I love period dramas. After a hard day’s work, there is nothing for satisfying for me than to lock my door, lie in bed with a bar of chocolate and watch Pride & Prejudice or Downton Abbey for the umpteenth time. There’s something about life in the 18th and 19th centuries that appeals to me, even though I know that by virtue of my heritage and race I had a better chance of living out my days as a miserable field hand than a sighing, spoiled debutante waiting for her prince charming to magically appear.
And because I’ve seen Pride & Prejudice and other novels put-to-screen of its ilk hundreds of times, it can’t be hard for you to imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a show called Copper on Hulu. Copper depicts life in 19th century New York, focusing on the slums of Five Points – a district so renown for violence and crime that novelist Charles Dickens, whose themes often centered around the hardship of the working class, had to come see it for himself.
It is rare to find persons of color in period dramas, unless the story is someway centered around slavery. People often forget that Blacks, Asians and even Persians have lived, studied and created in this country for centuries. This is because the face of education, intelligence and success has been depicted and accepted as Anglo-Saxon for so long. What made Copper such a treat for me is that it provided an unflinching view of the immigrant’s (read: NOT Anglo-Saxon) struggle for acceptance in a country that saw them as ‘invaders’, as well as Black people’s battle to achieve person-hood in a nation that saw them as property. Detective Kevin Corcoran (an Irish immigrant) and Dr. Matthew Freeman (a runaway who became a physician) are two of the main characters who play out these dynamics. In one episode, Dr. Freeman and his wife have been asked to harbor Corcoran’s friend Eva in their farm house outside of the city limits. A guard is posted at their door with strict orders not to move. He has to pee, so he runs to a tree and relieves himself. When he returns, someone has gotten into the house.
Eva fires a shot at the intruder, who turns out to be Matthew. The guard is shaken by the scene.
“Please don’t tell Detective Corcoran!” the young officer pleads, before adding these words to his entreaty: “Be a good nigger about this!”
For that last caveat, he receives a slap from the doctor’s wife who storms into the house.
I was gobsmacked. Be a GOOD nigger about this…
By now you may have heard about the murder of Michael Brown, the unarmed college bound student who was gunned down – shot TEN times – by a police officer as he was on his way to visit his grandmother in Ferguson, MO. I’m not writing this post to discuss the senseless shooting of yet another unarmed Black teen. I have long given up trying to understand White society’s disregard for Black life. It’s as futile as trying to catch wind in a Mason jar and just as tiring. And before any detractors yell “But what about Black on Black crime?!” go deal with your White on White school shootings and then we’ll have a conversation.
No, today, I want to talk about the establishment’s obsession with the manner in which Black people respond to the tragedies and offenses meted out against us. There was a brilliant article written this year on this very topic. (Sadly, I can’t recall the author or the title.) The writer expressed his disgust with the media’s preoccupation with the way Black people handled racism and bigotry. He used footballer Dani Alves’ approach to having a banana thrown at him as an example. Mr. Alves, if you recall, walked over to the offensively tossed fruit, took a bite from it and subsequently took his corner kick. Dani Alves was then hailed for his ‘good humored’ and ‘comedic approach’ to combating racism. He was being a Good Nigger, about it.
Let’s go back a little further in history. I recently encountered the tale of Mary Turner, who was a twenty-one-year-old African-American woman, lynched in Valdosta, Georgia. Eight months pregnant, Turner and her child were murdered after she publicly denounced the extrajudicial killing of her husband by a mob. I urge you to read the details of her demise yourself. In a nutshell, her husband had been implicated in the murder of a local White planter and was himself lynched by a mob that exacted their own brand of justice. Distraught, she declared that she would contact the local authorities and have those who committed this crime brought to justice. For that, she was hunted down, captured, strung up by a tree by her ankles, set ablaze and had her body riddled by bullets. Someone sliced open her abdomen, swollen with unborn life. When her baby dropped to the earth it was stomped to death by the indignant crowd. Had she been a Good Nigger about her husband’s lynching, perhaps opting for dignified silence instead carrying on like an uppity Negress with silly demands for justice… Well, we’ll never know. A bottle of whiskey marked the site where her body and that of her unborn child were destroyed. That was in 1918.
Not much has changed in 100 years. This weekend, 18 year old college-bound student was shot dead in the street by a cop that was drunk off his own power. Nothing else explains why any person would shoot a kid who had his arms raised in surrender 10 times at close range. This was not a dog or a deer: this was a young man making his way to visit his relatives. The police have been largely silent as they gather their “facts” (concoct an acceptable story), and in the meantime, yes – people in the community are angry. They are not being Good Niggers about it. As a direct result of this senseless violence – a kid shot TEN times – they are assembling, they are protesting and yes, they are looting.
See some of the headlines major news organizations in the country lead with in the wake of the shooting:
In one, you see no mention at all of what led to the chanting. In the other, there is a deliberate circumventing of the core of the real, horrific events surrounding the ‘fatal shooting’. Renisha McBride, who was killed as she sought help from a stranger, was treated to similar scorn by the Associated Press with this headline following the sentence handed down to her killer.
(Twitter went into a veritable frenzy shortly afterward.)
To say that I am tired of talking about Black people being killed in the streets is an understatement. We’d barely caught our breaths after the public strangulation of Eric Garner when news of John Crawford hit our collective radars. And now this…
Statistically, by the time a hit “publish” another unarmed Black person will be killed by law enforcement in this country. As distressing as that thought may be, it pales in the light of the mainstream establishment asking/demanding that we all have a good attitude about it.