board under my arm immediately reminded me that many people would not see me as a person but as a thing. A thing that inconvenienced them by calling out their privilege. A thing that probably was a thug and deserved to die anyway. They didn’t have to see what was written on my poster to know that I was not just a black person whom they despised but I was a black person who wouldn’t shut up about this “imaginary” race issue which made me more of a problem.
So for me this march was personal as I was seeking to not only protest why systemic racism was a major problem that needs to be radically addressed but also why respectability politics are part of the reason why these shootings keep happening. By finding an excuse such as a compromising picture, THC in the system of the dead victim, or the crazy excuse that the victim was very big and therefor threatening, people diminish the importance of the life of a black individual making them less human and okay to be killed. For me I always wonder about this concept thinking that if God forbid I am murdered by a vigilante or a police officer that someone would dig up my critiques on racism in this country and use that to argue that I “was an angry black man who embraced black nationalistic and socialist rhetoric. It was only a matter of time before he showed his true self let’s totally disregard his community involvement or all the positive qualities in his life.” They probably would go on to say I was a racist as well which would not make any sense as I subscribe to racism being a combination of privilege and power, both of which I lack as a black man in our world. For good measure they would probably find something minor that happened in Elementary school to support their delusions. This is the problem of our society in regards to race relations. People refuse to acknowledge that institutional racism exists and insists that if these victims were only perfect they’d be alive.
Racism is like a terminal disease the more you ignore it is the more it causes complications. Police brutality against black and brown bodies is a complication. Housing discrimination for minorities is a complication. Segregation was and still is a complication. Lower paying jobs, lack or access to affordable health insurance, food deserts, and a lack of support for urban public schools are all complications of the racial state in America. Though I was at a march organized to protest police brutality, I saw myself marching as a statement against racism in all its forms. In the past week so much has happened personally with me finishing my first semester of graduate school but also more internationally with the announcement that the US will move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba and North Korea being behind the Sony hack that it is easy to forget what happened last week especially as everyone prepares for Christmas. We cannot let 12/13/14 idly slip into another date where people rose up to protest but no real change was brought. At the DC protests young Ferguson activists stormed the stage after none of them were invited to speak in Rev. Al Sharpton’s march. I do view Rev. Al Sharpton as important in these issues because he is really the only major face from his generation that talked out against racial inequalities. In fact it is his celebrity activist status that many grassroots organizers are angry about because they feel he is in co-opting a movement that they worked hard at. Sharpton has the ability to united all the black mothers who lost their unarmed children at the hands of police and vigilantes and that is to be commended. Yet, we cannot place all our eggs in one basket and then say the younger activists are trying to split the movement by age. The truth is young people are the ones who give these movements their power (suggested reading Growing Up Mississippi by Anne Moody which explains this concept). Dr. King himself was only 26 when he got involved in the Civil Rights movement. We need the older generation for their wisdom and resources but it is truly the young people who have organized and mobilized. Despite claims of violence, the activists and those that follow them have been committed to non-violence struggle.
Now to get to the question of what now? A week after this monumental nationwide protest what is actual in the works? In his end of the year press conference, President Obama mentioned his task force commissioned to better understand how to improve policing in the 21st century. But what does a task force actually fix? Sure the task force will come out with recommendations to fix issue of trust between black communities and the police as well as prevent police brutality but as noted before that is only a complication of the larger issue of institutional racism. President Obama in his interview with BET on December 8th said we have to gradually approach ending institutional racism but like I always say a gradual approach to racism does not work. Instead the institutional racism takes another form. We haven’t even discussed ending the racial biases that many people harbor about black people or how race relations have worsened under Obama. My desire would be to see the President Obama who confidently announced that the US would move toward normalizing relations with Cuba, take a similar attitude to at least aggressively combat systemic racism in America. Sadly that looks like it is just my wishful thinking. The time has come when we can no longer be sustained by promises of a better tomorrow. There is a Jamaican saying that “a promise is a comfort to a fool” and for far too long the black community in America has been dragged along with promises that eventually racism will end but you must be patient. We can march all we want but if change does not come to the end of institutional racism our great-grandchildren will still be marching after we are dead and gone.
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