Tuesday, April 03, 2012

King to Martin in Reverse 20 Years later

The Roman poet Caius Valerius Catullus (87–54 BCE) once wrote, “I can imagine no greater misfortune for a cultured people than to see in the hands of the rulers not only the civil, but also the religious power.” I like to think that he was speaking about a time in Europe when Christian fundamentalist rulers from kings and politicians to clerics and priest ruled and the punishment for speaking out against these individuals and/or their laws was torture and death for expressing opinions different from those of the primary belief system. These words are no truer today in America when the world is viewed from the perspective of a man of African descent.

I remember that day April 29, 1992 when it all hit the fan. I was a few months away from receiving my PhD and going off to live and work in South Eastern Nigeria for a year for my postdoc. It was the day an all-white Simi Valley jury, despite the videotape, concluded that the evidence was not sufficient to convict LAPD officers Laurence Powell , Timothy Wind, Theodore Briseno and Sergeant Stacey Koon . Upon which, within hours of the verdict, Los Angeles and the nation erupted in riots.

Now a similar occurrence is in the purview of mainstream America that like the Rodney King video has sent shockwaves around the world and enraged the African American community. It is another consequence of the collective unconscious of many white people in America - racial profiling, a two tiered justice system and the continuance of the perception that black males are suspicious and their lives not of equal value to white men. This is the narrative of Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Kenneth Chamberlain, Sr. (68), Kendrec McDade (19), Aaron Campbell (25), Ariston Waiters (19) and countless others. The strange thing is that this is not the 1890s (decades after reconstruction) or the start of the black codes and Jim Crow, or the 1960s, when killing a black man was a formality considered haute couture by all white juries, it is 2012; a period supposedly that is post racial and run by an Africa America President. The only thing common was that they were all unarmed, considered suspicious and black.

This is the historical, epistemological and ontological reality that Africa Americans, especially men grow up with – that whites in America grow up to incorporate and accept as an unquestionable learned behavior, mostly as a function of a contingency of reinforcement (habit) as Thomas Jefferson wrote, "I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments of both body and mind. …. This unfortunate difference of color, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people."

From the unknown runaway slaves to Emitt Till (in picture above) and Medgar Evers and from Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, logic advocates such deaths are the response to irrationality particularly in the configuration and embodiment of fear. I say this because as a construct, fear is often presupposed and rarely a product of fact. However, the unfortunate truth is that historically in our society, black men have been portrayed as a people to be feared; savages, unable to be tamed. A point asserted by Frantz Fanon ironically 50 years ago in his 1952 book “Black Skin, White Mask”. Fanon described the man of African descent as "phobogenic object, a stimulus to anxiety."

It is hard for me to accept that the aforementioned rings a historic truth, although asks any white person, they would disagree, either intentionally or unknowingly for their experience are different and they desire to repress their historical relationship with African Americans. They desire to ignore that the rise of the gruesome vigilante ritual of lynching occurred after the demise of slavery and that lynching by either the police or citizen, was a violent way to send a message to African-American to stay in their place, as deemed by more economically and politically powerful whites. In fact it can be argued that the most common reason for lynching in America was to target and intimidate disesteemed racial groups.

The Black Codes were laws passed on the state and local level in the United States to limit the civil rights and civil liberties of African Americans. Moreover, both northern and southern states had passed discriminatory legislation since the early 19th century. What we experience now is no different, being regularly subjected to stop and search procedures based on racially biased drug profiling disproportionate to our representation in the population and actual drug use. We are more likely to be stopped, arrested, brought to trial and convicted of felony charges than white Americans, a consequence of institutional racism that cannot be any different than previous the Black Codes and our present “justice system.” Our present policies and laws continue to sustain what the 1968 Kerner Commission described as "two societies, separate and unequal." America maintains a well-entrenched system of discrimination, subordination, and racial violence just as pervasive. But we cannot take such issues to the Justice system since laws assert that arguments regarding racism or other prejudices are not legally relevant and are a slap in the face of our courts and system of justice.

Marcus Garvey pointed out that in America and around the world, that “the white man has succeeded in subduing the world by forcing everybody to think his way & those who have come in contact with it and accepted it have become his slaves.” And for anyone to disagree I would ask them to vehemently prove otherwise. There is an irrational and historic perception of African American men by whites. It is a simple fact. Whether it is the “Big Black man theory" espoused by Lawrence Vogelman or the use of used the acronym N.H.I. (no humans involved )to refer to any case involving a breach of the rights of young Black males by the police of Los Angeles.

The actions of the officers in the Rodney King case, just as in Trayvon Martin's and the others cited are blatant criminal offenses. Many would not have occurred if the black codes and Jim Crow laws had not been renamed the “war on drugs and crime," which disproportionately target people of color. And sadly, what Mamie Till said during the period of her son’s death still rings true: “It is doubtful that any Black male growing up in the rural South in the period 1900 to 1940 was not traumatized by a fear of being lynched.”

Is it ironic or morose, that twenty years ago this month that a jury found four white police officers not guilty in the abuse and police brutality of Rodney King, and that now we are dealing with video evidence in the murder of unarmed young black male. This time they didn't make an arrest, to take the shooter to court. At least thier was the arrest of J. W. Milam and Roy Bryant in the killing of Emitt Till, although they were found not guilty by an all white jury. They are even trying to smear the name of Trayvon Martin, just like it was done with Emitt Till, when the Memphis Commercial Appeal published an article reporting that Louis Till was executed by the U.S. Army in Italy in 1945 for raping two Italian women and killing a third. The information had been leaked by Mississippi Senator James O. Eastland to the press.Morose definitely, ironic too, since if I reverse their last names in occurrence I am left with Martin King. Ironic indeed, forty years after his murder.

23 comments:

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I'm a white male living in post-apartheid South Africa.

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This is a reality that we have to live with. When you've witnessed a white woman getting raped at gun point by a group of black men down your street where you live and seen a man's throat get slit by a black man because he was walking on the wrong side of the road, and none of that even makes it to the news paper because there is so much of it going on that its become "normal". I wasn't a part of apartheid, I don't support it, but we are getting punished for the sins of our fathers. You don't know what its like living in fear and you didn't grow up in the rural South during 1900 to 1940 either.. You may have PHD, but you don't know anything.

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