Sunday, 31 May 2020

All Eyes On America, All Eyes on Us


Dear Reader,

Before I start. I feel obliged to remind you that this is one person's view on a significant problem in today's society . I urge you not to assume or accept my individual reflections on this issue as a representation for the wildly varied experiences of the millions of people affected personally, emotionally, mentally or physically. Above all else, I strongly caution against the belief that by reading this, you will have gained a comprehensive understanding of this issue. The topic I want to talk about today is what it feels like to be a black person watching as black bodies after black bodies are continually harassed, beaten and gunned down just because of the colour of their skins. This is not a black versus white issue. This is an everyone versus racists issue. 

Skin is the largest human organ. Mine is black. I am black first in everything I do. When I enter a room, my skin speaks before I do. More often than not, it is talked over with a narration that was pre-written by others before my time and forced upon many before me. When it is seen, it is viewed through a lens etched with a key of stereotypical images, caricatures and symbols, used to decode what is is view. A key pre-written by others before my time and forced upon many before me. I am black in everything I do because everything I do is presupposed and narrated as black. Skin is the largest human organ and yes, mine is Black. 

Frantz Fanon (1986) wrote that as a black person you are simultaneously responsible for your body, your race and your ancestors. In my body I feel as black as the sum of everything I have learned, through education and the experiences of my short, but rich, life. How does one feel black or white? Don't you ever feel simply...like you? As a black person, there is a sense that you are constantly fighting against a degenerating sense of 'nobodiness'; tormented between inner fears and outer resentments (Martin Luther King Jr., 1963). My body was blessed to me and my race has been continuously depicted as a burden to me. Growing up in Ireland, I wasn't so much trained to disconnect from my heritage but to be acutely aware of the differences between me and white people so I could compensate for my racial difference. This internalization of inferiority is what Fanon termed epidermalization. When you must be black in relation to the white person. (Fanon, 1952) 

It deeply saddens and angers me to see Martin Luther King Junior's (1963) words and reflections in 'Letter From Birmingham Jail' are strikingly applicable to the events of the last few weeks in America, the general socio-political climate in America and to a lesser extent, the world. It is so painful to watch the news and your social media feeds constantly exposing the tormented lives of millions of black people being smothered in an airtight cage of poverty and institutionalized racism in an affluent society. Etched into my eyes are countless images of black people hanged, drowned, lynched and beaten. My mental reel of violence against the black person plays from grainy black and white footage of police assaults, through to the introduction of colour and all the way to 12MP, 4K Resolution, 60 frames-per-second of an iPhone. No Blacks, No Dogs, No Jews, No Irish. No Blacks. Humanity's technical advancements are so vast and significant and yet it seems we skipped the advancements of human compassion and empathy towards others, be they similar to us or foreign. That they be seen as fellow human beings who breath, think, talk, feel and co-exist on this earth.

Audre Lorde (1981) described racism as the belief in the superiority of one race over another and thus the belief in the right to dominance. Malcolm X claimed hundreds of years ago that white people donned white sheets and bloodhounds to torment the black people. He observed in the 1980s and it remains a striking observance today that they swapped the white sheets for police uniforms and and blood hounds for police dogs but are still doing the same thing. People are hurting, hating and angry. At times like these I find it hard to pacify my own anger and refrain from developing an unconscious bitterness towards others. For me fear and anger are parents of hate. Hatred is the emotion of destruction and anger is the emotion of change (Lorde, 1982). Spending time with my nephew, I dread the day he finds out he is black. He is learning who is is and knows himself to be as he is. But there will come a day when some adult or child, will say something, do something or look someway at him, that'll change the way he sees himself in the mirror. That'll change the way he sees himself in his mind's eye. That'll change the way he sees the world's view of him. A definition of who he is pre-written by others before his time and forced upon many before him. And it will oppose everything he knows about himself and cause an internal conflict I hope he'll not have to battle for too long, if change comes. 

The Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 60's brought about so much change for black people in America and motivated many others around the world to become agents of change. Many prominent black leaders and voices throughout history have attempted to explain the anger festered in oppression. Many years later and millions of people are still explaining. I am not trying to educate you dear reader, nor do I want to. I am far too angry to pacify the rage that threatens against the guard of my lips every time I think of violence against the black person. Anger fed into every time a black person is killed for their colour. All these deaths are permanent reminders that my life as a currency is still seen as less than that of the white man. Black Lives Matter is The Civil Rights Movement of today. 

They say history is written by the victors. Because it is written in history books people might forget, assume or understandably misinterpret it as something that was a more prominent issue of the past. Not that bad today. At this point you might be thinking to yourself, I understand what you are trying to say but we live in Ireland. There is nothing I can do. The probability of me experiencing first hand American police brutality while living in Ireland is quite null. But attitudes and behaviors do not need plane tickets. They have countless audiovisual platforms and sadly many open hearts to root in. A child of 8 or so can bombard you with an honestly impressive string of racial insults on the number 14 bus from Rathgar to Dundrum while their father sits chatting loudly on the phone. Following the white supremacist and neo-nazi Unite The Right rally,  someone extended their right hand and coughed 'white power' into my face  on a sunny afternoon around 4pm on Mespil Road. Direct provision is an institutionalised form of oppression on Irish soil . There are many examples of how the seeds of racism still persist and evolve but I am not trying to educate you. 

