...Negroes have illuminated imperfections
in the democratic
structure that were formerly only dimply
perceived, and have
forced a concerned re-examination of the
true meaning of
American democracy. As a consequence of
the vigorous Negro
protest, the whole nation has for a
decade probed more
searchingly the essential nature of
democracy, both economic
and political. By taking to the streets
and there giving practical
lessons in democracy and its defaults,
decisively influenced white thought.
Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. “Where Do
We Go From Here?”
wants to heal.
than a month since the shooting of a Jacob Blake, a Black resident of
Kenosha, by Rusten Sheskey, a white police officer, the town is
appealing to Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters and supporters to
settle down. Let Kenosha heal!
Clear the streets!
Blake’s father and BLM, however, are calling for systemic
change in the way police and
not just the Kenosha police, but also law enforcement across the
country, treat Black citizens. America’s core “left”
is its kidnapped and enslaved, disenfranchised and lynched, despised
and criminalized Black population. Historically insisting on the
pursuit of democracy in the face of terrorism and fascism, Black
Americans have worn resistance like a skin.
has long maintained some form of enslavement for its Black citizens,
if not in the labor market after Reconstruction, then in its policies
and laws which incarcerate a disproportionate number of Black
Americans. And since the lynching of the first Black, America has
resorted to the use of dynamite, ropes, and bullets to terrorize
Kenosha wants to heal.
so the narrative on the streets, away from the action, is that the
unfortunate incident has been a bit of an inconvenience. The talk,
low but firm, is about “curfews,” and fewer profits
because store hours are short, and white citizens are driving around
in search of “safe” spaces to eat or shop. It would seem
that soft cultural events aside, more than neighbors cutting hair and
cooking food is required to effect systemic change.
that means that no effort will be exerted on the part of the white
citizen of Kenosha to recognize injustice and inequality. Flags drape
poles on most front lawns in Kenosha. Lincoln sits at the entrance of
Library Park. And there are churches - Protestant, Catholic,
evangelical churches. And Christians to fill the pews. Yet, the
nation’s most committed advocates for freedom are still, in the
minds of most white citizens in this town, the “them” in
the “us” vs. “them” narrative. So many
Americans find safety in this space where they reside as the “us”
in requiring protection from
the “them.” In
short, protection from
reality, as Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. has noted, there are no
“outsiders” when, because of technological advances, “all
inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors.” America is America
and Kenosha is a part of that grand narrative that drives America
toward its “manifest destiny.”
an understanding of systemic racism, and the prevalence of white
supremacy, Kenosha seeks a return to a time before August 23, 2020,
the day Sheskey, represented the conqueror, the plantation militia,
the Frontiersmen, the Rambo - all wrapped up in one gunslinger taking
out the enemy. Seven shots in the back!
wants to go back to before this day as if the kidnapping, enslaving,
raping, terrorizing, lynching, shooting of Black people happened just
once, on one day.
But the lack of logic calls Kenosha home to a safe space where it
doesn’t have to think on its own history of violence. How did
Europe and America amass a fortune? How much did Europe and America
from Africa, India, the Caribbean, South America, China, Indonesia?
white Kenosha is free to move about town, make a profit and a living
too while its Black population appeases and smiles, pretending it’s
all some big misunderstanding between the races. Nothing serious.
Nothing a neighborhood cook-out won’t solve. And the protesters
are to return home, leaving the movement for systemic change to the
“community” of established leaders?
elephant in the room is that white “agitator,” the
saw the image of an assault rifle the other day, a tattoo on the arm
of a cable guy. Matter-of-fact. An average guy. No “outsider.”
the ground,” I have yet to hear anyone voice empathy for Jacob
Blake. For George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Any unarmed Black shot by
police. There is something already within
the town of Kenosha, something within
its white population that draws it toward the perception that Blacks
deserve what law enforcement dishes out. It’s not just an
anti-Black sentiment but also an anti-human philosophy that isn’t
out there alone.
so far from the thinking of Socrates. Sojourner Truth. Niebuhr. Dr.
Martin L. King, Jr. So far away from what the man Jesus professed.
September 10, 2020, the Kenosha Public Library is featuring a program
on the exploits of P. T. Barnum. I’m sure this program aims to
inform the children of Kenosha - about something. The “weirdness”
Weird America Goes Viral! P. T. Barnum, America’s Premier
Purveyor of Humbug.” That’s the title of the problem, and
only a few words describe the entertainer as a man, not just the
possessor of an “entrepreneurial” spirit of a showman. He
also exploited “unfortunate human specimens,”
“specimens?” such as Tom Thumb and “outright hoaxes
like the Fiji Mermaid.” Such “crusades” and “gaffs”
mark “Barnum’s colorful career.”
my! Sounds like fun, but then, no, not really. I, the reader of this
little teaser on the Kenosha Public Library website, am Black. Ah,
“there’s the rub,” to quote Hamlet. I could have
children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews as patrons of the library,
and I would want those young people, subject to enough humiliation
because of their race, I would want these children to know that
Barnum exploited Black people?! There’s nothing of the humbug
about the exploitation of human beings by other human beings. It’s
a tragedy this nation has yet to confront!
according to Harriet A. Washington, the author of Medical
Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black
Americans from Colonial to Present, “grew
rich by exploiting his era’s culture of racial subjugation and
enslavement for his own gain.” Barnum’s purchase
of an 80-year old Black woman,
Joice Heth, to display in his show, is what “catapulted him to
fame and wealth.”
an opportunity for the library to take the lead and teach,
enlightened, without fear, relinquishing the false idea that a “safe”
space protects one from reality. In that “safe” space
resides the reality of an inescapable commitment not to social
justice but instead to the violence of white supremacy.
would anyone commit to the narrative practice of omission, removing
the truth about the origins of violence in the nation and
substituting that truth with characterizations of Black women as
“Jezebels” or “welfare queens”? Why would
anyone think it isn’t a violence to see a “criminal”
in my son jogging, or my nephew walking, or my husband driving, or my
father selling loose cigarettes?
it matters that the truth isn’t
the goal of those who just want to heal.
White supremacy looks normal
when the collective mindset of white America controls the narrative.
will Black lives matter in Kenosha? As long as Kenosha prioritizes
rather than systemic
change, it will be a good long while.
change won’t come about easily.