My ex-girlfriend liked to drink- a lot. At first, I would get so angry when a perfectly good evening was ruined by her getting sloppy drunk. I became outraged when I’d have to stop the car while she vomited. It was enraging. After each incident, an argument would ensue and a lot of emotional energy was spent. One day I finally wised up. I realized that this was the person she chose to be and if that didn’t work for me, I needed to distance myself from her or at least her drinking. I did and life became much less maddening. As I watch the black community’s reaction to yet another questionable death of an unarmed black person, I’m wondering why we still haven’t learned a damn thing.
Sandra Bland was pulled over in Texas, treated like a stray dog, taken into custody and mysteriously died (to date the indication is a suicide, although few are buying that). Black Twitter has been erupting. Facebook timelines are going crazy, all demanding justice for Sandra. Frankly, I wish everyone would stop. Whether the name is Trayvon, Mike Brown or Sandra Bland, we do this every single time: anger, cries for justice for whomever and so on. Then, of course, we are outraged when the officer or individual on the other end is pronounced guiltless. Seriously, we act completely shocked and awed each time. Why? This lesson should have been learned somewhere around 1964.
Why 1964? In June of that year, three civil rights workers– two white and one black- in Mississippi were brutally murdered and their bodies were missing for weeks. Eventually, the bodies of Andy Goodman, Michael Schwerner and James Chaney were discovered, buried in an earthen damn 44 days after they went missing. Schwerner’s widow, Rita, said of her husband,
If he and Andrew Goodman had been Negroes, the world would have taken little notice of their deaths. After all, the slaying of a Negro in Mississippi is not news. It is only because my husband and Andrew Goodman were white that the national alarm had been sounded.”
You might say Rita Schwerner was an early leader in the “Black Lives Matter” movement. When the federal government (reluctantly) began searching for the three men, at least nine other bodies of disappeared blacks were found as they dragged the various swamps and lakes in the area. Undoubtedly, those nine individuals had “done something” that, to their contemporaries, justified their killings in the same way the media tells us that each black death today can be justified. These were individuals who’d been reported missing by family but frankly, no one gave a damn. As Rita Schwerner alluded to, they were black and thus didn’t matter.
This has always been the American way. Black lives don’t matter. Those nine bodies were simply nine of an untold number, murdered and disappeared forever. So why, in 2015, do we still have a different expectation? We should also understand that state violence against black bodies isn’t restricted to white representatives of the state. Of all fatal police shootings, around 10% are by black police officers. When black officers use lethal force, it is directed at other black men 78% of the time. While I’m sure some of these black officers may have unfavorable attitudes toward whites, they are more reluctant to manifest them through violence. Why? Those black officers, like the rest of us, associate whiteness with something more. Whites- criminal or not- have inherent humanity and collectively, power. Just as the slave understood that there were consequences to harming a white man, we do today. Just as the slave master felt emboldened to harm black life with impunity, we do today. The differing consequences then and today have to do with power: the ability to defend ones interests and retaliate in the event of an offense received.
The issue is power: significance, the ability to determine one’s course and defend their interests. The U.S drops bombs on weaker nations with little thought because those nations have no power. While many loathe the United States, they dare not send drones to Washington: not out of admiration but fear. In the final analysis, whether Sandra Bland’s death is followed with a prosecution or not, holding an individual responsible will change little. Indeed, the very notion of black America holding its breath, waiting for “justice” simply underlines my larger point that we are a powerless people appealing to more powerful, oppressive forces to be more benevolent to us. That is a losing strategy. This is especially so when we consider that no entity can oppress us unless we give them the money to do so.
We protest police brutality and afterward gladly deposit our dollars into multinational banks which built capital through the slave trade and currently invest heavily in a racist prison industry. We are angered by an unjust criminal justice system and yet continue to allow political actors- funded by corporate interests we empower with our dollars- to guard the status quo. We express outrage when local, elected representatives of the justice system act heinously but will not contribute to campaigns so as to allow more progressive actors to unseat those individuals. There is no single ounce of oppression we could not rid ourselves of in a ten year period if we simply rerouted the energy, anger and Facebook posts about Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin and all of the “Black Lives Matter” movement into action economically. Replacing the “justice for fill in the blank” post with a “move your money here” post and following up will change these conditions and not vice versa.
Stop acting surprised at each lynching. This is America, we should know what to expect. Stop wasting energy and outrage appealing to those who oppress us to be more benevolent. Seize power and turn that anger into a productive wrath against power structures simply by banking, investing and shopping in ways that mitigate oppression and foster black power. If you find it unfeasible to deposit your money into a black-owned bank simply because they don’t have as many ATM locations as your current bank, if that sacrifice is too much for you, please don’t post a damn thing about how much you want justice. If you can’t find the willingness to change your spending habits to increase power and job creation in your own community, please don’t feign outrage at the next lynching because frankly, you don’t care and on some level you’ve become well-adjusted to it.