For a while, after Ferguson, I had a difficult time taking a stance regarding the “Black Lives Matter” movement. I chose to remain silent on the issue until I could at least wrap my head around my own thoughts. There is no doubt that black lives matter; but when pondering on the solution I struggled with where to begin. Our judicial system has been corrupt and oppressive since the beginning of time so it makes sense that we think judicial reformation is the solution. Maybe. There is absolutely no excuse for innocent lives to be lost due to ignorance and fear. Period. Black. White. Or others. What is most disturbing to me and many others is that no one has been held accountable for these careless and ignorant acts. I’m biased because I am black and I have four younger brothers who currently reside in predominately white communities. My body temperature increases at the thought anyone- law enforcement, civilians, whites, blacks…it doesn’t matter – causing harm or possibly death to either of my siblings. I cannot imagine the pain caused by the incredible losses of unarmed Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and others. These young men lost their lives at the hands of white men who either received a “not guilty” verdict or were never even indicted.
I honestly believe it boils down to ignorance and mostly fear. I don’t think it’s as simple as “white people don’t value black lives”, or that they take advantage of every opportunity to kill a black man. I think it stems back to as far as the 1800s [or earlier] when black men were often characterized as brutes, needing to be “tamed” and controlled for the sake of greater good to society. You know, kinda like how we now think about infectious diseases and sex offenders for example. Do we not think these things must be regulated/monitored in some manner to protect society at-large? Why? Do you not have a belief about how infectious diseases will affect you and your family? What about sex offenders living next door? When Ebola showed it’s face on American soil everyone panicked! Why? Because every time we turned on the television we were taught by our trusted news reporters that it is a fatal disease and that maybe we weren’t equipped to manage it medically. They showed the videos of people wrapped up in body suits, getting escorted by a medical team and police officers. They talked about the number of deaths caused by the disease in and outside of the country. Scary, right? At the height of it, we all became more cautious in public places; God forbid if someone had a common cold. We ran for dear life. Everything that we do begins with a belief/thought. We don’t have feelings without first having a belief. We do not act without first having a belief that’s usually followed by a feeling. As screwed up as it may be, I honestly believe the three cases mentioned earlier was ultimately about fear, not a conscious hate crime.
Not much has changed regarding how black men are portrayed in our society. I know you are probably thinking “here she goes again, blaming the media for everything”. But think about it. Are they not hypermasculine – almost always? Physically strong, aggressive, and sexuality heightened? Violent and dangerous? Insensitive? When they do show emotion they yell, curse, and throw things. In movies, music, sports, and television shows? Think about their appearance – big muscles, sweat, tattoos, deep voices. And the roles they play in films and music videos [or better yet, listen to the lyrics]. We live in a society that really buys into whatever the media puts out. Other than having an educated black man running the country right now, how are black men NOT characterized this way? We used to be able pull the old faithful “Cosby Show” card, but now even that has been tarnished with several recent allegations of rape. So let’s see…. Anthony Anderson maybe? On Black-ish? I’m talking about mainstream media here so don’t get all extra, digging under rocks for names that most won’t even recognize to say “oh this guy isn’t a thug” or “such and such never did this or that”. The bottom line is black men are, more often than not, portrayed in ways that are less than favorable – as brutes, animalistic, not human. White people are not the only ones who buy into this stuff though. We do too and this is our problem. We start trying to keep up and compete with everything we see on television and hear on the radio.
What gets sold in the media about Black men and women, followed by our behaviors that continue to perpetuate these stereotypes, leads to fear and a lack of understanding in our counterparts. Fear does it’s job well; it typically causes us to make decisions, impulsively, based on emotion rather than logic. I’m not saying this justifies their actions by no means, but what is the solution? What is our part in all of this? What can we do to illicit change in ourselves, our homes, our communities, and in society at-large?
I think we start by first educating ourselves and honestly acknowledging that we do play a part in what’s going on around us. We need to be aware of how we contribute to our own oppression and bring this awareness to others’ attention; then be the change. When one part of any system changes, the entire system changes. Rather than focusing on how others are unjust and don’t value black lives, let’s start with ourselves individually and collectively as a community and a race of people. Below are a few things we can do to be the change, starting today:
- Take pride in your brand – How you present (how you talk, what you stand for, and with whom you surround yourself) is important. People need things like social cues and labels so they know how to interact with you. That’s just how it is. Know how to code switch. Your brand begins on an individual level, but let’s be clear – whether we like it or not, we ALWAYS represent something greater than ourselves. We represent our race, our gender class, our family name, our church family, our jobs, our community, our schools, and our country. Be proud of who you are and what you represent. Do it well.
- Get involved & Vote! – Learn about what’s going on around you in the grand scheme of things, not just in your personal bubble at home and at work. Learn about your local government and vote for candidates who are most likely to care about your brand and work for you to protect it.
- Obey the law- Laws are not meant to be broken. Sorry. Do the next right thing. You don’t have to fully agree with the law, but there’s something you can do about that without risking your freedom or your life altogether. Write letters to legislators/congressmen. Refer back to #2.
- Learn the proper way to deal with law enforcement – So what you didn’t do anything wrong; if they say stop, stop. If they say put your hands up, do it. Work with them to keep your community safe, even if that means you have to prove your innocence. If you are doing #3, it will work out. If you are mistreated, there is a protocol in place for you to report the incident. See legal counsel if necessary. Do not take matters into your own hands. You will not win.
- Teach your children/siblings/nieces/nephews/cousins – Train your children up the way in which they should go! Have these conversations with your little loved ones. Ask them what they think about certain policies. Challenge their thinking. Talk to them about their brand and how to protect it. Teach them the importance of voting. Teach them to obey the law by your actions and through dialogue. Talk to them about what to do if they are every stopped by the police.
- Demonstrate with purpose and a plan – I’m all about doing what needs to be done to raise awareness to issues that need to be addressed. Let’s march. I’m with it, but be sure that we are bringing awareness to the right things and that we also come with solutions to the problem. Let’s not exacerbate the issue