As we mourn the death of George Floyd, whose life was brutally taken by a white police officer in Minneapolis, let us reflect on something Teju Cole wrote a few days after another black man, Michael Brown, was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, back in 2014.
The piece, titled “Black Body: Rereading James Baldwin’s ‘Stranger in the Village,” was published in The New Yorker and contemplates the disposability of black lives and bodies.
The final paragraphs remain as hauntingly true today as there were in the wake of Brown’s killing.
This fantasy about the disposability of black life is a constant in American history. It takes a while to understand that this disposability continues. It takes whites a while to understand it; it takes non-black people of color a while to understand it; and it takes some blacks, whether they’ve always lived in the U.S. or are latecomers like myself, weaned elsewhere on other struggles, a while to understand it. American racism has many moving parts, and has had enough centuries in which to evolve an impressive camouflage. It can hoard its malice in great stillness for a long time, all the while pretending to look the other way. Like misogyny, it is atmospheric. You don’t see it at first. But understanding comes.
“People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.” The news of the day (old news, but raw as a fresh wound) is that black American life is disposable from the point of view of policing, sentencing, economic policy, and countless terrifying forms of disregard. There is a vivid performance of innocence, but there’s no actual innocence left. The moral ledger remains so far in the negative that we can’t even get started on the question of reparations.
Go here to read more.
Also see Cole’s post on his public Facebook account acknowledging how “tired, distressed, and sad” many feel in the black community. He also reminds white allies to show the right kind of support.
Every black person I talked to yesterday sounded so bruised.
These are things we’ve seen before. But somehow, this…
Post image by Lorie Shaull via Flickr.