A couple of weeks ago, in the last
days of 2020, a 14-year-old named Keyon Harrod, Jr., with a cell
phone in his hand, is assaulted by a woman claiming the teen stole
her cell phone. The woman makes a fuss, attracting the attention of
the hotel manager at Arlo Soho in New York, and calling on him to
intervene. The Black,
there, has stolen something from me!
Captured on video is the scuffle,
nonetheless, that has been seen around the world. It’s has gone
viral, as they say. A young white woman and a Black young teenage
male. There’s the boy’s father too. And the white
We learn that an Uber drive arrives
and hands the woman her cell phone. You can imagine what really
Attorney Benjamin Crump is on the
A few days before, on the evening of
the 22nd, Andre Hill is in his garage when police arrive on the
scene. At least one is wearing a body camera. There is Hill on the
ground. That fast! He’s not dead, but he’s not receiving
assistance from the police who move close to the prone man and
surround him. To handcuff him. Andre Hill is Black.
Also on the 20th, Dr. Susan Moore, a
physician, dies. She video taped herself on the 4th, in bed suffering
from COVID-19 after having been diagnosed on November 29th. Dr.
Moore, fifty-two years old, fought to call attention to her symptoms
in hopes of receiving the proper treatment, asking for Remdesivir and
requesting a CT Scan of
her lungs to prove
to the doctors that she, Dr. Moore, knew a little something, you’d
think, about the seriousness of her illness and its progression. In a
message also seen around the world, Dr. Moore declared that no one
took the time to listen to her; instead, she records, the medical
personnel made her feel as if she were “a drug addict.”
Finally, a CT Scan is performed and
it showed “pulmonary infiltrates and inflamed lymph nodes,”
according to The Hill. And
then, Dr. Moore was treated with Remdesivir. And then, despite still
not felling well enough, she is sent home!
There wasn’t much they
could do for her!
“This is how Black people get
killed… When you send them home and they don’t know how
to fight for themselves.”
Because she is Black, one of the
groups of people hardest hit by COVID-19. “I put forth and I
maintain if I was white,” she says into the camera, “I
wouldn’t have to go through that.” But she did! And she
is no longer because what does it matter that Dr. Moore knew what she
was talking about?
On the 4th, Casey Goodson, on his
way home from the dentist, has a sandwich in his hand. Minutes later,
he too, is dead. Shot multiple times and at least three bullets enter
his back. He was twenty-three years old. And Black.
In the year of the COVID-19
Pandemic, 2020, we’ve come to know the names of so many others:
Ahmaud Arbery, shot dead by police on February 23th, Breonna Taylor,
shot dead on March 13th, George Floyd, shot dead on May 25th,
Rayshard Brooks, shot dead June 13th, and Jacob Blake, shot August
23rd and now paralyzed from the waist down.
Anti-blackness, to be sure, didn’t
begin in 2020.
For years, Blacks, lived in a nation
that refused to confront its legacy of racial violence. Black
Americans were told we had better not discuss “racial issues”
in mixed company. Keep that foolishness to yourselves. Within your
communities. At home. We are asked to remember that it was bad for
the immigrant Irish. The Italian. The German.
Black Americans, particularly those
with ancestors who were enslaved and exploited, terrorized, lynched,
and killed for 400 years had to whisper and some thought to keep the
younger generations - more willing to speak out - in check. Go
shopping or pray. Pretend to have a good day and always be humble.
White supremacy working in not so
mysterious ways: Behind the phrase, “racial issues,”
stands the idea of justice and egalitarian thinking and, most
importantly, the practice of systemic (institutionalized) racism.
Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., in his book
Stride Toward Freedom,
writes that confronting systemic injustice is the responsibility of
all citizens in the US. As citizens of the US, “we are caught
in a network of inescapable mutuality.” King continues:
“Therefore, no American can afford to be apathetic about the
problem of racial justice. It is a problem that meets every man at
his front door. The racial problems will be solved in America to the
degree that every American considers himself personally confronted
with it.” The problem of justice is every citizen’s
problem, he adds. It is every citizen’s problem “because
it is America’s problem.”
I’m now in my late sixties,
and Americans can view all these videos pointing out evidence of the
violence that is white supremacy and still be blind. Americans still
need more proof.
