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Mr. Smith Gets to the Point, Part 1

 
Dr. Scott Marshall's picture

       Yes, I am old school, technology-wise; my phone was “dumb” until a couple of years ago.  I just added a FaceBook app to my now-smart phone a few months ago.  Ahhh, the joys and banalities of instantaneous communication . . . ! 

        Lots of news on the newsfeed.  While we rightly mourn the thousands killed in Nepal, in air crashes, and the terrorist attacks on the staff of Charlie Hebdo and across Paris, our American news coverage of similar, ongoing, attacks in Africa that harmed many, many people, is practically nil.  Could it be because our culture is one that encourages us to devalue people with dark skin?  Hmmm . . .  I think so.

        On the home front we have similar biases.  There are currently many accounts of white assailants who actually use guns in their crimes and somehow make it to jail safe and sound.  Yet there are a number of cases throughout the nation (once again, ongoing IF we were to pay attention to it) of young Black men (and sometimes children) who have been shot to death because a police officer felt threatened by them.  In many cases, the “threatening” person had NO weapon at all, but had a cell phone, a toy or simply an empty hand.  The threat was “eliminated” and a young Black man lay dead, shot multiple times.  Today, the Mall of America 36 go to court for exercising their right to peaceably assemble and protest, as a part of #BlackLivesMatter Minnesota.

        Are these shootings a series of tragic mistakes?  They are tragic, they are mistakes, but why are the targets ALWAYS young Black men?  Why are they the ones left, bleeding out, on the ground?  If it is chance or a true mistake, there would be similar mistakes, similar deaths of males holding toys, holding cell phones, or holding up their hands who were NOT young Black men.  Whites, Asians, Latinos, Native Americans would report the same problems.  But they don’t.  And by no stretch of the imagination should the goal be to “democratize” tragic mistaken shootings of young men.  But maybe we could reduce the number, somehow, without endangering public safety by letting people use their phones, make gestures with their hands, and play with some toys.  And not use riot police BEFORE a riot erupts …

        There is a habit of thinking in our culture that devalues Black people, both male and female.  It still pervades our culture long after some of the more obviously brutal methods of racist paramilitary activity, such as lynching, indiscriminate murder, and outright torture have nearly disappeared.  If they do happen, they are seen as the work of crazy extremists.  Please remember or discover the June 7, 1998 “dragging death” of Mr. James Byrd, 49, in Jasper, Texas. 

     Our racism is often more subtle now, yet the result of these shootings is no less devastating to the mothers, brothers, friends and other family members who must deal with yet another tragic shooting that leave a young Black man dead.  It doesn’t seem as intentionally hateful on the part of an individual or group as a lynching, but it is allowed to happen because so many of us don’t care or pay attention.  These killings are just as devastating as lynchings because it is more complex and subtle: the legal system seems to approve of such accidents.  Yet our legal and cultural systems once tacitly approved of lynchings as well. “Sundown towns” (http://sundown.afro.illinois.edu/sundowntowns.php) were all over the Land of Lincoln, well into the 20th Century, not just in the Deep South. 

     One of the places we see the stereotype of the “dangerous black male” continually maintained is in the movies.  Yes, we have a Black President and some Black leads in movies and some “bankable” Black TV stars, but the real problem is clearly not yet solved; it is still being perpetrated across the nation.  Mr. Devon Smith of Minneapolis, MN (www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/danez-smith) writes about this in his poem, Dinosaurs in the Hood (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poem/249154).  Check it out.  More on that to follow next time.

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