If you haven’t read Tom Schade’s posts over the last week, I think you should (especially the modest proposal). This past Sunday, Tom pointed to an article written by John McWhorter in “The New Republic” which talks about the presumption—held by many non-blacks—that many (if not most) black men are criminals.
John McWhorter’s comments are good, as were the President’s, but they didn’t go far enough because they stopped short of going to part of the root of the problem.
Almost from the time the first Africans set foot on colonial soil in 1619, law, as it related to those of African descent has been about mainly one thing…controlling black sexuality (both male and female). Yes, most of the laws regarding those of African descent were miscegenation (or, more technically, anti-miscegenation) laws. To ignore this makes having the conversation about black “criminality” incomplete.
After Reconstruction, black codes were established to regulate every area of black life and the peonage system made sure that black men (and a number of black women) were imprisoned for any real or imagined infraction. (if interested in learning more about peonage read Slavery By Another Name )
Now, in the “post civil-rights” era, drug laws have taken the place of black codes and anti-miscegenation laws.
So to look at black male “criminality” without looking at how it all started by trying to control black male sexuality misses a major part of the equation.
(all of this affects black women as well, it just manifests itself in different ways)
The more I think about the Trayvon Martin tragedy, the more I think about how darkness plays into this.
Trayvon Martin made a mistake. No, it was not that he turned around and said something to George Zimmerman. The mistake Trayvon made was to walk down the street after dark. Not only did he walk down the street after dark, he walked down the street in a modern-day “sundown town.”
What makes modern-day sundown towns different from the days of yesteryear is that there are no signs telling you that you are not welcome after dark; you only know after something has happened to you.
WEB DuBois, the person who has talked about race in ways that are still relevant 100+ years later, wrote in “The Souls of Black Folk”, “Between me and the other world there is ever an unasked question…’How does it feel to be a problem?’ ”
The not-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman gives part of an answer. How does it feel to be a problem? It feels like there is a target on the backs of every young (and not-so-young) black person. It feels like no sidewalk is safe to walk down. It feels like the legal system has given sanction to the return of sundown towns.
It feels like Trayvon Martin was not the first, nor will he be the last.
In the UUA Meditation Manual “Been In The Storm So Long”, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt writes a short piece about waiting for her husband to come home one night. Nothing special, right? Right…until you remember that Rosemary is writing about the worry and fear that comes with loving and being in love with a black man in a society that says that they aren’t supposed to be loved but feared and loathed.
Those of us who love and have been loved by black men know what Rosemary is talking about. We know that most black men are not thugs or gang bangers or miscreants. We also know that most non-black people (and even some black people) are not going to see our black men the way we see them. They are not going to be given the benefit of the doubt. They will always be suspicious.
And because we know how the men we love will be treated, we have to live with the fear and worry that someone who doesn’t like the way the man we love looks is going to cause them harm. We live in the fear that we will be Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin.
In America, to love a black man means that one walks around with the knowledge that much of the larger society fears them because of who they are.
I’m trying to find words to end this post, but can’t find any.
All I know is that I love black men.
There are some young, black men in my life. And I worry about them. I worry that another young black man might cause them harm. That is the nature of the beast, after all.
But as much as I worry about that, as of tonight, I’m now much more worried that open season has been declared on young black men. Because if a young man who was walking home with a bag of Skittles and Arizona tea can be followed and shot because he’s a young black male in the wrong neighborhood, and the man who shot him can claim self-defense and walk home a free man–then the message comes out loud and clear that young black men are disposable, do with them as you will.
And I also know, that had the situation been reversed–and the young black man was the one who survived—he would be on his way to prison for the rest of his life.
Me and G-d have to have a long talk tonight.