In America, police brutality kills more people each year than mass shootings (Gilford's Law Center, 2020). George Floyd's murderer had many previous complaints and had crossed the lines of inhumanity many times. He is not the only person of authority to abuse their position of power and harm those they are meant to protect. And he won't be last. Racism against the black person has its roots in hundreds of years and reaches far into many other cultures. I have absolutely zero faith that it will be eradicated in my lifetime or perhaps more to be more frank, I have absolutely zero faith in you dear reader. I will strive to be a steadfast agent of change and I urge you to be too. Oppression has been institutionalized because it cannot thrive in the open, that was the victory and slap in the face to the Civil Rights Movement. Things have moved behind doors and above heads. It's piggy in the middle with black lives tossed between the hands of institutionalized oppression and naked actions of hatred that go unpunished even when noticed. Below trying to catch the lives being thrown about are the many countless people worldwide in the African Diaspora, like myself, or otherwise who weep in their bedrooms for AiyanaAmaud,Amadou, Atatiana, BothamCliffordCorey, Emmet, Eric,  Ferrell, George, John, Jordan D, Jordan E. Keith, Mike, Oscar, Philando,  Randy, Renisha, Sandra, Sean, Trayvon, Terrence, Yvonne, and so many more.

 To have a "heavy heart" is such an odd phrase. How can a heart be heavy? Now my heart is so heavy it sits in my stomach. Every life lost adds a stone that sinks in lower. It is sad to die, be killed, and limited in such a small world on this big earth. And it is sad to be known around the world having paid a whole lot more than most, for a little bit of time in Twitter's trending list. We must all be agents of change. I am not a religious person but I was raised as one. As such I sometimes fall back onto it in my times of utter loss for words and direction. Sometimes it is the chains that offer me restraint. The balm that attempts to soothe or somewhere I can go to be numb. We need to change the paradigm.  If you are a religious person, simply praying to your God won't help. Pray for the strength and courage to do something, because if you are a messenger of God, then start delivering. 
It is a historical fact that privileged groups rarely give up their privileges voluntarily (MLK, 1963). Individuals may do their best but efforts are fortified in numbers. There is not enough collective action to change the minds, attitudes and hearts especially from those in power and our own neighbors to challenge the powerful system of institutionalized racism and oppression. Language is how we communicate thoughts and actions. We have more ways today of being able to communicate and understand each other. How is it Black people are still being expected and forced to live in monologue rather than dialogue. Franz Fanon (1952) urged people to understand that action does not follow automatically from understanding. Action requires aspiration and desire.

Before I conclude, I'd like to point out an observation. For the past few years, there comes a time once in a while where the world is quiet and through the cracks in the theatrics of the media a significant issue manages to just about slip on the global news stage and claim the limelight for a little while. Race, Gender, LGBTQ+ , World Poverty, Climate, Human Rights etc. It'll spark outrage and outcries for change. When the iPhone and Android antennas bing, bong and pong with new fresh topics, many people forget what it was they were so hot and bothered about. We return to our daily lives because ultimately, we can only do what we can. In her reflections on the 60s, Lorde contends that in each of us is an awareness that we are not being served by the machine that orchestrates crisis. In order to bring about change, she urged that we must all school ourselves to recognize that any attacks on Black people, LGBTQ+, religious groups, is an attack on everyone who recognizes that their interest are not being served by the systems they support (Lorde, 1982).




We are in the middle of a pandemic that has killed millions of people. The whole world has stopped and began to engage in dialogue to pioneer together for a cure. Now everyone talks of a new normal coming out of Covid-19. I'd like to see a new normal in the discourse on racism and the killing of the black innocent because of the colour of their skin. I'd like to see people engaged in dialogue, not monologue, pioneering for equality so no more lives added to the millions of people already dead at the hands of black, gay or religious oppression.


BIBLIOGRAPHY
1) Franz Fanon (1952). Black Skin, White Masks. S.L., Penguin Books, 2019, pp. 82–97.

2) Martin Luther King (1963) Letter from Birmingham Jail. London, Penguin Classics, 2018, pp. 6-9,.

3) Audre Lorde,(1982) Audre Lorde, "Learning From The 60S" •. [online] Blackpast.org. Available at: <https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1982-audre-lorde-learning-60s/> [Accessed 31 May 2020].

4) Audre Lorde, (1981) Audre Lorde, "The Uses Of Anger: Women Responding To Racism" •. [online] Blackpast.org. Available at: <https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/speeches-african-american-history/1981-audre-lorde-uses-anger-women-responding-racism/> [Accessed 31 May 2020].

5) X, Malcolm. “A Summary of Malcolm X Interview with Louis Lomax.” Teaching American History, <teachingamericanhistory.org/library/document/a-summing-up-louis-lomax-interviews-malcolm-x/> [Accessed 31 May 2020].



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