Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Black Mark

"All men are created equal."

You don't realize how hollow that statement sounds until you see a picture of a Black man left dead in the middle of a street, surrounded by White police officers. The vaunted "equality" Thomas Jefferson espoused was not real; at the time, if you were Black and a slave, some did not even count you as fully human, closer to a farm animal than a person. For the stirring words of The Declaration of Independence meant nothing to those bound in chains.

It took The Civil War to break the physical chains, but such a bloody confrontation could do nothing to break the mental chains that held many Americans to the belief that Blacks were sub-human, and had "no rights which the White man was bound to respect." Freedom in law did not equate to freedom in society. Slavery in fact was replaced by slavery in deed. Jim Crow was as much a slave master as any White plantation owner had been before the war.

The modern Black person is the bastard child of a system that took natives of the African continent from their homes, worked them to death, cut loose those that didn't die, and claimed they were free because it said so on a piece of paper. Hundreds of years have passed and though the Black person is not bought and sold in the public auction house, their lives are still just a commodity to the White world. It is, as if, turning Black people from valuable property into human beings reduced their value to zero in White eyes.

So it happens that Blacks are marginalized, stigmatized, and pushed to the margins of American society. Even now, after wars, civil rights movements, legislation, and court cases, a Black person cannot walk down a street without the nagging worry that their presence will trigger events that will lead to their death. Perhaps many put it out of their minds and go about their business thinking it can't happen to them...

Then along comes a Mike Brown, an Eric Garner, a Renisha McBride, a Trayvon Martin.

As so often happens, there is a Black person in the "wrong place at the wrong time," as if there are only certain places and times a Black person is allowed to exist within. Armed with only cans of iced tea, bags of Skittles, a wallet, a cell phone, and walking down the middle of a quiet suburban street, breaking up trouble in their neighborhood, or simply looking for help, they are the victims of White aggression. A society built on White value systems reduces their value to zero and deems it necessary that they die.

The death of an unarmed Black person at the hands of a White person engenders rage, and why shouldn't it? Shouldn't we be past this now? Skin color does not alter a person's humanity; we have known this for so very long. Yet here we are, in a world of computers, the Internet, global travel, and still the Black person is looked down upon by a nation that spilled so much blood to free their ancestors from the bondage it first put them in.

Why should anyone be surprised when the Black community rises up in indignation, shaking its collective fists in earnest rage at a system that refuses to treat them as equal, refuses to respect their right to exist, let alone be free. Do you honestly believe nightsticks and tear gas and curfews can simply anneal a wound so grievously deep and so constantly fresh?

The Black person lives, not as a person, but as a stereotype, for far too many segments of the American landscape. They are couched as shirkers, deserters, layabouts, thieves, thugs, and animals, even though American history is replete with a procession of educated, hard-working, fierce Blacks who were there from the start to build, maintain, and defend the nation that treats them in such an egregious fashion. Even now, they are holding communities together, working to build up from the depths into which they have been cast time and again. Wracked with poverty, they struggle and fight and claw to make a better life.

And then they die.

Is it not enough that we deprived their ancestors their freedom and liberty through our colonial aspirations and greed, that we now plunge the children of the African continent into a crucible, seeking to burn them away as an impurity in our society? Is our land, so steeped in the values of freedom and liberty, still so shot through with callous disregard for Black humanity, that it must shoot them down in the street? Where is the breaking point? When does America draw a collective breath and shout "ENOUGH!"?

The Black community cannot be expected to continually suffer the depredations of White culture in silence. We cannot tell them, constantly, to "just calm down" or "let the system provide justice," when it is their blood being spilled in the streets so regularly, because the system of justice does not punish the perpetrators of the crimes against them. What White person would hold their tongue or keep their finger from the trigger, when time and again, few if any of their brethren have been punished for murdering a Black person in cold blood?

There was no reason for them to die. Plenty of Black people do commit actual crimes, but that is weak justification for the thinly-veiled genocide we see every day. Our system of justice in America has been primed to accept the guilt of the Black person before their innocence, all law to the contrary. A White person can slaughter a dozen people with a gun and they walk away in handcuffs; a Black person can walk home from the store and die for lack of any offense. Tell me again about justice.

Until the endemic racism that plagues this nation is brought to the surface and dealt with harshly by an outraged citizenry of every stripe, expect Mike Brown to have more company.