Saturday, July 19, 2014

A Call to Love in Times of Hate

It's hard for me to talk about police brutality without acknowledging the exponentially greater brutality in our own community, spiraling black-on-black murder rate, and the violence we inflict on our own bodies. A few days ago Eric Gardner was murdered by the NYPD when they put him in a choke hold, which triggered a fatal heart attack. Rightfully, there are calls for justice and charges being pressed against the office. I don't have a problem with this and, on the surface, it seems appropriate. It saddens me, however, that the political energy is so much more focused on police brutality as oppose to our own violence which is killing us at much greater rate.

White supremacy is at the heart of both police brutality and black-and-black crimes. American society has believed for centuries that a black life is worth less. But it feels like the contemporary black community -now more than ever- believes this as well. White supremacy is most cruel when it comes from black and brown faces. If our lives are worth less, then it's much less threatening to focus on a tragedy that fits with our understanding of history, rather than a problem which exists a bit beyond our understanding but effect far more people.

I still remember the media attention on Jon Benet Ramsay's disappearance. At the same time there was a little girl on the south side of Chicago who was raped, beaten, and thrown from a public housing building. The nine-year-old victim became known as 'Girl X.' The outrage at Girl X wasn't at the brutality of her attack, but at the fact that it received less attention that Jon Benet Ramsay. I was thoroughly confused as to the priorities of public concern. Why didn't people feel more horror at the actual crime of Girl X, as oppose to the proportion of media attention she was getting next to Jon Benet Ramsay? For Girl X, the focus was less about about the victim, and more about appropriate levels of media victim hood. Instead of the individual, the black body becomes a symbol for activism. Well-intentioned left-wing activists perpetuate the very system they fight. We focus on the lack of attention Girl X received next to Jon Benet and the police murder of Eric Gardner, while conversely having a mild indifference to the enormous waves of gang violence which wiped out an entire generation of black men in the 1980s and 1990s (does anyone remember that or was that just in my imagination? Did we not just go through an epic plague of black on black violence that was met with a few 'tsk tsk' and sad sighs.)

From my childhood I remember being stopped by the police, feeling surveillanced, unfairly assumed guilty in the eyes of others. But my more consistent memories were of going to sleep at night to the sound of gunfire by local gangs, my parent's car being stolen numerous times, my mom being robbed at knife-point on our doorstep, our house being burglarized, our lives being terrorized while our properties were damaged, destroyed, and stolen. This happen at the hands of people in our own community. This made up a much greater portion of my fears than police cops.

I would have nightmares of black trucks driving into house walls and a mythical gangland warfare infiltrating the home. I remember my parents replacing our burglarized-damaged front door with a steel-clasped front that was seemed to be made for a fortress. Ceramic plastic that was stronger than any metal, thick bars disguised as regal-looking columns, two deadbolt locks flowering out of double-wide doors that could withstand small caliber arms fire.  The salesman explained that it was perfect for us and demonstrated by banging on the steel with a hammer as well as the ceramic glass. The side windows were fortified, narrowed, and glossed over. Bars were put up on the bedroom windows. A motion detector security system, deadbolt doors, guns. These were not bought to keep out the police. These were bought to keep out our neighbors, because we realized our lives and property were low-hanging fruit. We were easy targets because we were not only close by  but we were like them and, therefore, worth less on the scale of humanity.

White supremacy must be overcome/transformed, but perhaps it would be best to first focus on the job it's done in colonizing our own minds. It seems like too many black kids have minimal l respect for their own skin, muted concern for their voice, dim views on any sort of sustainable life as adults. On the heels of a holiday weekend in which 80 blacks were shot on the south side of Chicago and a dozen were murdered, it's hard for me to express more outrage for the NYPD's murder on a black man. Perhaps if there was a video of all the thousands of black bodies murdered and mutilated at the hands of their own neighbors, we would be more concerned and outraged.

We live in an age of exterior outrage. These feelings come hot and fast against the 'other' and those outside of my defined parameters of community. This blinding outrage prevents us from examining our own homes, our own views and prejudices. The sad thing is the only aspect we really have control over is our own minds. That can be changed relatively quickly. All it takes is a concerted and consistent effort to instill in the minds of kids, a sustainable belief system: love. This meditative approach would yield huge benefits down the road for black communities. But instead of internal love, the belief system we're teaching is externalized hatred.

When I was at Northwestern I worked at the radio actuary interviewing professors on local events. I still remember my interview with Dorothy Roberts. She was promoting her book "Killing the Black Body." She described imperialism, colonialism, apartheid, and Jim Crow in terms of how it played on attacking the physical body of the most vulnerable in a culture: children and women. I had never been introduced to this before and I was mystified. There was finally a unifying theory that helped explained not only police brutality but Girl X. Robert's scope covered the KKK lynchings and the Crips and Bloods gang warfare within the same context of the dehumanization of the physical blackness.  It now made sense how rap music's misogyny toward black women and the American government's programs to sterilize black mothers fit under the same umbrella.

But addressing the larger problem isn't going to come from marching at the police or protest-for-pay activists like Al Sharpton yelling into a bullhorn for cameras.  The solution also won't come from self-hating, right-wing blacks who only want to shame the community into silence. It must come from a place of love that addresses the underlying problem. 

No comments: