This is America

Recently, the news has covered incidents involving African American persons being physically and verbally assaulted, bullied, disturbed, falsely arrested, harassed and questioned for doing things considered normal in any other context or culture, that is, barbecuing, eating, shopping, sitting on one’s porch, sleeping, vacationing.  Persons would argue that there is an increase in such episodes.  Others would counter with the argument that with the advent of technology, these experiences of micro and macro- aggression are finally being recorded.  I tend to side with the latter.  African American people, now socially colored black, have historically been targeted and told that they do not belong.  From the cradle to the grave literally, America drew color lines.  The signs of Jim Crow segregation have been removed but the spirit of segregation remains.

The false arrest of two African American men at a Starbucks in Philadelphia began the new series of injustices.  “They had not ordered anything.  They wanted to use the bathroom.  They were loitering.”  They had not done anything wrong, but they were going to, right?  In response, Starbucks released a well- crafted statement that read like the cutting and pasting of the best statements on diversity, inclusion and promises to do better.  Their bathrooms are now open to all as if that was the problem.  I wasn’t buying it then and I’m still not.  A loyal customer for nearly ten years, I have stopped buying Starbucks products altogether.  I love authentic community more than I love caffeine.

I have always found it ironic, in light of American slavery and the long history of mistreatment suffered by African and later African American people at the hands of European American people, that the now socially colored white people feel that socially colored black people are going to harm them.  History simply does not support this assumption or the criminalization of African American people.  After being oppressed for hundreds of years, it would seem more logical for African Americans to cross to the other side of the street, lock their car doors, clutch their purses, hold their children closely and call the police when a European American comes near.  This reverse psychology simply does not make sense.

And this is not a case for, “Which came first— the chicken or the egg?  African people were robbed first, enslaved by European Americans, hurt first, threatened and then brutalized first.  American laws were not on their side.  That it remains against African Americans is the manipulation of power required to maintain the image of whiteness.

So, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson must have done something wrong.  The alternative is just impossible, that African American persons are regularly and routinely targeted and subjected to assault, harassment, mistreatment, false imprisonment and sadder still, death.  To accept that whiteness is sometimes wrong, that it falsely accuses in order to tip the scales of justice, of social righteousness in its favor is absurd.  No, whiteness is naturally good, divinely good, purely good.

“Two gentlemen in my cafe… are refusing to make a purchase or leave,” the manager said in the 911 call.

Day after day, we hear details of racialized discrimination, predation, intellectual subjugation and the mockery of African American culture.  But, due to the social construct of race and its rules of engagement, African Americans now deemed socially colored black do not belong.  This is what was defended by a student at Yale whose classmate called the police on her because she was napping in the common area.

“I deserve to be here,” Lolade Siyonbola said.

This is America for African American people.  And despite the forcefulness of which blackness is shoved on us, I will not yield.  I will not agree to expect my body to be targeted for mistreatment.  These incidents have produced a slew of hashtags to include #nappingwhileblack.  “While black” is not a new awareness: driving while black (or DWB), a term used for the racial profiling of socially colored black persons, who would then be subject to unwarranted searches, seizures and even arrest, became “popular,” if this is possible, in the 1990s.

The problem that I find after each of these encounters is that the blame and onus is on the socially colored black body.  These things continue to happen because her and his body is black.  It suggests that if hers was not a black body, it would not have happened.  The solution is that his body behave whitely.  The social coloring of the body is the problem—not the prejudicial behavior or stereotypical perspective of the individual.

Released a little over a week ago, “This is America” is the title of a new song by Childish Gambino, also known as Donald Glover.  The video presently has more than 123,000,000 views.  Trending on YouTube, I decided to watch.  I have to admit that I did not know who he was.  Elias Leight provides his backstory and placement in the music industry for Rolling Stone magazine.  It didn’t matter at the time that I read it and frankly, it doesn’t matter now.  This is not to suggest that his identity is of little or no importance.  To the contrary, a review or reminder is unnecessary as this song has cemented him in the memory of the American psyche.

We know who he is because Glover has done it.  Used rhythms traditionally reserved for dimly lit parties to move us, enlighten us, reflect to us what he sees in us.  He invites us to entertain the naturalization of violence in African American communities and with death’s horse riding through one of the scenes and a choir singing in the next, this conversation includes sacred spaces.  Baptism meets blood bath.  Sadly, the praise of guns is louder than the praise of God in some settings.

Nevertheless, Glover dances, shucks and jives, all the while mocking members that would move past this grotesque display of carnage.  How will the music move you?  Do we nod our heads in agreement to the sound or its substance?  In the end, he is running away, being chased by a mob but he is also running towards the screen and us on the other side of it.  What can we do to save him for in so doing, we will save ourselves?  We have the option to look away or to turn the video off.  This is American.

While there have been numerous discussions about the tragedy of gun violence on artful display in his video, Glover refused to interpret it during an interview.  He responded that his creations are “for the people” and invited them to see what they needed to.  This is America.  What do you see?

 

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