You laugh, but I am asking a very serious question.
I was introduced to the topics of racism and violence against women very early in life…probably too early. The Color Purple on VHS was a movie stable in my house, and it is with pride that I tell you that I can quote each line from the movie – verbatim – on demand. I only saw the movie A Soldier’s Story once, and as I recall it was around the same era as The Color Purple: 1984-1985. That would make me 6 or 7 years old when I first saw either. The themes in both these films were weightier than my young mind could conceive, centering around Black men’s hatred for other Blacks and misogyny.
Now I find myself at 34, in a new century, recalling these masterfully told stories with utter dismay. I am dismayed because they are still very relevant in America today. My family left to live in Ghana when I was 8 years old, and my world view and experiences were immediately shifted. Suddenly, everyone around me was Black, and apart from those 4th of July picnics – where I felt horribly out of place – I rarely saw White people. My teachers were Black, my headmaster was Black, my housekeeper was Black. When a crime was committed, there was no politicizing the event of “Black on Black” crime. Kofi Amadou had simply robbed Earnest Baidoo. There was no colorizing the crime – and our community was outraged at such an event.
“Be on the lookout for strangers in the area,” I would hear grown-ups caution while eavesdropping on their conversations in the living room.
“Sometimes they break through the windows with a crow bar, or they may come to your house looking for work and then rob you.”
There was no mention of a skin color, because it was Africa. What was the point? 98.99% of the people who live in Sub-Saharan Africa were Black like me.
So when I got back to America in 1996 and picked up a copy of Ebony that year, I was confused by the graphics and the tagline of an article I stumbled across.
The Problem with Black on Black Crime is that You Can’t See It…
read the words in grey font over a black backsplash, so that they appeared to fade. The assertion of the article was that because Black on Black crime was so prevalent and accepted in Black communities, residents had become immune or apathetic towards it. In one sense, I think that argument can be made, but in another I hardly think it’s true. Ask a mother whose son has been gunned down if she cares who pulled the trigger was Black or White, and I daresay she’ll vehemently shake her head “no”. The loss of a child, friend, or relative is no less painful because it was gang related, or “Black related”. At the end of the day, it’s still a crime!
With all the hostility that Blacks face in America, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stay focused on the business of just living. It’s been said that Blacks have to navigate two worlds just to survive: the professional/corporate world where they have to appeal to the sensibilities of Whites (and all who identify with that race) and the Black world that they return to at night, where they are tasked in proving that they are still “down” and haven’t “crossed over” or “forgotten where they’ve come from”. Some Black people give up straddling that divide, choosing root allegiances over professional development, or conversely, choosing upward mobility over the futility of wallowing in solidarity with The Race. In the latter scenario, something amazing happens. Given enough time and pressure, a Tom DuBois or Uncle Ruckus is formed – Black men who can no longer identify with other Black men, or Black men who hate Black people altogether.
If you are not familiar with these two people, they are characters from Aaron McGruder’s comic strip, The Boondocks. Beyond hating Black people, Uncle Ruckus “has a deep respect, admiration and love of white people. To him, there’s only one King, and that’s Elvis, not Dr. Martin Luther King.” Tom is a successful African-American attorney, and as their next door neighbor, probably could qualify as a role model to Huey and Riley (escapees from Chicago’s South Side to the boonies). Instead, he’s seen more as a tool of the establishment, working to keep the black man down. Both types of Black men live among us today. Neither fits the profile of a ‘killer’, but then neither does George Zimmerman…yet he gunned down an unarmed 17 year old Black boy in cold blood. The reasons are clear to anyone with half a brain: he was motivated to kill because of his fear and hatred for Black skin, which in his world signify worthlessness, crookedness and violence. Such a person is only worthy of violence in return, never mind that he is armed only with a noncarbonated drink, a cell phone and some candy.
George Zimmerman and other White Hispanics (or whatever the media is classifying him as this week) are not alone in that view. Some Blacks too only see folly and perversion in the skin of others who share the same hue.
As I stood in the street on my way to the Trayvon Martin rally in Atlanta a little over a week ago, I was moved by the emotion and dedication of all the people there. People from all walks of life: teachers, t-shirt sellers, musicians, mothers and students. The majority of them were Black. Calling to mind the hateful words that Zimmerman had used to profile this young boy – f’ing coon, a**hole and the like – we stood in solidarity, chiming for his arrest, willing justice to be done. But I have to wonder, would we have done the same if Zimmerman had been Black?
If Uncle Ruckus, motivated by the same loathing and irrational fear that plagued Zimmerman, had shot Trayvon Martin, declaring him an f’ing coon and no-good miscreant, how would we react? If the voice on the 911 tape had been the angry slurred speech of a Black man who hated his own people with every breath in his body, while treasuring the very air that his beloved White man breathed, would we rally and march? If he had simply claimed self-defense as a reason for shooting this child and consequently gone scot-free, would we take him at his word?
Some people are of the view that we would be silent…hauntingly silent. After all, Blacks call each other worse names and gun each other down every day, and no one rallies. However, another group of people say that there would be no need to rally. The only thing more repugnant than a racist is a race traitor, and the deep sense of betrayal would be more than some folks could handle.
Uncle Ruckus wouldn’t have lived to see the next morning.
Perhaps I am too much of an idealist, but I ascribe to the thought that injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. I might be in the minority, but I believe I would gather my sandals and picket against Sanford and Uncle Ruckus just as quickly as I did against George Zimmerman. But let’s be honest: Is that where we are as a race or as a people? Have we arrived to this ethereal conclusion collectively? I hope the better question is: should any of us – Black, White or Hispanic – be looking at this murder through our race at all; or as a crime committed by one human being against another?