DISCLAIMER: This post may cause intermittent pearl clutching as it deals with death, racism, and Black males. Please save the drama if you don’t want to talk about Black men being murdered. There is a much larger point I am making here.
This past Sunday, actor Jamie Foxx attended the MTV Music Awards. And, after lending his voice alongside other celebrities in a PSA for gun violence called “Demand a Plan,” it was no surprise that he showed up donning an anti-gun violence t-shirt. But, it wasn’t the message that garnered the most attention. Instead, Twitter crazies lashed out at Jamie Foxx for having a “nigger criminal” pictured alongside the innocents who were murdered in December at Newtown, CT. Implying that Trayvon Martin wasn’t innocent, these responses point to a much larger issue with race and politics in this country.
What was most jarring about the Twitter responses to Jamie Foxx’s t-shirt was the incessant use of the word “nigger.” An old-timey term specifically designed to ostracize, other-ize, and demonize black people, this term only springs up when the intentional desire of the speaker is to malign a Black person. There really is no other purpose for the word. Here is a bit of the hate posted this week on Public Shaming. By the way, these are some of the more tame responses.
This country has done an absolutely stellar job of racializing just about everything. Certain foods are seen as “Black” while others are seen as “White.” Music, academic interests, books, and movies are deemed one race or another (further reiterating the point that race in and of itself is a purely social construct just waiting for some new person to add to it what he/she deems “racial”). But, it is truly amazing that we have successfully racialized murder.
When masses of Black children or young adults are killed by gun wielding murderers, the murder typically is seen as justified. If you just think about cases like Oscar Grant, who was killed by a BART Police Office while lying face down on the BART platform with no weapon in hand, or like Jordan Russell Davis, who was shot and killed randomly when an older White male became angry at the loud music he was listening to, these cases have been defended by some Whites because the assumption is that these young men were probably guilty of something. Now, whether that means that they no longer have a right to due process is none of those people’s concern. Instead, there is a certain justification in knowing that another black thug is off of the streets one way or another.
The Trayvon Martin case is no different. After folks heard the young man screaming for help, after his murderer, George Zimmerman, admitted to chasing him down and after Zimmerman admitted to shooting him in cold blood, he was still put on trial post mortem. I repeat, the deceased young man who had no criminal record (not that that matters anyway), had no weapon other than a bottle of iced tea and a package of Skittles, and was walking alone while talking to his girlfriend on the phone, was tried in the public eye after he was murdered.
Juxtapose this with the plight of those murdered at Newtown, Connecticut. Those poor children and adults were guilty of nothing other than attending school or work that day when a single assailant murdered them in cold blood. The entire country mourned and still mourns their loss. No one asked if the children were wearing hoodies. No one asked if any of the kids were black. No one checked anyone’s school records to see if they had ever been suspended. But, all these things happened in the case of Trayvon Martin.
This is how we have racialized murder in this country. We don’t care about crime unless the assailant is brown or black. We don’t care about gun violence until a school house full of White children is the target. And why is this so? Because this country is predicated, built upon, thriving on a continuous cycle of racial disparity that keeps haves having and have-nots not having. This is the world we live in. This is what we have come to be. I am not proud of it. But, it is true nonetheless.
How important can you be to a group, a country, or a community if you cannot even be sure that your death will matter? How civic can you truly be when your efforts are undermined by a relative minority whose words are venomous and scathing? How much can you truly believe the words “…one nation, with justice and liberty for all…” when a few idiots with a lot of power keep you from your liberty and your justice?
If this depresses you, I don’t apologize. Truth be told, it depresses me too. But, until we have REAL dialogue about race and race politics in this country, none of this will ever change.