Stop denying that race doesn’t matter.
To claim that killings of Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Darius Simmons, Garrick Hopkins, Carl Hopkins, and countless others have nothing to do with race erases generations of white-on-black violence.
And before you trot out some example from history of an African American who killed a white person, or cite some FBI statistics (deflection is a form of denial), hear us:
The history of violence directed at African Americans is grounded in a history of systemic racism; efforts to protect slavery, irrational fear, segregation, Jim Crow, stereotypes and white privilege are all part of this history. It is what binds together Emmett Till and Jordan Davis, what links together the countless incidents of lynching throughout America’s history with killings of Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride who were seen as “not belonging.”
The history of the United States is one where whites have killed with impunity; the murder of African Americans has been carried under a culture that continues to sanction this violence. Our society has refused to hold white killers accountable within the criminal justice system. On the flip side, African Americans have historically and continually experience the opposite: the unequal brunt force of the criminal justice system. Unlike their white counterparts, who have been let off the hook over and over again, blacks have been policed, locked up, lynched, and executed for s**t they didn’t do. Just as those involved with countless lynchings and Emmett Till’s killers never faced consequences for killing black people, Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman have been left off the hook.
Race matters because of continued circulation of racial stereotypes. From Dunn’s views about “thug music” or Zimmerman’s profiling of Martin, or the belief from Theodore Wafer that Renisha McBride’s an intruder has everything to do with race. How many different jokes about blacks and crime do you hear each day, either from popular culture or from friends? How often do you confront media reports, video games, films, TV, or conversations that depict African Americans as dangerous, as “thugs,” as threatening criminals?
One cannot understand Michael Dunn, or George Zimmerman or countless others within a colorblind fantasy. We must talk about racism, stereotypes and the history of criminalizing black bodies. Research proves that whites, from college students to police officers, are more likely to misidentify a gun when in a black hand. According to B. Keith Payne, “Race stereotypes can lead people to claim to see a weapon where there is none. Split-second decisions magnify the bias by limiting people’s ability to control responses.” Racism thwarts many in white America from seeing how racism kills.
According Project Implicit, “An analysis of more than 900,000 completed Implicit Association Tests (IAT) at the Project Implicit website suggested that more than 70% of test takers associated White people with good and Black people with bad…” It is easy to dismiss race and racism but the daily consequences of American racism are real; the trauma and pain, the ongoing history of racial violence, and a culture that is more likely to see black criminality than black innocence. Racism kills and so does denial.
Race matters even in death. How else can we explain the lack of concern society shows for the anguish of black parents who have lost a child? The mantra of not speaking ill of the dead is rarely applied to black youth. For all too many, that means routinely seeing the victims as criminals, as unworthy of sympathy and assumptions of innocence. Instead of being seen as victims, as someone’s son or daughter, someone’s friend that lost their life, they are turned into criminals deserving of death. Writing about Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin, Eric Mann highlights the longstanding history of blaming black youth for their own murders: [D]eep in the white American psyche” rests the controlling belief and script that sees “the impossibility of Black innocence.” Efforts to convict black youth for their own murders is engrained in the American fabric, enshrined in the history books, and centuries old in the script of white supremacy. Racism continues to turn the victims of racism into criminals who either deserved to die or did something that resulted in their own death.
Whether citing school suspensions, problems with the law, drug use, clothing choices, being drunk, loud music, whistling, not listening to authority or simply their attitude, the presumption of black guilt, black criminality, and black pathology is reason for black death. Don’t look at the killers or a history of white supremacy since the “victim” is in fact responsible for his/her death. The message is clear: Don’t mourn for them; don’t seek justice for them since it is they (and their parents, their “culture”, and their community) that is responsible, not the killers, not the laws, not the gun culture, not the racism, and not America.