The eight minutes and forty-six
seconds of George Floyd being murdered before the eyes of the world -
on video - opened some eyes and ears. White Americans wanted to hear
from Blacks on “racial issues.” They wanted to read Black
Americans expressing what it means being Black in America. Last fall,
one of my doctors, of Italian heritage, wanted to know what it was
like being Black. Now! And now he wants to know. He’s been one
of my doctors since 2015. I read body language, too. Have to. He
really didn’t want to know.
For all of the spectacle on cable
news and elsewhere, all this flurry of new Black hires to “represent”
Blackness, all of the microphones thrust in the faces of young Black
Lives Matter activists, the shooting and killing of Black Americans
went on. Killed, ignored, accused, assaulted, maligned, America went
on being the nation that it is.
And Black Americans have now been
silenced about uttering anything regarding the need to curtail police
violence by designating less money for military-style weaponry and
armory. Police-with-guns are not the ones who should appear at the
door of a resident in need of a wellness check. And
no-knock-warrants? Seriously? That was yet another video, a police
body cam coverage, of a naked middle-aged Black woman, shouting to
the police that she was alone and was on her way to bed. No drug
addict, no anyone else, lives here!
But do they listen? Do they respect
the rights of this woman, standing among a bunch of men, and she has
on no clothes?
All the military apparatus would
make the officers feel like they are in Afghanistan or Iraq. And we
know from video footage that sometimes, with smart-tech, things go
awry or they go the way of an authoritarian regime disguising itself
as if democratic.
In due time, white America will want
to return to “normal.” They won’t talk about
“racial issues,” having burnt out as many are now with
the COVID-19 Pandemic. As the days near the Biden and Harris
inaugural, white America will point to these two, the House of
Representatives, the Senate, Black cabinet members, and just like in
the latter days of Dr. King’s life, insist that something has
been done to appease Black people.
What more can be done?
During the “holidays,” I
viewed a few old videos. One in particular featured a forty-something
Marlon Brando, a guest on the Johnny Carson Show. It’s a rare
interview (a little over 15 minutes) because Brando, many of us will
remember, rarely submitted to being interviewed. But this was a
treat! Brando wasn’t plugging a film or television program or
book. There’s nothing silly here. This is a conversation
between two white men about the state of “racial issues.”
Brando has a message.
At the taping of this May 11, 1968
interview, Dr. King had been dead a little over a month. Brando,
along with other celebrities, including Sammy Davis, Jr., Paul
Newman, Harry Belafonte, and Sidney Poitier, attended the March on
Washington in 1963.
Brando is calm, but firm. He begins
by telling the audience that he gave up an opportunity to work,
again, with director, Elia Kazan. Brando did so because King was
shot. He sat in front of his television set, he said, listening to
the news, wondering, he said, “what it meant to be that he was
dead. And that he died...trying to get a 15% wage increase for
Brando continued to watch the news
reports, including reports that featured Dr. King’s last
speech, the night before. The actor takes the time to paraphrase the
ending of the speech we’ve heard so often in these years since:
I’ve seen the promised
land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight,
that we, as a people, will get to the promised land…
King was shot the next day, Brando
said. “I thought somehow this has got to matter. And if we
don’t all as citizens do something that is a person-to-person
contribution, I don’t think that we’re really going to
have a place to come home to, if we do get jobs.”
Brando said he thought about making
his “time, energy, and money” fully available “to
do whatever I can as an individual to rectify the situation we’re
Johnny Carson offers an observation
rarely heard on cable networks, let alone a “talk” show -
an observation we, nonetheless, have been all too familiar with.
Maybe with Dr. King’s death, people will realize the “terrible”
deed and things will change. Or maybe what is made conscious to all
in that moment is what was to die with Dr. King. So, “maybe
things won’t change.” (And this was late night
television! How far have we fallen!).
“I don’t think they
Brando continues: “I think
that nothing is really going to change unless I do it. Unless the
trombone player does it. Unless the guy sitting in front of his
television with a beer can does something about it.”
He cites a “conservative”
panel, appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, assigned the task of
finding out why Black people “can’t get off their knees.”
The panel publishes a book, states Brando, pointing to the way white
America “feels” or understands or responds to the
presence of Black Americans.
There you have it, Brando said. The
study “points to racism and discrimination in its most subtle
forms and its most cruel and blatant forms.” He doubts, he
adds, if one out of one hundred thousand Americans ever read the
study, available as a paperback.
“It isn’t enough to
talk. It isn’t enough to shake our fingers. We have to do
something. We have to give up our money. We have to give of our time.
We have to give our hearts. Now that King is dead, many people are
thinking of the violence to come.”
Brando said he spoke with Walter
Reuther (labor organizer and justice activist), and the two talked
about the one last chance “white people” have to turn
things around in this country. And “if we don’t do it
soon and if we don’t do it massively,” then expect
Armageddon. It’s going to be guns, thousands of people killed,
Brando stated, and it will be internment camps. “We would have
reduced ourselves as a nation and as a people.”
Brando continues, “the only
thing I could think of was to try and get a program where people
would contribute no less than 1% of their entire year’s
earnings to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC),
which was King’s organization, to further his philosophy, to
further his works, to carry on his good works, in the name of
non-violence and with the help of his beautiful wife, Mrs. King.”
Brando stated that he feared Black
Americans were losing faith in white Americans ever treating them
“equally and fairly.” Time is running out, he adds, and
“I dread to think what’s going to happen.”
Again the host, Carson, offers an
insight most Americans still refuse to acknowledge today. Yet, then,
in 1968, Carson acknowledges what Americans refused to accept. “The
more the other person benefits economically and socially, the more
everyone benefits.” It benefits everyone. The more you help
someone else, Carson said, the more you are helped.
Reuther, Brando said, agreed. It
cost more money, said the labor leadership, to keep Blacks in the
position they are in - at the bottom economically and socially - than
it would to bring everyone up.
And Brando need not have witnessed
the last four years, ten years, twenty. He notes what happens when
people are lied to, when people have become “tired of being
sick and tired.” “If we do nothing, people will become
angrier and angrier.” Tension will follow frustration, and
violence erupts. Black people are promised help and receive none.
White Americans, in the meantime, withdraw. What remains in the
center: “people with guns.”
I don’t know if for Brando or
Carson, the people with guns are Black Americans. As I write this
article, I’m clicking to follow the pro-Trump insurrection of
predominantly white Americans in Washington D. C. Many have guns.
They believe in the Second Amendment, if nothing else. They believe
they have witnessed a fraudulent presidential election of 2020. Trump
is cheering them on in his last days as president. Rioters, a mixed
mob including, Proud Boys, Qanon, Oath Keepers, and MEGA supporters,
climbing the walls of the Capitol Building, have pushed pass law
enforcement and have reached the grounds of the Pavilion. There’s
video! Americans watch other Americans breaching security, walking
onto the National Statuary Hall, and walking themselves into the
offices of the House of Representatives and onto the Senate floor.
Votes were stolen from them! A
victory snatched away!
And why? Too many Black and people
of color organized and voted!
Disenfranchisement of Blacks and
people of color is the goal, even if the rioters never utter the
word. I have heard a number of media commentators ask, what if these
rioters were Mexican immigrants? Or Black Lives Matter activists
calling for justice, as many did, rightly protesting after the
murders of Arbery or Taylor or Floyd?
Those with guns, white Americans,
will be okay, as they take over the Capitol. Those with guns who shot
Jacob Blake, a white American, will be okay, as the justice system
refuses to charge Kenosha police officer Rusten Sheskey of paralyzing
a man he shot seven times in the back.
According to Rep. Linda Sanchez (D),
California, she heard shots fired within the Capitol by the rioters…
“We have one shot in the
barrel,” Brando stated. “Time is running out.”
Brando mentions the need to pass laws that would take time to come to
fruition. In the meantime, Brando received commitments from prominent
celebrities to contribute to SCLC. But even that’s not enough,
We have to ask ourselves, what is it
when white Americans “beat” against Black people? “All
of us have to find out, what is that? Why do we feel that way?
Most “racists,” Brando
explains, and “I don’t mean Wallace” or someone
like that, but ordinary white Americans, don’t know they are
Whatever that is, we have to “root”
I think Dr. Martin L. King would
cheer Brando’s observations. Now, over fifty years later, after
the Kenosha Attorney General ruling, after the January 6th, white-mob
insurrection, how many Americans recognize the American problem is