Monday, July 29, 2013

Listening to Black America

I have been wanting to write something since the Zimmerman verdict came down.  Wanting to write about why these cycles of extrajudicial killing and judicial legitimization keep happening, why the national "we" (as opposed to most of you) keep being shocked by them, why we keep demanding "justice" through the criminal courts while knowing that those courts exist to perpetuate injustice.  Mostly wanting to write about how it can possibly be that a majority of whites (nearly 60%, according to a NBC/Wall Street Journal poll) believe that we have achieved a "color-blind" society - or more precisely, that "America is a nation where people are not judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

I've been wanting to write about the protest movements that so predictably rise up around these killings and how and why they fail to demand or deliver real change.  About what it will take for the whole country to become North Carolina, with its "Moral Mondays" -- weekly civil disobedience actions by a multiracial coalition at the state Capitol.

But when I sit down, I put my hands on the keyboard and nothing comes out.  I finally realized, my hands might be telling me that this is a good time for well-intentioned white people to shut up and listen to what Black people are saying.

Here are two of my favorite things I've read in the last couple weeks.  I would love to see yours.
The eerie intersection of Trayvon Martin and Fruitvale Station
By Wesley Morris on July 25, 2013
The collective reaction to the Zimmerman verdict is striking. These protests and demonstrations aren't directed solely at another race, at white people (black people know Zimmerman is also half-Peruvian and that the president is half-white). The outrage is directed at a system that's demonstrably harmful to non-white people. It's the institutions and all they've wrought that people are sick of. We don't yet live in the world the Supreme Court thought we did when it struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act and weakened the case for affirmative action. More than ever, we live in a time of racism without racists, just racist laws, racist policies, and racist ideas.
This is how the writing on Mad Men can be so sagacious and imaginative about life in America for one set of characters and so casually insulting for another — not because its mastermind, Matthew Weiner, is a racist but because auteurist television is capacious and permissive enough to subscribe to the institutions of racism, the racism you sense, the racism you breathe, the racism that makes you turn to your friend and say, "That just happened, right?" There is n-word racism. Then there are the lingering, toxic particles that centuries of n-word racism leave in the air. We all breathe them, but we don't always like to talk about it. So it is heresy to mention that, say, the strategic use of Planet of the Apes in the same Mad Men episode that featured Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination might itself be heretical. It's still hard to talk about negative depictions of race in culture without comments sections and Twitter feeds turning infernal. We're breathing the same air, and yet we're not.
Perceptively, the president picked up on the central frustration with the calls for a national conversation. Lots of people want to talk, but fewer want to listen. This is also how it has always been at the movies and on a lot of television. Hollywood tells the world what life is like for black Americans without black Americans being able to say what life is like for themselves....
Read the rest 

Who Will March for Marissa Alexander?

By Marissa Jackson
I, too, stewed and brewed in the immediate wake of George Zimmerman’s acquittal. I worried a lot, as I always have, about my two burly black younger brothers, knowing that their prestigious college degrees and multicultural groups of friends will not save them should some vigilante feel intimidated by their existence and decide to shoot them to death. I worry about my husband, who speaks mostly French and recently arrived in the United States from a country where blackness is the norm--what would happen to him if he were stopped and frisked? Would he know how to behave, or would he freak out, unintentionally committing suicide-by-cop? But I also felt in my stomach a deep grief for black womanhood, and a jealousy of sorts, that our oppressions will never mean as much as those of our brothers. I felt absolutely browbeaten over the sobering reality that if Trayvon Martin’s life meant nothing, than the lives of my sister and I mean less than nothing--even to members of my own community.

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