Posted on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 10:11 am
Author: Feature Writer
Gc contributor: Renee Martin
In the United States, there are more black men in prison than there are in college. There are racists that would attribute this phenomenon to the supposed “natural criminal instinct” of black masculinity. But to make such a determination it is necessary to divorce the ways in which racism is systemic. From childhood, we are socialized to equate racialized bodies with various nefarious acts. The black male is constructed as both hyper sexual and masculine. He is the rapist that all white women must fear, the thief that all store owners must be on their guard against, and finally the drug dealer and gang member that plagues police across America. The black male is constructed as the ultimate threat to civilization.
These beliefs have become ingrained and often stand as justification for the ways in which the penal system abuses and murders the black men that come under its jurisdiction. From the racist death penalty, to the black men that have been murdered in police custody, it is overwhelmingly clear that justice is not blind. Like any other social institution, much of its energy is spent in the maintenance of white hegemony. This is not news to blacks who have been forced to interact with law enforcement.
For generations within our communities we have been aware of the so-called suicides in prison cells, the beatings and bruises that lead to bloodied scabs. Our bodies have borne witness to police brutality in a way that the white bourgeoisie cannot even begin to fathom. When standing in your own driveway can constitute justification for an officer to discharge his weapon, where can a person of colour feel safe?
The above incident began because the officer assumed that the car Robbie Tolan was driving was stolen. It seems that unless we are living within the confines of the ghetto, we are a potential threat. The bullets that pierced Robbie Tolan’s body were meant to send a message about power and hierarchy within society. It is whiteness that is entitled to security, not us.
It is in the name of this security that BART officers executed Oscar Grant.
As Grant lay in handcuffs, a man charged with maintaining law and order murdered him in broad daylight. What makes this incident unique is not that it occurred, but that it was caught on tape. In an effort to cover their actions the officers immediately began confiscating the cameras and phones of those who were recording this incident. The only reason that evidence still survives is because the train that some of the witnesses were on left the station before their cameras could be taken.
Some have argued that this was an accident. Perhaps the officer confused his taser with his gun. Even if this was accidental, there was no excuse to use a taser on a man that was already in handcuffs and lying down.
The real reason Oscar died has to do with the fact that he was black and his life was deemed of little or no value. The officer was put on paid suspension until he resigned to avoid answering questions by investigators. He has yet to be charged with a criminal offense while the so-called “rioters” who were protesting the death of Oscar were unceremoniously carted off to jail. The great blue wall exists to protect whiteness.
If only Oscar were the last black man to die this way. If only his death could be a legacy to the ways in which racism used to affect the lives of black man.
These are only dreams, as already another man sleeps in the morgue due to police actions. Adolph Grimes III was shot to death in New Orleans. He was shot 14 times, with 12 of those bullets entering his back. As he lay dying, blocks from the safety of his grandmother’s home, one cannot help but wonder what made a man who was clearly fleeing the scene deemed to be such a threat that lethal force was considered an appropriate response.
“This violence has to stop. My child’s death will not be meaningless. He did not die in vain,” Patricia Grimes was quoted as saying. “This is meaningless; this never should have happened.”
Black mothers know a grief that no parent should know. Time and time again we have been called to identify the bodies of our sons after they have been murdered. It is the black mother who has cried bitter tears upon learning that her precious child has danced with the rope and lost. These interactions with police officers are modern-day lynchings.
Cops are not accidentally shooting white people in Malibu. They are not “misinterpreting” the intentions of traders on Wall Street. Blacks are not the only ones committing crimes in this society and yet it is blacks that are dying, or being abused.
Bernie Madoff is a thief of epic proportions and yet his whiteness will protect him from the brutality that would be faced by a black man charged with breaking and entering. In the last decade, we have heard time and time again about insider trading and embezzlement and yet white males are not overwhelmingly viewed as thieves. We are taught to see these actions on an individual basis and yet the actions of one black person stands as representative of an entire community.
What galls me the most is that despite the obvious theft and damage done by Madoff, he sits in his home surrounded by his ill-gotten gains, while a black person arrested for breaking and entering is immediately processed into the system. Where is the justice in this? Why are we to assume that whiteness is not synonymous with theft when these corporate thieves are overwhelmingly white?
The first black president has yet to be sworn in and already whiteness has moved to remind blacks that the racial hierarchy is still in place. Obama has been used as evidence by many to posit that we have moved to a post racial world. Platitudes about equality are shouted, meritocracy is promoted and individual responsibility has become the clarion call of the day.
A new age has dawned, the age of the fauxgressive who defends racial privilege even while spouting the lie of racial blindness and inclusivity. The language has become coded and pretty, but it still amounts to supporting the social constructions that lead to our blood flowing in the streets. Whiteness acts on behalf of whiteness and it is the rare person that is committed to mitigating racial privilege.
We remain separate and unequal. Until social institutions are retooled to recognize the ways in which racism is systemic, blacks will continue to function as prey to whites who are determined to ensure the continuation of racial hierarchy. The US is a racist, capitalist, patriarchal state and until we come to the truth of this, blacks will continue to be fodder to those who believe that whiteness exists with an inalienable right to power.
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