Dear People Who Dream That We Already Live in A Colorblind Country,
I wish that there was equality among the races. But my dream doesn’t make it real. Recognize your special privilege of living in a make-believe United States in which race does not matter.
Look around you. Carefully. Don’t be fooled by those who will cause you to fear that you’re losing your location of primacy in the United States. Don’t ignore that it’s only by dividing the U.S. into white and ‘others’ that you will become a minority and the country will become a majority-minority nation in 2042 or 2044 or whenever this seismic shift is supposed to take place. The U.S. Census Bureau states that in 2060 whites will be “just” 44 percent of the population! “Just” 44 percent! A cursory examination of the data indicates that white will still be the largest single racial category at that time. And given that the second largest single racial/ethnic category is expected to be 17.4 percent—for Hispanics—I don’t think you need to panic quite yet!
Recognize that you must be living with a siege mentality to think that those kinds of numbers signal your demise. And that it is this kind of us versus them, inability to see the inhumanity of the treatment of black and brown people in the U.S. that leaves you surprised at the pain, anger, and frustration that even a nice, middle-class, highly educated, black woman like me feels.
Pick an arena in which there is not clear evidence that blacks suffer racial discrimination today: Housing? Education? Employment? Criminal justice? Income? Wealth? Healthcare? Politics? Aesthetics? Keep looking. And that’s why videotaped evidence that strongly suggests police brutality has generated such fury. Black America knows that race matters and hopes you would acknowledge that cancer; why is it that this is the only illness that otherwise sane people argue should be ignored?
Of course, all lives matter! Who would find that idea controversial? And yet, you seem to want to brandish those words in opposition to the insistence that Black Lives Matter. Why? It occurs to me that there is some confusion by many (mostly white, I think) Americans about the name of that movement. Here is my disclaimer: Although I am black, I don’t know, nor speak for, the Black Lives Matter organizers. Still, I imagine that despite their yearning to make it their slogan, they just could not get the following to fit on protest signs and T-shirts:
Black lives SHOULD matter as much as white lives. And brown lives should matter as much as white lives. All lives should matter equally! But they don’t. They haven’t historically. And they don’t matter today.
We are hurt and dismayed by the lack of value of our lives. We are gunned down in the streets by those who are paid to serve and protect us, and although there have been some financial settlements to a few families, overall these murders don’t seem to matter to many whites or those in charge of the criminal justice system.
Many police do an excellent job of serving and protecting us. And we’re thankful for that. We also know that we are more likely than whites to be pulled over for any number of offenses—imagined or real. For example, in Tampa, we are—hopefully this is being corrected with media coverage—more likely to be stopped and ticketed by the cops when we ride a bicycle!
The prison boom in the U.S. that has us imprisoning more people—proportionate to our population—than any other country in the world is fed by black and brown bodies, disproportionately. In fact, among the incarcerated, blacks and Hispanics are represented at more than twice their actual proportion of the population. Although it is primarily black and brown men feeding the prison monster, black and brown women are also being incarcerated in record numbers.
Do you think we are inherently dangerous, violent, evil people and that that’s why we are overrepresented among the incarcerated? Do you think that “they” wouldn’t put us in jail if “we” didn’t do “something”?
Exactly what did those five black and brown kids in New York do to Trisha Meili—“the Central Park jogger” who was brutalized in 1989? NOTHING! And yet they were tried as adults, described as wild animals, and served many of their formative years behind bars. James Bain spent 35 years in jail; what did he do? He did not commit the crime for which he was incarcerated.
Why did the following black men and women die? Tyre King, Terence Crutcher, Sandra Bland, Philando Castile, Levonia Riggins, Alton B. Sterling, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Dontre Hamilton.
And then there are these black men and women. Why did they also die?:
John Crawford III, Ezell Ford, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley, Tamir Rice, Rumain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald.
What of countless others?
During this same era, a white man flew a gyrocopter on the lawn of the White House in broad daylight, worrying that the law enforcement would kill him. This was not an authorized landing, and yet no shots were even fired at Doug Hughes. Having admitted to Secret Service long before he pulled the stunt, that he had the gizmo, and planned to do something big, Hughes flew in protected airspace. We are thrilled that Hughes lived to tell us that he feared being blown out of the sky and that he was able to have his day in court. We are enraged that the persons named in the partial, but long list above did not have the same opportunity. The revolting actions of one deranged man against police do not negate any of this injustice. After all, black lives matter.
Janis Prince is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Saint Leo University.