A crazy way to live

I don’t really have anything new or constructive to say on the subject of violence against men of color, except that I am getting weary of hearing about young boys being violently assaulted because of their race. February 5th would have been Trayvon Martin’s 19th birthday, and it’s almost exactly two years of the anniversary of his death. Boys and men of color are so often victims of both extrajudicial violence for existing the way they were born.

Following Martin’s murder, a chain e-mail claiming that the media was not accurately representing his appearance, and that he was in fact a tall, muscular, tattooed black man made the internet rounds. Not only was it a photograph of rapper The Game and not Martin, those perpetuating this rumor seemed unable to comprehend that the mere fact of being black, tattooed, tall, and muscular and male does not make you any less of a human, and certainly does not justify someone murdering you in cold blood.

Last month, Darrin Manning, a 16-year old black boy from Philadelphia, was assaulted so violently during a stop-and-frisk search that his genitals were torn, simply because he had the audacity to be out in public as a black, male human.

Young black men being physically assaulted in America is unfortunately nothing new, from slavery to Reconstruction, the Civil Rights Movement, and today. Sean Bell and Oscar Grant both lost their lives for having the audacity to exist as black men, and Joseph Hines was brutally beaten by law enforcement. Michael Dunn  shot 17-year old Jordan Davis to death for playing his music loudly.

I also don’t mean to suggest that only black boys and men in America are victims of gender and race-based violence. In 2007, excessive force by police officers lead to the fatal shooting Michael Cho in Southern California. Nido Tania, a 20-year old Indian man recently lost his life, sparking protests across India about the treatment of the indigenous of India’s northeast. Minority women and girls are also no strangers to physical violence. But specific targeting of black boys and men because of their race and gender is, as Olivia A. Cole recently wrote on her blog, indicative of the larger way in which black men and boys in America are perceived:

White supremacist culture dictates who and who does not get to be human. In order for people of color to receive a Human Card, they must assimilate: they must not use slang. They must be quiet. They must not wear hoodies. They must not curse. They must be gracious at all times. They must enunciate. They must not talk about racism. They must not listen to rap music. They must not sag. They must not brag. They must not laugh in public. They must not take up more than one seat on the bus. They must not ever ask for more.

Even if you do all these things, it’s still no guarantee that your life will be valued. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be viewed as a threat. It’s an unfair and dehumanizing burden to place on anybody; to make them shrink and diminish themselves to make others feel more at ease over perceived danger.  In the words of the illustrious Questlove, “that is a crazy way to live.”


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