The Soapbox: On Unforgettable Blackness

Last week, I found myself grateful for the conviction of Renisha McBride’s murderer, Theodore Wafer. This conviction did not bring back Renisha McBride. It did not atone for the miscarriage of justice that happened when George Zimmerman was found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin. It did not lay to rest my fears for my niece growing up in a country where Black girls and boys, men and women, are still fighting to see the completion of our ancestors dreams and hopes for equality.

But I was grateful.

I was grateful because I thought that this may be a step in the right direction — an inching towards our goal. I was still reeling from the death of Eric Garner in New York, still raw from the violence against Professor Ersula Ore, but this was a bright spot in the overwhelming despair. And then Saturday happened.

On Saturday, I heard about Michael Brown and John Crawford, III (the young man shot in Walmart). I read how both men were gunned down by police officers. Neither was armed. Neither has been reported to have committed a crime. Crawford was shot by two different officers. Brown was shot multiple times in the back. Brown was supposed to start college today. Crawford was the father of two sons. None of the officers associated have been charged with any crime, and peaceful protests in Ferguson have been met with police intimidation, tear gas, and rubber bullets.

In the days following, I heard about Ezell Ford, who was shot by the LAPD while he was lying on the ground. He was also unarmed. And I feel disarmed, stripped of any resolve I had built up in the wake of every name of every Black person shot by police.

The hope that I had mustered following Wafer’s conviction shrank in the face of this new violence, and I’m once again left wondering what I should do and how I should feel. As a Black American woman, I feel a particular, acute pain when witnessing these stories. The collective mourning that the Black community has borne since the inception of this country has not dissipated, and it seems that it will be a burden for us to bear well into the future.

People of color in the United States, especially Black people, are often devalued and disregarded. However, this excessive force and extreme violence that we experience is not only about a lack of concern about our persons, but also about our hypervisibility as we navigate this country. This simultaneous hypervisibility and invisibility leads to for-profit appropriation of Blackness by other groups while outrage at the violence experienced in our community barely leaves our front yards. Because of this juxtaposition, the caricature of Blackness makes it easy to look at us, but hard to see us. At our highest, we catch your eye as entertainers, and at our lowest criminals. We either represent the basest part of society or the highest office in the land, but as nothing in between. We exist enough to provide services and spectacles, to be two-dimensional cartoons that can be praised or scapegoated. The characterization of Black men and women within this duality means that if we walk down a sidewalk, we are seen as dangerous, but if we are killed on that pavement, our bodies are easier to ignore and can be left there for hours. As a whole, Black people in America do not possess enough humanity to prevent us from being killed in broad daylight.

Our double-consciousness is stifling. We are taught that we must be better, smarter, and more polite because Black bodies are seen as worse, ignorant, and dangerous. We must remain on high alert as we navigate our own neighborhoods and are aware of tensions that arise when we walk through others. We are told to respect the police not because they have earned it by being our protectors, but because lack of respect can result in brutality and death. When we do succeed, we are considered exceptional, and when we fail, we are an expected statistic.

We have yet to reach the mundane. Our stories must be triumph or tragic because normalcy is not afforded to us. If we existed in the realm of the average, we would not be seen as a threat until we actually acted as such. If we were afforded normalcy, we would not exist in the extreme margins of society. As it stands, we are Oprah Winfrey or Renisha McBride, Barack Obama or Michael Brown. These are the narratives about Black people that resonate and attract attention — so much so that our existence as college students and professionals are still seen as exceptional, not expected. It is because of these polarized images that professors like Dr. Ore are assaulted and men like John Crawford are shot.

The systematic, and unabashed, violence towards Black people has become all too common. This narrative is all too familiar for a country that hides behind the falseness of post-racialism. Too often we hear stories where being questioned, touched, interrogated, harassed, cursed, or assaulted included some mention of being Black. It is not enough to demand that those responsible are held accountable. Seeking justice and atonement after another Black person is killed does not correct the harm done to the community because, in the end, we are still losing our sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, mothers and fathers.

Today, in the aftermath, the statement from the White House about the killing of Michael Brown and the subsequent investigation from the Department of Justice is all too similar to the course of action following the homicide of Trayvon Martin. And while I appreciate the President’s acknowledgement of the pain that Michael’s family is feeling, these statements merely serve as a salve for the barrage of wounds that the Black community continues to receive.

We are fighting for a solution, a cure for the unchecked violence that plagues our community.

We are fighting to be seen as more than tokens or problems.

We are fighting for our humanity, and for our lives.

[Phoenix New Times]
[New York Times (1)]
[New York Times (2)]
[New York Times (3)]
[Dayton Daily News]
[The Root]

Aisha N. Davis is an attorney with a focus on civil rights & human rights both domestically and internationally.

[Image of hands via Shutterstock]