White youth, on the other hand, even those who go on shooting rampages at in public places, even those who drive drink and kill people, who shoot first and ask question later, are regularly imagined as innocent, good, and all-American. Sometimes this takes place within the court of public opinion and other times within the courts. We see this regularly in the aftermath of “mass shootings” at least those involving white perpetrators, in white communities, and with white victims. From James Holmes, who perpetrated a mass shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012, to Adam Lanza, who shot and killed over 20 children at a Connecticut Elementary School, society works to understand the backgrounds of these assailants and questions “why” and “how” these wholesome kids became evil. Maybe it’s video games; or maybe its affluenza, or it could be mental health issues. It’s never whiteness, it’s never racism; it’s never white pathology and ultimately that means little accountability
The effort to exonerate white shooters, from Lanza to Zimmerman, from Holmes to Dunn, embodies the power of race. The failure to mourn Black Death, to protect black life, or the failure to understand the fear and anger reflects entrenched white privilege. The yearning to cite Black on Black crime demonstrates the historic disregard for black life.
“It’s true that black-on-black violence is an exceptionally grave problem. But this does not explain the allure of the violence card, which perpetuates the reassuring notion that violence against black people is not society’s concern but rather a problem for black people to fix on their own,” writes Khalil Gibran Muhammad, director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library. “The implication is that the violence that afflicts black America reflects a failure of lower-class black culture, a breakdown of personal responsibility, a pathological trait of a criminally inclined subgroup — not a problem with social and institutional roots that needs to be addressed through collective effort well beyond the boundaries of black communities.” Is it astonishing the black life is only valued when it can be used to deny white terror, to obscure solutions, and to otherwise blame EBW (everyone but whites). If black life was truly valued, we would all join those demanding justice for Jordan and Trayvon, those working to repeal stand your ground laws, those working to combat the insidious racial stereotypes that sustains anti-black racism.
If Black Death is such a concern for white America there are plenty of ways to get involved; to be a solution. There are plenty of organizations and individuals that are demanding justice for Mark Carson, Islan Nettles, Adrian Broadway, or Ricardo Sanes. What are we doing for these victims, for countless others? These are people, not talking points.
We do wonder where are the white leaders, whether Democratic or Republican, the organizations so concerned about gun violence, the media pundits, and those who like to obfuscate with “black on black crime” in addressing these killings? Where are the calls against Stand Your Ground, given its clear racial consequences? Where is the support for those organizations and individuals that are challenging America’s pathological and destructive gun culture, or those working in communities like Chicago to combat injustice? Where is the action and outrage about the violence that ravages Chicago or Detroit? Where is the demand for something other than more police and lectures about sagging pants and fathers? Or do the concerns begin and end when trying to derail discussions about the continued history of racist violence that continues to plague this nation that continues to lead to deaths of Black Youth.
We ask, what are we going to do about “white on white crime,” “black on black crime,” and the culture of violence that is ravaging communities? What are we all doing in the name of justice, in the name of every lost live? What are we doing about permissive gun and mental health no matter the neighborhood? We need to commit ourselves to having honest discussions about racism, inequality, and violence. We must fight for justice for Trayvon Martin and Renisha McBride, for Adrian Broadway and Mark Carson, for Jordan Davis and Darius Simmons. Justice will remain an illusion as we refuse to recognize the ways that they and so many others are seen as criminals when alive, remaining as “violent thugs,” in worthy of blame and reproach in death.
If we want to stop the violence, maybe we should look in the mirror, and look at racism, the most violent weapon in human history. To deny race is to deny this history. To ignore racism and refuse to deal is to allow for the most dangerous weapon to continue to kill and kill without any consequence and intervention. To wipe clean this history is to erase the pain and trauma of racial terror. And worse, to keep repeating it, over and over.
Stand up for what’s right
written by JLove and David Leonard
See, Judge, ACT:
What white folks can do:
Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ is a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. Become a member and get involved directly: http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/
Don’t have time to organize? At the very least:
-Sign up for ColorofChange.org and sign petitions demanding justice for all
-Donate to ColorofChange, SURJ and/or a multiracial group organizing around racial justice issues
-Post up on social media and circulate KNOWLEDGE so that your community is more informed; build an intentional community committed to justice, change, and accountability!
About the Authors
David Leonard is a professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender, and Race at Washington State University. http://drdavidjleonard.com/
JLove Calderon is a conscious media maker, social entrepreneur, and author of five books, including her latest: Occupying Privilege; Conversations on Love, Race, and Liberation. www.jlovecalderon.com