The families of victims are often overlooked when examining the financial, emotional and psychological damage of pervasive incarceration and fatalities on Black families and their community. Seldom do reports look at the overall cost and long-term damage.
My heart goes out the family of this young girl. Sadly, this story is one of the countless others taking place all over the country. Soon her short life will become part of the landscape of the numerous Black lives lost to the senseless violence that has become routine in many segregated, predominantly Black communities. Her story like so many others will get little attention before fading away. What is certain is that there will be many more Sandra Parks. In her award-winning essay, parks only 13 years old wrote about the crime in her neighborhood only to be shot dead in her room. Parks wrote: “Little children are victims of senseless gun violence,” she wrote. ” … I sit back, and I have to escape from what I see and hear every day. When I do; I come to the same conclusion … we are in a state of chaos.”
If Parks’ essay wasn’t a plea for closer examination and adequate address of the existing violence through a macro level lens to understand the root cause of the problem and come up with a viable, sustainable solution, what will it take? Extensive research has identified several contributing factors to high crime neighborhoods including but not limited to the fact that these incidents occur disparately in predominantly segregated Black neighborhoods lacking the necessary resources to address community needs. The high poverty rate is a result of unemployment, underemployment and shattered family structures in which one or both parents may be incarcerated, on drugs and have succumbed to other hardships.
The version of the story that America would have us believe is that hopelessness, lack of ambition, laziness, and criminal behavior to name a few are inherent qualities of Black people and that the victims choose the oppressive conditions in which they live. But that’s just the story used to deflect responsibility from those responsible for creating the problem. The fact is enduring systemic structures around racism has segregated and trapped many in the harsh conditions that do not provide the resources for many to escape. This same system is responsible for the mass incarceration and senseless killings of countless Black men that leaves many Black women without husbands and children without fathers. Racism is a factor as to why upward of 68 percent of households are headed by Black women many of whom work multiple jobs and still do not make a livable income – leaving their children to raised by the streets.
In Notes of a Native Son (1995) James Baldwin wrote, “I don’t think the negro problem can be discussed coherently without bearing in mind its context; its context being the history, traditions, customs, the moral assumptions and preoccupations of the country; in short, the general social fabric. Appearances to the contrary, no one in America escapes its effects, and everyone in America bears some responsibility for it.”
It cannot be said often enough that if we are to address the issues that exist in the Black communities adequately, we must first understand the formulation of the problems from a macro-level perspective. And to do so, our systemic structures must be scrutinized and ultimately dismantled. Ms. Parks life and death is a symptom of a more significant problem. As a society, we must identify the elephant in the room – and demand accountability.
Reference: Williams, Walter (2014) Black female head of households number is 68 percent Baldwin, James (1995) Notes of a Native Son
The article, Unreasonable Fear Blocks Our View of Black Humanity Natalie Moore (2018) presents a poignant view that embodies the harsh realities of how starkly devalued Black people remains in life and death. Time and again we see how deftly a Black man’s innocence can be distorted into one that paints him as the perpetual flawed character prone to criminality – one deserving of the brutality committed against him. Indeed, if there is no outward reason that one can use to justify his abuse – something will materialize. Whether it is the blunt that he was caught smoking in high school or a minor brush with the law at some point in his life – the story of him as a flawed character becomes a justification for his demise. The fact that he was unlawfully gunned down, arrested, beaten, convicted and a plethora of other abuses that many Blacks encounter on a routine basis becomes the background story.
The distorted narratives are influential contributions in desensitizing barbaric acts against Blacks on several fronts. For one, they invoke the dehumanizing ideologies that already exists. As such it is not difficult to convince many that Black men/ women and other minority groups deserve the cruelty they receive and are guilty of the crimes for which they have been accused no matter evidence to the contrary.
It is essential that history, as it happened, is taught across disciplines (in classrooms, homes, organizations, government.) Racism is a sickness stitched in the fabrics, cracks, and crevices of our psyches. It is imperative that as a nation, we unlearn all that history has taught us about ourselves and each other. Education is crucial in this regard. If we do not know ourselves – how can we know others?
Unreasonable Fear Blocks Our View of Black Humanity
A compelling argument can be made that there is a lot of fear among Blacks when it comes to standing up and speaking out against racial discrimination and injustice, especially in the workplace. This may be due in part to the fact that Blacks are highest among the unemployed and underemployed – and are lowest among wage earners. Therefore, many choose to look the other way and keep silent to protect their little piece of the pie – no matter how meager. They fail to realize that their silence weakens Black progress. And makes them an active participant in their own oppression. Their silence perpetuates and help to preserve white hierarchy.
