As an avowed Neo-Marxist, I’m used to my opinions not being taken seriously. I’m often met with polite explanations that my “ideas are good” but would “never work in real life.” I’m sometimes met with laughter and outright derision. So I do not take it lightly, nor do I expect any kind of widespread approval, when I say that the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown did not outrage me. Did it sadden me? Deeply. Did it scare me? Definitely. But outrage requires shock, and I’m past the point where I expect justice …
As an avowed Neo-Marxist, I’m used to my opinions not being taken seriously. I’m often met with polite explanations that my “ideas are good” but would “never work in real life.” I’m sometimes met with laughter and outright derision. So I do not take it lightly, nor do I expect any kind of widespread approval, when I say that the decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson for the shooting of Michael Brown did not outrage me.
Did it sadden me? Deeply. Did it scare me? Definitely. But outrage requires shock, and I’m past the point where I expect justice for the shooting of an unarmed black man. In 1991 Rodney King was savagely beaten on camera by several police officers, the city he lived in rioted, and nothing happened to the officers. In 2012 Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watchman, and nothing happened. Now Michael Brown is killed in Ferguson, the city he lived in rioted, and nothing happened to the officer involved. The worst thing about it is that these are not unusual cases. They are statistics, and we occasionally give a few of them national attention.
This kind of thing makes me tired. I’m not that old yet, only pushing 20, but I’m already tired. I spend the time that I’m not at Wesleyan University at home in Houston, one of the places where this kind of killing is most prevalent. It is not an uncommon occurrence, and I know I could easily be next. Going to a fancy liberal-arts school won’t protect me when I’m staring down the barrel of a policeman’s pistol. I still have in my ears the words of my black mother, who tells me to be careful every night I leave the house, because “you’re not white, and your white friends can’t protect you.” I’ve memorized the warning I get from my white father, guilt and fear in his eyes, each time I tell him I’ll be out late: “If you’re stopped, keep your hands on the wheel. Tell him you’re going to call us. Explain everything you are doing as you do it. No sudden moves.” I know that this is the same warning I’ll someday have to give my son when he leaves the house each night, and I’m still coming to terms with that.
I don’t like to be told how to feel. I don’t like to be made to feel like an outsider because I don’t feel the same call to action that a lot of people do. New York City organizer Tahira Pratt wrote on Facebook that she’s tired of liberal white and non-black people of color “using these moments of black murder and injustice as times to say … we need a sustained [movement] to end racial injustice … [b]ut then … be ghost and crickets a month after the rallies die down.” The hashtag #blacklivesmatter is a helpful tool for compiling the accounts of resistance to this horrendous tragedy, but it’s quickly become an inane way for non-black liberals to simultaneously show off their compassion and demonize those who don’t have the same passion for their cause du jour.
In recent weeks dozens of diatribes have appeared on Facebook that, to me, say so much more about the people writing them than they do about the situation itself. Pratt goes on to ask, “Have you actually talked to black people about how we are feeling during these times? Are you just pressuring us to hit the streets with you to lend cred to your cries?” I know for a fact that I’m a lot of people’s only black friend, and not one person has asked me how I feel about this. I’ve already said I haven’t been around long, but I’ve already noticed the pattern myself. I appreciate the solidarity, but when you retreat back into your own struggles, I’m still going to be here, and people who look just like me are still going to get shot by the hundreds.
I’ll quote Pratt one more time: She says that “Sometimes mass mobilizations works. But we keep doing it to protest police brutality and legal injustice again black people, and shit actually seems to get worse. [For example,] [t]he proposed bill to stop the sale of military equipment to police precincts [across] the country just stalled and died yesterday.” These valorizations of black victims as the front lines of protest against an unjust system leave the roots of the problem untouched. The game is rigged. The system pushes black people until we snap, then calls us “animals” for being angry.
And we play into it every time. We can build something for ourselves, but they will burn it down like Black Wall Street. We can beat them at their own game, but they will call the president a socialist and assault Professor Henry Louis Gates in his own home. We can lash out, but then they twist the narrative so that we’re the ones who are out of control. Until the rules of the game are changed, we’ll never have a fair shot at winning, or even being competitive. In my opinion, this type of discrimination has its roots in class inequalities and the capitalist construction of race in early American history, but even if you don’t agree, that discussion needs to be had, and it simply isn’t.
I’m tired of being ostracized for choosing to focus on the bigger picture here. The day after the decision not to indict Darren Wilson, it was suggested that people wear black out of respect. I didn’t, and when I went to Wesleyan’s USDAN cafeteria facility for lunch, I saw black-clad protestors holding signs with the #blacklivesmatter hashtag. I felt their eyes on me, noticing that I wasn’t conforming to their mode of protest, and instead of getting the usual greeting from the ones I knew, I was met with confused and upset stares. Do you really think I’m on the other side? Do you really believe I think Mike Brown should have been shot? I’ve been discriminated against, belittled, and assaulted for the color of my skin, and I’m still not “down” enough with the cause for these people. I live in the kind of place where the cops actually do the killing, and I’m still not black enough to garner your mutual respect on a difference of opinion. Once again, I’d be outraged, but that would require surprise. This is the same kind of pressure that I and many who aren’t part of the approved black-experience narrative face every day.
Recently I was having a conversation with one of my best friends, who’d made a Facebook photo album called “Browsing Facebook,” filled with a litany of unflattering pictures of himself logged on to Facebook, to lampoon the fact that this aspect of people’s lives (one in which they all undoubtedly partake) is never documented. When posting the album he used the hashtag #blacklivesmatter to mock the hashtag’s use as merely a way for people to garner attention. This turned out to be a very controversial choice, garnering dozens of “likes” as well as comments condemning his apparent flippancy. At least two people “defriended” him altogether. While you may or may not agree with what he did, what was interesting to note was that not a single black person was involved, on either side, besides me. (I took many of the pictures for the album, I am in one of the pictures, and when he asked me if the hashtag was going too far, I told him to do what he wanted, but that I didn’t care.) To all the people who posted that hashtag, and to all the people who got outraged on my behalf: Thanks, but I got this. I outlined earlier in this blog post why I’m not 100-percent comfortable with you co-opting our movement (as surface-level as that co-opting is) in order to lend credence to your own sense of moral outrage coupled with vainglorious self-promotion, and neither I nor any black person gave you the license to form a mob against what was, in this case, satire.
That friend told me I should write this blog post. I told him that it might make me the most hated black person on campus. He told me he was already the most hated white person in his immediate vicinity. I think that that is where he and I part mentally. While I applaud him for sticking to his principles, there is a major difference. There is no white community at Wesleyan (that just is Wesleyan), but there is a small black one, and as at-the-fringes as I already am, I anticipate something like this pushing me all the way out, and I’m running out of options. White people are often made uncomfortable by my brand of black militancy, and because it isn’t what black people want to hear either, they aren’t into it, so I’ve resigned myself to being adrift. If that weren’t the case after this, then I really would be surprised.