I finished all of the material in the 10-minutes-a-day section recommended by the Justice in June website (https://justiceinjune.org/#10-minutes) and moved on to the first podcast recommended in the 25-minute section yesterday, “A Decade of Watching Black People Die” (https://www.npr.org/2020/05/29/865261916/a-decade-of-watching-black-people-die). Ironically, I got interrupted about 10 minutes into it and didn’t come back to finish it until this morning. Sigh.
It’s a hard listen. Rolling Stone journalist Jamil Smith is the guest speaker and he revisits an article he wrote five years ago wherein he posed the question “What Does Seeing Black Men Die Do For You?” He recounts how graphic videos of Black men being murdered, mostly by white male police officers, get copious amounts of airtime, for a time, and then the next attention grabber comes along and the public’s attention shifts to something else. He draws out how all this footage makes clear the deep racism embedded in policing and puts it on vivid display, essentially fetishizes it, but that thus far, all this visibility hasn’t resulted in any meaningful change or deep reckoning with the issues. (Note: I also just finished watching the 4-ish minute trailer to NPR’s Throughline podcast on the history of policing so I may be conflating the two pieces a little bit, but they are all of a piece so I’m not going to try and reference exactly what goes where – just listen/watch both; https://www.npr.org/2020/07/08/888174033/video-history-of-policing-how-did-we-get-here).
In the latter third of the podcast, Smith reflects in real time, as in present time, about his piece five years ago and he talks about two primary things that he would change or update. First, he notes that his framing of the issue five years ago might have been overly personal, emphasizing whether he or his friends or family would be the next Rodney King. He says now that he wishes he had put all this video footage into the larger historical context of the lynching photographs, of the dissecting of the murdered lynching victims’ bodies so the pieces could become keepsakes for the white murderers. Absolutely. Horrific images of Black people being tortured and murdered by white people have circulated for 100+ years and we’ve known how exceptionally thin the “justifications” were – “so and so looked at a white woman wrong” or “so and so had the temerity to sass back to a white man” or “so and so was scared and ran from the police” so we f*cking had to kill him or her or them.
Many a contemporary white person, me included, has comforted themselves with the idea that we’ve finally come around to believing the Black community that this shit happens all the time because now we have the video footage, now we have the “proof” of these murders of Black and brown people. But we’ve known – we’ve seen the lynching postcards, we’ve known all our lives that Black people are targeted, hunted, by law enforcement, by the keepers and protectors of white supremacy – we’ve known or we’ve allowed ourselves the luxury of willful ignorance. It’s just uncomfortably in our faces now and many of us are finally realizing we can’t live with ourselves if we turn away again (at least for right now – we’ll see if we have the stomach to keep this up long enough to make the changes that need to be made, to give up our white privilege).
The second thing that Smith reflects on at the end of the podcast is how at the time he wrote his article there was only video footage of Black men being killed by police and so he focused only on men. He says now that we all need to question why it is that the violent deaths of Black women and transwomen at the hands of the police and white people are so much less likely to provoke concern and outrage. He allows that some of it may be the lack of video “proof,” but he challenges listeners to consider whether it’s really their woman-ness that makes their deaths less noteworthy and he makes the point that violence against women is so embedded in the fabric of our society that it doesn’t merit much attention or mention at all.
Let’s let this sink in for a minute.
Violence against women is part of this whole f*cked up picture, this whole system that elevates the needs and proclivities of white men above everyone else and that uses violence and the threat of violence to keep everyone else in line, Black and brown people and women alike (and yes, I know, plenty of women are so damn brainwashed that they would sooner align with their white male “protectors” than with people of color even if it means throwing their daughters to the white wolves).
At the end of these NPR podcasts the listener is always taken directly to whatever is currently cued up. Today, fittingly, and as crazy luck would have it, the next thing up when I finished the podcast was a pleasant woman’s voice saying something like “want to know the secret to a long life?” Shit. It’s like she was asking a pseudo-trick question where the answer is “uhm, don’t be born Black”. Best not to be born with two X chromosomes either (or as someone who yearns for two X’s) – your actuarial longevity might look ok, but you’ll almost certainly have to give over much of your personhood.
May we all be safe from state-sanctioned violence.
May we all be willing to root out systemic racism and sexism.
May we honor the strength of those who have survived and thrived despite this oppression.
May we all accept that change, deep change, is necessary.