For those who dare to speak out, it becomes a one man fight against a system that is designed to protect and preserve the status quo. This is tragic because if we stand together and fight against racial injustice- we would be a powerful, unbeatable force with the collective strength to break down walls and force the reforms necessary to effect sustainable change toward a more equitable future for everyone.
I filed a complaint with HR about a co-worker, who in expressing his dislike for Black football players who kneel to protest racial discrimination and police brutality against Black people, referred to those kneeling as ‘monkey see, monkey do’… I was fired few months later. The co-worker who made the comment was kept on staff. This was one of the first responses from the HR department at the local office: hashtag#footballplayers, hashtag#brutality, hashtag#racialdiscrimination
In a discussion in which I argued that racial discrimination is preserved and perpetuated in the cultivation of societal patriarchy – one opposing argument made by a white person is that too much emphasis is placed on race. “Everyone experience struggles in their lives. All lives matter,” she said.
The response is not uncommon among whites who take offense when Blacks speak against racism, challenge racial biases and assert their ethnic value. That Blacks – in demanding fair treatment, dignity and respect is perceived as an attack on white people’s value is perplexing. Blacks have been fighting against a white ideology of superiority throughout history, yet nowhere is it documented -past or present – that Blacks have argued for a position of superiority over whites.
One cannot help but wonder when confronted with these surface-level responses just how vast is our disconnect that many whites do not understand why Blacks fight against racial injustice? And are we even talking about the same struggles? It is hard to conceive that one can remain ignorant in a climate so thick with racial discord. But conceptually speaking, can whites truly relate to the intersectional factors around race, sex, and class issues with which Blacks struggle? How many whites have ever ventured far enough outside the safe space that white privilege allows them to conceive of a reality in which Black boys and men are gunned in droves like animals – or locked away behind bars – sometimes- for years for the same infraction for which a white man will walk free? Can whites whose world of privilege protect them from having a life in which their children do not have access to decent education understand the scant resources available to many inner-city Black kids? Or being confined on a large scale in neighborhoods that are stripped of resources that are crucial to improving their lives – trapping them in a perpetual state of oppression one generation after the next?
The disconnect is real and it is vast. One can argue that while many whites will claim that they are not racist – few will acknowledge that their whiteness has for generations provided them with privileges that many Blacks cannot conceive. Understanding this element is essential in the way researchers, scholars and race theorists approach addressing racism. To move forward as an equal and just society requires a collective mindset that we are strengthened by our diversity – that all men, women, and nationalities no matter their ethnic background deserve equal rights, justice, opportunities and fair representation. Fundamentally, what fraction of whites are willing to acknowledge that their white skin has provided them with privileges that many Blacks are denied? And what fraction of that group cares enough about the collective advancement to venture out of their safe space and get involved in bridging the vast racial divide?
There is profound hope that a large enough segment of the white population does care – and there is profound hope that those individuals will begin to ask questions that will allow for a more expansive and inclusive discourse. But there will also be – as James Baldwin alludes in his work – those who will choose and will insist on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead.
But as a starkly under-represented group – Blacks must continue to invest in advancing the population. And no – white and Blacks do not face the same struggles particularly around socio-economic, race, class, sex and gender issues.
I have never ‘truly’ felt the kind of terror that lived in my belly and would not go away, until I filed a racial discrimination complaint at work against a co-worker who used a ‘monkey see, monkey do,’ reference about Black football players who kneel during the national anthem. When I learned that another co-worker had referred to me as a ‘dumb nigger bitch’ I asked for an investigation into that incident as well – in a dominant, white male workforce, no less. Evidently, no one had let me in on the secret that speaking out against bigotry would have changed my life in ways that I could not have imagined. But even if they had – it would not have made a difference.
People have asked me, what did you expect? Actually, I expected leadership to be as appalled as I was – and take swift and immediate action that sent a clear message that racism was not tolerated. And used the incident(s) as an opportunity to improve issues around racial diversity. What else was I supposed to expect?
