"The very definition of 'blackness' is as broad as that of 'whiteness,' yet we're seemingly always trying to find a specific, limited definition." Issa Rae
Oppression is an active act. I am not a minority. I am minoritized. I am marginalized not marginal. I am underrepresented, underserved, subordinated. It is verbs not nouns. It is power, privilege, prejudice, bias, policies, procedures, norms, social cues, interpersonal relationships, and institutionalized hierarchies that create the reality we find ourselves in. It is us, reifying and reinforcing stereotypes, stigmas, and cycles of oppression. It is our active and inactive participation in a racist society that demonizes, dehumanizes, and degrades people of color. Skin, color, bodily features have no morality, no implicit value, no embedded message. It's our perceptions and projections of what we have learned, how we have learned, and why we have learned that shape our worldview of the social constructs. It's how we learned the rules of the world, who/what deserves grace, who/what is dangerous, and who/what we're supposed to do with that all that information.
Blackness (and I mean how we acknowledge it) is hyperbole and exaggeration in every facet. Black people are the human embodiment of extra, too much, over the top. It's our big lips, wide noses, curved bodies, etc. just as much as it is our language, expressions, movements. It's how we dress, dance, eat, smile, love, laugh, clap, write, yell, create, fight, and, on, and on. Black people are caricatures. Because of how we've been written and typecast in this (not so) great American saga, that's how who people, most prominently white people, believe we are. What happens when you don't get to write your own story? What happens when your narrative is steeped in misinformation, static character development, and melodrama? What's the outcome of being trapped in a autobiography that been ghost written by someone who believes you, needs you, and treats you as subhuman?
You get a disposable character. You get someone who can be written out at a moment’s notice. You get someone that is never central to the plot. That’s how we treat blackness in America. Hollywood tropes reflect exactly the reality we have made. Black people are the help, the comedic relief, the hypersexualized play thing, the first to be killed in horror, the athlete/work mule, or our favorite - the villain. Think about it. Our entire story is inextricably linked to whiteness, and what we do in relation to white people. If we’re easy to kill off, if you feel nothing in our deaths (that’s a real thing), if our use is only to express your most extreme emotions (why are all your favorite gif reactions black women), or if we are the big evil that needs to be stopped by the “western” white hero - how can we be surprised when life imitates “art.”
Socialization is key. We don’t take a critical eye to it enough. All those socializing agents - family, friends, school, religion, media, etc. send us little messages every single day, and punish us if we don’t behave in ways deemed appropriate (cycle of socialization). There’s pressure to keep the status quo but it could be freedom (cycle of liberation). Where and how did you learn what you know? Epistemology, how do you know what you know? What is truth - is it absolute or relative? It’s clear to see why people behave the ways they do when you add up all the messages that have been reinforced. If you’ve heard black people are dangerous, scary, criminals. Black people are less civilized, savages, killing each other (they’re disposable). Black people have attitude, are combative, don’t listen, etc. When you encounter black people that's what's guiding your thought process. If you’re never proximate to real, live, and dynamic black people (as in having actual relationships with people who aren’t like you, and simultaneously are) then you never learn any different.
You never learn that - surprise - black people are human - just like you. I’m telling you that’s the depth that racism runs. If we don’t believe someone to be be human then we can do whatever we want to them. It’s why doctors believe black people feel less pain. It's why Mike Brown's killer described him as a a literal monster. It's why we refuse to call white men who commit mass murder terrorists and get background on their lives. It's why white people stricken by addiction or fallen on hard times is a public health or apolitical issue, but the same happening to people of color is a public safety/divisive identify politic. It’s why slavery was justifiable, to tame beasts with whips and chains. You can brutalize people if they are not people but animals or objects. You can break them, beat them, and berate them. You can kill them. They don’t matter. They don’t deserve life. They are able to be thrown away. They aren’t full people with dreams, families, talents, ideas, beliefs, feelings, humanity.
I'm writing this post in this way because I have cried too many tears, wailed, moaned, and mourned too many times for people who have been killed by police brutality. I'm not even going to argue about assumed criminality, always fitting the profile, and blackness being a certification for execution. I'm not going to remind you that the police take people alive when they want to. I'm not going to entertain the idea that crimes, if they were actually committed, like bad signaling, toys, cigarettes, petty theft, or cellphones should result in the death of a person. I'm not going to tell you why a militarized police force entrenched in racism is state sanctioned genocide at worst and superseding our corrupt justice system to act as immediate judge, jury, and execution at best. If you want me begging and pleading, take your pick - Black, Black Renegade, Racial Law, Black Hoodie. Right now, I'm processing this never-ending trauma of seeing myself murdered on an endless loop of desensitized, voyeuristic body cam fueled entertainment by doing you, yes you, a favor by explaining to you the perspective you may never have considered. The black people you know, and what you have learned about blackness (much like our entire understanding of the African continent) is a make-believe story. I'm as real as the boogeyman.
I'm not going to ask you to stop killing me. That's too much to ask apparently. I'm not even going to ask you to stop and think before pulling the trigger, making an accusation, suspending us, etc. All I want is you to see me as human. Recognize my humanity like you do yours. Racism is the fundamental belief that people of color are less than human. That's not my issue. That is yours. I know, without a shadow of a doubt that I am a human being. I am a man. I am a black man. I am a young black man. I am a human being. I need you to search your heart, one that room for all the things and people you care about, and find your humanity - then let it commune with mine. Want to speak better and mean what you say, check out this 28 Common Racist Attitudes.
Don't share the words "we're all human" or "we're all equal, the same, one" because you know it's not true, and if you believe those pithy pleasantries then why do you treat me, us, the other differently? If we're the one, why don't you show me the same compassion, grace, mercy, that you enjoy? If you don't see color why is your community monochromatic instead of technicolor? If we're the same, then that means that I'm just like you - and that's both true, and that is untrue. It means you have to take responsibility for making that so, and you have to appreciate our differences. It means that the innocence, benefit of the doubt, second chances, peace, permission to exist, freedom, that you feel entitled to ALSO belong to me as well. Unless you don't want that, and that scares you because that means reckoning with all the ways that you have directly & indirectly benefited from my dehumanization. That might be too much. I'll leave you with a task. I want you to take a good look at a belief you have, specifically about black people, interrogate it, question it, and come up with a conclusion. I want you to look around you, and to observe the people in your life, if they look like you ask why, and if they don't still ask why. We have to change the story we tell about people who don't look like us, it is literally, legitimately, actually the difference between life and death. X