I didn't sleep well last night and many other nights in the past couple of weeks. I've tried to pinpoint the anxieties and "handle them" like Olivia Pope. Recently, however, I started to feel as if one of my anxieties, in particular, was connected to the constant streaming of news (and opinions) related to the unfortunate events of the Mike Brown murder and the trial that followed, the Eric Garner murder and the non-indictment of the cop who choked him to death, and the #BlackLivesMatter movement happening across the country. Additionally, we (most Black people who aren't uncle Toms) are coming off of the heels of the Trayvon Martin murder and the non-conviction of his killer, still reeling from the Sean Bell case of 2006, with the skeletal remains of the Amadou Diallo case of 1999 in our mental graveyards. Add on 12-year old Tamir Rice and the innocent Akai Gurley, among many others, and we are left pondering the already crumbling state of a country that has abused and abandoned us for more than 400 years. I'm not going to break these cases down for you; if you don't know of them, you should, and Google is free! However, I am more concerned with briefly interrogating those of you who feel as though these victims deserved it or could have prevented their untimely deaths with such superficial notions centered on how to dress, what NOT to wear, how to act in the streets, etc.
In early November, I came across an article written by black attorney and author, Lawrence Otis Graham, in which he talks about his wrongful assumption that his family's privilege and elite status would protect his kids from discrimination. I read the entire article and thought, "how naive, you middle-aged Ivy-league graduate who is surely the product of the civil rights movement, as you were born and bred on its heels." [Read article here] My response to the article was brief:
"Um...this article was informative about how privilege can go to your head, despite your assumed intelligence. I've been in predominantly white private schools/universities since I was 12 years old and I always understood that my privileged pedigree and "coming from a good family" meant absolutely nothing when walking down the street with a hoodie on at night or even in a "safe environment" like a classroom. The amount of times I was called n---er, got spit on, was followed in a store, or had to defend my race in class, is uncountable. These people definitely needed that wake up call."
I acknowledged Mr. Graham's point of view and the confronting of his crumbling assumptions and moved on...until he came back with a recent video about how he believes teaching his two sons to act and dress a certain way will keep them from being profiled, mistreated, and possibly killed by police. [Watch video here] In the brief Nightline segment, Graham talks about how he doesn't allow his sons to wear hoodies or "anything with a hood on it," how they don't wear sneakers, only loafers, and how he believes that this will keep them out of "harm's" way--"harm" being the police who I thought were called to "protect and serve". Now, I won't get into his parenting because he can do what he wants. I won't even interrogate the style in which he chooses to dress his children. I too love my Sperry's, my polo shirts (popped collar), my fitted blazers, and a well put-together man in a bow-tie and cardigan. But never did I think that my choice of "prep" clothing would exonerate me from the perpetual perils of slavery in this country. This way of living your life--constricted and controlled, out of fear of "the man"--is new slavery. You new slaves, telling your black child to dress modestly so that he or she won't get profiled, abused, and killed by the police or your "friendly neighborhood watch man" is the equivalent of telling women to not dress like sluts so they won't get raped! It is putting a band-aid on a bruise, covering up the signs of internal bleeding. And now, we are experiencing the aneurysms. Those bruises that we covered up are now blood clots that are clogging the veins of this dying society. This congestion that we feel is right on time because for years, we have allowed our wounds to go untreated; we dress them in Brooks Brothers and saddle them with oxfords. We cover the pain with privilege, but no one cares about your masters degree if you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Instead of telling our sons what NOT to wear so they stay alive, maybe we should be interrogating gun control laws in this country and the use of excessive force by the police. Instead of telling our daughters to put away their mini skirts in order to prevent rape, we should be pushing to eradicate perpetuated rape culture in the media.
See, we always do this; we turn the victim into the perpetrator or participator in his or her own demise. We do this in rape, in domestic violence cases, and in the unjust assassination of black life. We did it with Mike Brown: "Maybe he shouldn't have stolen this, that, and the other." We did it with Trayvon Martin: "Maybe he shouldn't have been wearing that hoodie" or "he shouldn't have tried to fight back." We did it with Eric Garner. We do it with sexual assault and rape victims all the time: "Maybe you shouldn't have been wearing that low cut dress in that neighborhood" or "Why were you drinking so much?" In domestic violence cases, many women are asked, "What did you do to set him off?" Huh?! This is why murderers go free and rapes go unreported, why women die under the hands of their spouses, and why eliminating hoodies from your child's wardrobe is a quick fix (or not) for a festering problem that was built into the limbs of this limping country, with the blood of my ancestors running through its veins. And Mr. Graham, your white counterparts are not telling their wanna-be punk teenage sons to throw out their Nirvana sweatshirts, or to trade their casual footwear for Doc Martins or Birkenstocks, to not get an entire arm of tattoos or to take out their piercings. They are living their lives, carefree, and you should want to do the same. We must demand the up-hauling of a system that wasn't built to protect us in the first place. I want to see no more of these band-aids over bruises and broken hearts. #BlackLivesMatter
RIP to my fallen brothers and sisters. Your names are too many to count and my blood turns blue thinking about how you've forever stained the pavements. I am my brother.