Black America is in a constant state of grief and mourning these recent days, months, years. The state-sanctioned violence perpetrated on black youth by the police, prosecutors and judges is utterly demoralizing. Black youth are being killed in such a rapid manner that the occurrences are becoming routine and predictable. In many of the cases where policemen kill unarmed black men and boys prosecutors bring weak indictments or they don’t indict at all. Judges dismiss bench trials arbitrarily. We complain, we protest, we sign petitions, we cajole, we pray, we forgive, all to no avail – all expressions of our suffering fall on the deaf ears and cold hearts of those with the power to act to relieve our torment.
“I’m beginning to hate white people” writes Debra on her Facebook page. Facebook personal pages are littered with black misery at the current state of affairs. I myself view white people wholly differently then I did a few years back. Then I viewed white people as the individuals each are, but now I view them all with a certain suspicion. I suspect them of being prejudiced or aiding other biased white people by remaining silent when they hear them express racial hatred.
This reassessment is going on in the minds of the 40 million. A friend of mine, a mild-mannered gentlemen, an artist, told me that he was considering arming himself so as not to be caught unable to defend himself when the time came – not if the time came.
Black people are expressing all kinds of changed attitudes towards white people. We are disappointed by the silence of the white masses. We are frustrated by the inaction of white politicians. We are furious with the duplicity of the judicial system. What are we to do? Vote. Vote those out who fail to attend to our very serious condition. But even that will be difficult when they are piling up, state by state, legislation to hinder our participation in the political process.
Where do we go from here? We are at a crossroads.
At my YMCA, the one I have written about here before, where the old white folks gather at a table to reaffirm each others’ Fox News-generated opinions on the conditions of America, last week one of them inserted himself into a conversation I was having with a young Hispanic man in the steam room. We were discussing New York City’s proposed relaxation of the rules on public urination. This man, who sat to my left, inserted in a rather angry tone: “They ought to bring them all to de Blasio’s house and let them piss there.”
The young Spanish man on my right looked stunned by the man’s angry tone. I told the young man that I had read an article in The New York Times about the change in policy and that it had been proposed in an effort to decrease the number of times the police come in contact with the public in incidences that often escalate to major confrontations.
“That’s BS,” the white man asserted. “They’re afraid to make black people mad.”
I recognized what was happening here. This conversation was taking place a week after the Confederate flag came down in South Carolina order to, in the view of many whites, accommodate black people, and this man was angry about it. I tried to talk to the young Hispanic man further, but he had turned his head towards the wall to indicate that he was out of this conversation, fear emanating from his body.
From here on in it would be me and this old angry white man. I have a technique I use in debates, especially debates with old angry white men, and that is to remain tranquil, smile, stay transcendentally serene, declare only verifiable facts, and go for the jugular. I, too, am an old man, but I’m black and, yes, angry. But my anger has merit, you’ll agree.
Now there are those of you who will point out that the man I speak about thinks that his anger has merit too. To you I say this: This man does not even know that he is expressing himself in anger, so numb is he to reality, so eager is he to escape his guilt, so blind is he to his privileges. So protective is he of his whiteness.
Anyway, he asserted that Dylann Roof, the South Carolina church gunman, is crazy and not racist. I countered that anyone who takes an innocent life is crazy but that Dylann Roof’s murderous spree was spurred on by his racism – he was both crazy and racist. Another of the man’s assertions was that black people hadn’t taken advantage of the opportunity we had after slavery, and that’s why we’re where we’re at today. I told him that after slavery came a blotched effort of reconstruction that ended with the “birth of a nation” and the KKK, then Jim Crow, and after Jim Crow redlining, the installment of hidden institutionalized inequalities, and now the precursor to genocide.
He once more: That he will not sacrifice his hard-earned security to aid black people. My retort: We don’t want you to; fact is you’ve got nothing (more them me, he shot in), you’re just a tool used by the wealthy rulers to buffer themselves from the underprivileged blacks. They give you white privileges to create the illusion that you are being dealt with fairly when the truth is that you are handcuffed to the outside of my cell thinking that you are better off.
The Spanish guy got up and left. He didn’t wish me a pleasant day as he usually does because he didn’t want to seem partial by not wishing the same to the angry white man.
I relate this story to suggest that there is anger in the air surrounding many white folks and there is uncertainty in the black sphere. As we push for justice, many white folks feel that what we pursue is to overreach parity and they become further estranged from us. We, on the other hand, see that there is nothing what will stop the killing of our youth and we have but the one option not yet tried. We are at the crossroads.