“The deaths of 2 black men by hanging, and calls for investigation, explained,” read the vox.com headline just three weeks ago. Shocked, I googled for more information.
In separate parts of California, the bodies of two Black men were found public execution style, eerily reminiscent of a Jim Crow era lynching in the late 19th century. Like a record on repeat, police tried to rule it out as a suicide. The LA Medical Examiner made a statement claiming that this was normal.
But honestly, I’ve only seen dead bodies hanging in books and movies. Suicide is a problem in America.
If hanging yourself in public was a normal occurrence, we would have seen it.
In our civilized society we haven’t heard too much about Black men hanging in the town square in quite some time. At least not in my lifetime.
Slavery and Jim Crow were such ugly periods we don’t even want to look at them. We don’t want to trace scars with our fingers, feeling our way through the deformity. I remember when teaching James Baldwin’s “Going to Meet the Man” to high school students in Oakland, they would ask with trepidation: “Why are we reading this?” It’s awful. It’s horrible; so ugly. And it hasn’t really changed. Mainstream media just stopped broadcasting it.
Slavery may have been abolished in 1865. It’s been 56 years since the Civil Rights Act, and yet racism is alive and thriving. Systemic racism has been re-envisioned decade after decade, and with time it has evolved into a white noise. Some of us can’t even hear it, while the rest of us cringe.
Lately the white noise has become static electricity around the world. People are feeling the divide in various ways, and it can no longer be ignored. We have lived together in a systemic racist society since the founding of America. The only difference now is that a great many of us have been taught to believe it no longer exists.
But systemic racism hides in plain sight.
Many of us question it because we don’t hear about it in mainstream media. When we do see a Black person, or any person of color (POC) on the news, it’s mostly through a white washed or negative lens. Take the character Chidi on the show “The Good Place,” for example; and listen to the way CBS Evening News tries to gloss over the execution of a 12 year old boy with a toy gun, Tamir Rice.
This propaganda is the continuation of a concept founded in the 1700s. Entertainment has always been for a majority white audience, a topic I’ll discuss further as this blog series continues.
We’ve carried too much history into the 21st century. It has taken 400 years to see a white cop tried for killing a Black person, and we still have yet to see if justice will actually be served. It’s an uncomfortable fact that a part of the white community has been framing and murdering Black people since our ancestors met, just like it’s an uncomfortable fact that a part of the Black community is at war with one another.
Trauma is a very real, raw experience. If it wasn’t, we’d all have gotten over our childhoods a long time ago, and emerged as a society that leads in mental health.
It unfortunately stands as truth that Black people have been wronged in every facet of American society: in our academic institutions, the judicial system, banking, the workforce. Not all Americans know this because public approval is gained by making the people believe that these injustices are justified— a tactic that began to gain public approval for slavery.
How many times have we heard the death of an unarmed Black man justified with comments calling him a thug, or statements like “he shouldn’t have ran”? Meanwhile, white thugs and terrorists like Dylann Roof somehow get escorted away from the scene of violent murders alive and in handcuffs.
It’s clear that the wrongs afflicted to POC have nothing to do with running from the police, or how people live their life.
Ask yourself when the last time you heard a racist comment from:
We all have. It’s in our social conditioning.
Black and brown people know systemic racism is alive and well in America. It’s old news. Ancient, even.
Most of us know about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). While levels of trauma vary, such as a dog attack as a child or abuse by a loved one, it has been proven that repeated exposure to traumatic events have long-term consequences. These issues can become generational, even cultural. In the same way every one has some familial pattern to break such as addiction and other codependent behaviors, cultural patterns also get ingrained into our psyche.
PTSD affects us as a nation, but not in the same way. In Dr. Joy Degruy’s Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome, she describes how systemic racism has shaped Black communities. We’ve been here building this country alongside of each other, but we are a society divided; fragments floating in cyberspace. And for what? A nation is only as strong as its people.
