Just Because You’re Paranoid, Doesn’t Mean You’re Wrong (on the Death of Eric Garner and Emmett Till)

July 25th, had he lived, would have been Emmett Till’s 73rd birthday.

July 17th, had he lived, would have been just another day in 43-year-old Eric Garner’s life.

Both of their deaths show the ability of the state to misuse and abuse its power when it comes to interacting with black men.


When I took the MMPI, one of the results that came up was that I was paranoid; technically it said that I had a paranoia-persecution complex. This rather shocked me, as I have never thought of myself as particularly thinking that something/someone was out to get me. So when I got back to Indiana after taking it, I called my friend Mary–who is a clinical psychologist and does contract work with the Indianapolis Police Department–and asked her if we could talk about the MMPI results. When we got together a couple of days later, she looked at me and said, “They told you you were paranoid, didn’t they?” I said yes. She then told me, “Don’t worry about it. It’s because you’re black.” She then went on to tell me that, without fail, every black person who takes the test as part of the entrance to the IPD academy comes out as paranoid. The funny part of the conversation came a little later when she said, “Of course you’re paranoid. You’ve been followed around in stores. People make assumptions about you just by your very appearance. There would be something wrong with you if you weren’t paranoid.”

Now…if this post were going to go in a different direction I would ask why certain groups require the use of MMPI even though it is well-known that it is going to show particular things when members of minority groups take the test. Not going to do that directly today–even though I think it is partially relevant.

No, where I want to go is that there would be something wrong with me if I wasn’t paranoid. What does it say about this country that paranoia is the way that black and brown people have to think in order to stay reasonably sane? What does it say when black and brown people know that race is always going to be downplayed when state actions are involved (as in the case of Eric Garner’s death, when Bill Bratton says that he doesn’t think race was a factor)?

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article in June’s The Atlantic shows, at least in my mind, why paranoia is warranted. The system does not want to have to accommodate the descendants of slaves and has done what little it has grudgingly. “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean you’re wrong,” seems to fit.

more later.


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