It’s become clear to me, in my research and observing the ways in which many racial conflicts escalate and are addressed – that fear by bullying, threats, fabrications and sometimes outright force …is still the weapon of choice that many in White America utilize to get what they want. This tactic has been used for so long, that tragically – for all of us – many believe this is the only way to deal with conflicts. But.. what has history taught us, if not, that not everyone can be bullied or threatened into silence – for some, this has the opposite effect. And clearly, we are not at a point in history where Black people will retreat into silence.
For those in white America who believe that fear-based tactics is the best way to address conflicts, I challenge you to try a less hostile approach. Can we talk?
Malcolm X, in his 1962 speech, Who Taught You to Hate Yourself, spoke about the marginalized state of Black women calling them the most disrespected, un-protected and neglected person in America.
Of the many realizations that became clear during my research – one is how truly vulnerable and confined a space many Black women are forced to live within a systematic construct that treats them with hostility even as it deems them hostile. It appears that Black women who dare to embrace themselves as self-loving, prideful, accepting and unapologetic-ally Black – who challenge dominant ideologies that they are dis-empowered figures – who, in asserting themselves as having the right to speak, ask questions and stand against an unjust system – they understand how potent racism can be. It matters not the level of education and professional success that many Black women attains, society demands that they prove themselves worthy of respect and dignity. To name a few instances where the debase treatment of Black women is evident, Bill O’Reilly thought nothing of ridiculing congresswoman, Maxine Waters by attacking her appearance in his “James Brown wig” remark. Throughout her years in the white house, former first lady, Michelle Obama was routinely referred to as a monkey. Serena and Venus Williams have from the time they emerged on the national scene have been subjected to a ferocious barrage of racist and sexist comments. Omarosa was recently referred to as a ‘dog’ by our president. By a large scale, Black women and girls are victims of violence, murdered and incarcerated and many of these issues remain unaddressed.
Those who do not have access to the necessary resources or the ability to advocate for themselves are particularly at risk of becoming truly invisible – in a sinister way- within this hostile environment. That’s why it is vital that we help each other up. No other group can truly understand the bond we share in the struggles we face as Black women – and carve out a space that we can call our own. And as for Black men, stop disrespecting Black women. It’s shameful. We are stronger together that we are divided.
What sets Malcolm X apart from other human rights activists like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr was X’s fundamental belief that only Blacks can truly give themselves the independence and freedom that they sought and which was their right. While Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s ideologies centered on integration and nonviolence as the means by which Blacks achieved freedom – Malcolm X focused on Black consciousness – that stems from Black love, pride and acceptance as the road-map to freedom from oppressive racial conditions. He believed that if Blacks wanted freedom they would have to take it.
As we look back on history and where we are now – have we made the kind of progress we need to move us forward?
Safi, Omid (2015)Radical Justice, Gentle Spirit: Malcolm X’s Message for America 50 Years Later
In a climate thick with racial conflicts, the ability to deal with racism is not a problem that we can ignore. I have thought long and hard about my experience at VERIZON/ Fleetmatics. In September 2017, I filed a racial discrimination complaint against one of my co-workers who used a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ remark about Black football players kneeling in protest of racial discrimination and police brutality against Black people. Not long after, I learned that another co-worker referred to me as a ‘dumb nigger bitch’. I requested an investigation into that incident as well. Verizon/Fleetmatics eventually fired me. My co-workers who made the racist remarks were kept on staff. The adverse impact of speaking out has been life-changing. The situation made me realize that speaking out against racial discrimination in today’s climate can come at a serious cost. However, the realization strengthened my conviction of the necessity to speak against racial injustice. We cannot afford to be silent. Black people’s against racism perpetuates and helps to preserve the marginalization and oppression of the population.y
My reason for complaining was simple – let’s address racism so that we can at least attempt to understand the issue better- and hopefully – have a shot at resolving some of the race-related problems that we face. Not addressing racism when they occur is a missed opportunity that weakens the work-place community – and creates a space to continue on an insidious course where people think that it’s ok to express their racist ideologies that demean, belittles, and inflicts harm to others – without consideration and accountability.
Indeed, the topic of racism is a hot issue that many do not want to face – yet avoidance is no longer an option to deal with racial discrimination effectively. If we create the space to have open, honest conversations about race-related conflicts – it might be the opportunity that we all need to learn about others from a different ethnic background and ourselves. A compelling argument can be made here that despite America being a melting pot of diversity – many whites lack exposure to – and a broader perspective of other ethnic groups that is necessary for us to move toward a more equitable future for everyone. James Baldwin, said, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
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