Degruy demonstrates three main categories of PTSS behavior as “vacant esteem,” “ever-present anger,” and “racist socialization.”
First, I’d like to explore what Degruy states is “the most pronounced behavior pattern associated with Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome” — ever-present anger.
In Black communities, this anger stems from living for generations in systemic oppression. At birth, our immediate worth is determined by the family we were born into. How that family grows and what is passed down to children depends on the tools mom and dad inherited to navigate through society. If your ancestors were slaves, the tools inherited would be to “endure and survive under extremely oppressive conditions.” This is like having an abusive parent times 3 million. Not only does your parent treat you like you don’t matter, society treats you that way too.
In rapper Del the Funky Homosapien’s song “Corner Story” he outlines a typical day walking through Oakland. On the way, he describes what’s happening in his neighborhood, which includes gun violence, discrimination, institutionalized racism, and a glimmer of hope. At the end he says “We hide our shit so the Nation don’t see it there.”
And most don’t see it. Many of us don’t even bother to look, and when confronted with it, rebuff it as if human life means nothing.
We can avoid learning about racism just as easily as we can avoid going through ghettos.
A propaganda tactic from slavery has convinced a significant piece of the American population that it is an entire race’s fault they have been shafted.
Statistics continuously report that Black people are still at disproportionate disadvantage.
In the 1990s, the Clinton administration’s Council of Economic Advisors for the President’s Initiative on Race found that Black and ethnic groups were disastrously behind white in every facet of society. The domino effect of discriminatory practices reformed over centuries has built a gorge between American people.
The study revealed that white people continued to earn much higher salaries, and “retain employment during a downturn economy,” as well as “spend a smaller percentage of household income on housing; own stocks; and gain a substantial net worth.”
In the early 2000s, Dr. Robert Jensen found that it would take another 150 years to close the gap between Black and white wealth— and that’s if systemic racism was getting better! Underfunded school systems are in majority Black communities. Jensen’s research found that “members of racial/ethnic minorities” are less likely to “have access to computer technology in public schools and at home during… schooling.” Some of us teachers have seen this first hand. My first intimate experience with how deep the divide goes was when a high school student of mine didn’t know how to move the curser on Word to the next line.
Now with the coronavirus pandemic, that time frame seems more unlikely, given that the first cuts to public schools are conveniently in the poorer communities where education is needed most, and companies are continuing to downsize.
While we all suffer from some measure of inconvenience, the Black community is once again at higher risk, since they were never given full access to the societal luxuries the rest of us take for granted in the first place.
As a result of being denied equal access to opportunities, Black and ethnic people have to work harder for the same level of success. That’s not to say white people don’t hustle for what they earn. Yet imagine if you were not hired, or your resume was just passed over, by the job that brings in money. Or, if your grandparents and parents were denied the home loans that made the family wealth possible.
This disparity did not happen on accident. It happened very purposely when America was founded. We’ve been living in an outdated, barbaric system that has sustained in different forms for centuries.
It’s no wonder why the people are angry. In the words of Del, “Fuck being calm, I’m like a shell-shocked vet from ‘Nam”.
Denying another person’s reality is called gaslighting, and in 21st century America, half the nation continuously gaslights the other. “Everyone is treated equally; the past is gone.” Meanwhile, the dead black body is so common in American culture, we make excuses for why it’s ok.
Three weeks have passed since the hanging deaths Malcolm Harsch and Robert Fuller. I can’t find any updates.
On July 6, 2020 I woke up to a DM that a group of white men tried to lynch a Black kid in Indiana. The video was posted by Sean King and I’ve linked it here. Mainstream media may have silenced the truth, but technology and research has advanced to catch the unfiltered reality of American racism. To claim we have accomplished equality when, in fact, all the evidence proves otherwise is just perpetuating the chasm between the disadvantaged and equality. In a society that claims to be patriotic, that should be enough to piss anyone off.