Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/further/2020/05/08/be-black-man-america
No matter how hard I try, I cannot begin to fathom what is must be like to be a black in the USA. All I know is that the USA was founded on genocide and slavery since the beginning and blacks have been treated the same since then. The plantations have been supplanted by ghettos, but slavery is still a big part of this insane country.
One Professor that studied racial relations in the USA tried to elucidate on what it was like being black in a radio interview I listened to. She mentioned how the differences in how they must act with everyday mundane activities that other people took for granted so as to not put themselves in a position to be shot.
Jogging in a white neighborhood? If you are black you are a suspect and a threat. Walking with hands in your pocket. If you are black you are a suspect and a threat. Looking at a BB gun on a shelf in a Walmart store? If you are black you are deemed a suspect and a threat. A black kid playing with a toy gun in a park. You are immediately a suspect and a threat.
Now I am white and do or have did all of these things on a daily basis and have never felt I risked being deemed a threat or suspected of a crime if I did so. That thought never crossed my mind. To live a life where you always have to worry about such things is very hard to imagine. We can empathize and try and understand it but as white people it pretty hard to ever KNOW exactly what it like.
Your comment and this latest lynching of yet another black human being, Ahmaud Arbery, and the desire to witness this persistent disease of US America–racism–with an eye on re-imagining a new, better, humane world, I post a vignette from, Prison Notes by Neil J. Smith:
I would like to close out Prison Notes with two observations I believe reveal deep structural insecurities in our society generally, and prison in particular. I’ve deleted, for the most part, revealing races and ethnicities of individuals till now for the sound reason that it speaks little of the people, and says nothing of the common culture that otherwise goes lost in translation. In these two closing tales, however, I shall have to reveal both races and class, hopefully to effect.
A number of years back I encountered a Black couple, in the prime of life, from the higher rung of the social ladder. They were refined and had reached, in their struggle to attain to the American Dream, the high station in society on which they’d cast their gaze. They were obviously well off, to say the least. The father was an anesthesiologist and she, the mother, was an administrative officer of a computer firm. They would often come in from different directions —he from an operation theater and she from an executive meeting— in new Mercedes Benzes. She was always fashionably made, her clothes were never off the rack but from Lord & Taylors, Christian Dior and Coco Chanel. By the same taken, he was one of the most elegantly attired men I’d ever encountered. His shirts were of silk, his suits tailor made, and his shoes imports from Italy. They always presented themselves with grace, style, sophistication and culture. Every one was taken by them, including the CO’s who generally looked down on visitors but these two intimidated by their poise and self confidence. They were impressive. She could be aloof and disdained being there. She was not there to socialize or bear fools. The CO’s, as far as she was concerned were a rude interruption in her day. As for the other visitors, she did not seem to notice that they were caught in similar a prediciment as they. She was strictly here on account of her son and not to fraternize. She would mostly remain at work in her car until their number was called and her husband summoned her.
He was, by far, the more approachable of the two. And over a period of time we began to talk. He was born after WW2 in the deep south, the Carolinas, of dirt poor farmers during the Jim Crow era and burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. He was determined to find a way out of the wretched hole in which his family barely eked out a living. He was bright and clever enough to gain scholarships through his Church and other Civic Organizations. He was eventually able to abandon the South and head north for New York City where he met his future wife at City College. She was from a lower working class family in Jamaica Queens and wanted to rid herself of the odious grime of the Inner City streets and leave behind the riff-raff, the wanna bees, the never was, druggies, and doo-rag wearing Gang-stars: a place in her past life she loathed to return but where her son had dragged her non-the-less, presenting her with a host of difficulties. No matter, she would bear up under it (after many nights of crying herself to sleep) and be there for him, attend to him, his needs, his base necessities —all that prison would permit— and, as his mother, succor him.
Together they (he and his wife) hatched a plan to become, if not wealthy, then financially well off. They continued with their studies, him going on to medical school and she to business school and, he assured me, “It was not easy.” They fulfilled their dream, reached their destiny, and he became an anesthesiologist and she an administrative officer. They married, became well off, invested smartly and, in due course, were able to purchase a home in Hyde Park where they carved out a niche for themselves among the nouveau riche. They had two children, a boy and a girl, both educated at the best of schools. The daughter, the elder of the two, was currently at Howard University, and the son in prison at Greene Correctional facility.
He also regaled me with tails of his youth and long days of toil as a sharecropper. “It was a burden off my shoulder to finally graduated and be accepted in the medical field. I was relieved to know I shall never have to till the ground again.” He was a proud man and perhaps had every reason to be.
My curiosity grew over time and I was compelled to ask, “Coming from such a background how did your son end up here?”
He sucked in his breath, as if to gird himself up, and said through his teeth, “I asked my son the very same question once and he told me, ‘I don’t want what you have!’ I was devastated. Till then I’d though of myself as a good father, a worthy father. A good role model. You can’t begin to imagine the hurt I felt; the guilt; the wound to my pride. It had taken me and my wife a lifetime of effort to attain the success we have and he had the bold-faced nerve to tell me that all we fought for over the years meant nothing to him —and that’s why his sister doesn’t visit.”
I curiously asked, “How is he now with that?”
“I’m uneasy with the answer because I’m uncertain,” he solemnly replied. “I’ve dared not repeat the question. I don’t even know for sure who we’ll be receiving back into our home once he’s released.”
There followed a terminal silence.
I never got to ask, Why his son was incarcerated.
Cute little antidote but the last sentence nails the point of this entire discussion. “WHY was this man’s son incarcerated?”
It is not just African Americans and Hispanics who are incarcerated at rates much higher than their population. Native Americans are incarcerated at a rate 38% higher than the national average. At various times in American history, our jails were filled with Irish, Italians, Polish, Chinese and what ever other ethnic group this country determined was at the bottom of the food chain for that era.
The history of our policing system has everything to do with who ends up in prison. Police in colonial times functioned as county clerks and “sealed weights and measures, surveyed land, announced marriages, and executed all warrants.” By the 1700’s, they had become a slave patrol and since the 1800’s, police duties can be easily traced along the ebb and flow of political pressures as well as social [issues].
Crime is not universal and what is legal in one region might be illegal in another. But our country drafts laws for the express purpose of creating criminals. When our Supreme Court re-defined bribery last year, they did so to exonerating criminals. The clearest evidence of legislative effect is Joe Biden’s 1986 Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which contained a 100 to 1 rule and sent young people with brown skin to prison for 20 years while Biden’s own son and the sons of the men who voted that Act into law, received drug treatment for using the same drug, in a different form. #MyWhitePrivilege underscores this point; it is not the act, but the color of the skin of the person committing the act that determines whether the act is punished. 50 years into the study of criminology, we know that young people grow up and stop doing stupid stuff… unless we interfere. When we punish them and place them in detention, we create professional criminals. We know this and yet we still handcuff and arrest a 6 year old girl for having a tantrum in class. We charge a 10 year old Black boy with assault and subject him to the court system for playing dodge ball during gym class. Why do we do this? Because certain behaviors by people of a particular racial or economic class, make us feel uncomfortable and our police department exists to to take these people off the street.
Why was this man’s son incarcerated? The answer is obvious. Skin color. Even if he took the life of another, (affluenza), he went to jail because of his skin color. Skin color is the ONLY reason he went to prison and it is the ONLY reason Ahmaud Arbery is dead.