I haven’t blogged since January. Of course, as we all know, much has happened in the world since then. But so much has already been written from virtually every conceivable perspective regarding COVID-19. I’ve certainly had plenty of my own thoughts, but I’ve had opportunities to share those thoughts on Sunday mornings.
Between helping my church navigate through this challenging season, and also devoting significant time towards my next book project, I just haven’t had much time to give to blogging.
I’m making an exception today. But rather than compose my own piece, I wanted to share a post I read a few days ago on a New Orleans Saints message board (of all places). These thoughts were written and posted in the context of a discussion of the Ahmaud Arbery murder three months ago. And now, just within the last couple days, two more race-related incidents have occurred, one of which resulted in the death of another unarmed black man.
This post was written by a fellow Saints fan who goes by the handle “First Time Poster.” His comments were a response to another person who took exception to a third party making an unfair generalization in reference to Arbery’s murderers (“Whites gonna white.”). I felt his response was powerful and worthy of sharing with my readers. With his permission, I’ve re-posted his comments below for your own reflection:
So, this post, particularly this passage, was a few pages back, and, while we’ve had a great discussion in the ensuing pages I wanted to circle back to this sentiment because I feel it could be a good teaching moment about advantage/privilege/race for all of us.
So, the poster expresses annoyance and irritation at the statement “whites gonna white“, presumably because they are white and they feel that is too broad of a brush, it is too harsh of an indictment, of one people for the actions of a few. So, they take issue with that statement. And I get that. I really do.
So, what I would offer to the poster, and everyone reading, is imagine being born into a world, living in a world, working in a world, raising a family in a world, trying to succeed in a world and trying to exist in a world where “blacks gonna black” isn’t just an annoying, irritable statement on a message board. It’s an implied, assumed and actionable sentiment in a society where entire institutions and constructs have been created to perpetuate, criminalize, enforce and promulgate that sentiment. That blacks will be blacks. Imagine.
That is truly what killed Ahmaud. Since his murder, video has shown other residents going into the construction site and looking around. Other persons across the country have admitted to trespassing on such sites and curiously looking around. Why was Ahmaud’s curiosity seen and treated as criminal by the McMichaels? Why was Ahmaud’s murder initially treated and handled not as a victim, but as a criminal? That sentiment, that sentiment of criminality, of suspicion, devalued his life to the shooters and to the justice system. Because see, you can believe someone did something wrong and not get into your pickup truck with loaded guns, chase them down and ultimately take their life. You can believe someone may have committed a crime but still prosecute vigilante justice. But you have to see them as a person first. You need to have a value on their life on an equal footing as yours.
That is the world Ahmaud lived in. The world Trayvon lived in. The world I live in. The world so many other minority men and women live in. A world that has stigmatized one’s color and sees it as suspicious, as criminal and is less valued than others. I’ve enjoyed these words before and I will do so again:
“You can’t thingify anything without depersonalizing that something. If you use something as a means to an end at that moment you make it a thing and you depersonalize it. The fact is that the negro was a slave in this country for 244 years. That act, that was a willful thing that was done. The negro was brought here in chains and treated in very inhuman fashion. And this led to the thingification of the negro. So he was not looked upon as a person. He was not looked upon as a human being with the same status and worth as other human beings. And the other thing is, human beings cannot continue to do wrong without eventually rationalizing that wrong. So slavery was justified; morally, biologically, theoretically, scientifically, everything else.
“And many Negroes by the thousands and millions have been left bootless as a result of all of these years of Oppression and as a result of a society that deliberately made his color a stigma and something worthless and degrading.”
Those were Dr. King’s words. Ponder, really meditate, on the power and reality of this statement: “…a society that deliberately made his color a stigma and something worthless and degrading.” The weight of that. That even I, a successful black man, carries around the burden of. I live in an affluent neighborhood and when I go jogging, I bring my dog with me, like countless of other Americans. But, do you know why I do it? Not because I enjoy walking with him (I do). Not because it’s good exercise for us (it is). Not because it helps us bond (it does). It’s because I’m a black man in a nice neighborhood and having my dog with me projects legitimacy. It provides a sense of belonging. Not for me! I know I belong there. My bills remind me of that. It’s for the persons watching me. The persons curious and uncomfortable with my presence. Because, after all, who would go to someone else’s neighborhood to walk their dog?
That stigma doesn’t just go away y’all. I really wish it did. I really, really wish it did. Like, I don’t think enough people acknowledge, realize or think about that part of it. We want things to be better. To be equal. Who would want to live that way?! If there was equality, don’t you think I would be shouting about it from the mountaintops? I would be one of the first ones defending our equal society, because I would stand the most to gain from it!
You know, I’m thinking about a few weeks ago. Before COVID, I was bouncing back and forth between Dallas and Atlanta a lot. Meaning, I hadn’t been at my home in Louisiana for a few. Now, I’m back here but perhaps persons weren’t used to me being back. Anyway, I made a grocery run and I’m sitting in my truck, in my driveway. Just answering emails, answering texts, and sending out stuff too. So I notice a police SUV come up the street. My house is the 2nd to last on a dead end so when you get to the cross street, you either have to turn down it or you are going to my house or my neighbors. So, they get to the side street, pause, turn down it, but I notice he is making the block, presumably to pass back. So, I already know what time it is. Sure enough, a few minutes later, here comes the SUV, very slowly coming up this time. So when they get close enough, I hit the button to open the garage door and I get out. You know, legitimacy, prove you belong kind of thing. I just leave the groceries in the truck. I walk inside and purposefully hold up my fob, to close the door, so they can see me closing it myself. They speed up, turn down the side street and go on their way. I end up going back out a few minutes later to get the grub.
There’s no doubt in my mind had I just sat there (defiantly, in their mind) they would have approached me. It dawns on me now, telling the story to y’all, how without a thought I knew I had to do something to show I belonged. And that they knew and understood that unspoken language between us. And if I didn’t, there would be a confrontation, which may not go in my favor. Now that I really think of it, it just saddens me. That I’ve conditioned myself to live like that. That it’s necessary to do so to be left alone. That it’s expected for me to do so or risk confrontation over it. I’m just sad that Ahmaud’s last moments had to be filled with that fear, possibly thinking what did he do to deserve to die like that. I can’t help him. What’s worse, I can’t adequately answer that question for him. Because I can’t answer it for myself.
“Whites being white.” I get it. Imagine if the anguish and the pain of that stigma didn’t go away once you logged off or closed out the browser. Imagine.
(The painting is “Die” by Faith Ringgold – 1967).