My decision to participate in Ferguson October was spur of the moment. I did not plan to attend, but my partner and her roommate convinced me to go. My interconnected multiple selves — black man, job-seeking graduate student, and activist committed to social justice — waged a battle for my conscience and time. My multiple deadlines and obligations as a graduate student made such a trip inconvenient. Yet, I recalled my reaction to the George Zimmerman verdict. I remembered crying to express my helplessness and grief. I told myself that night, I would not be caught on the sidelines in the fight for racial justice again. I promised that I would do anything in my power to be present the next time, because, unfortunately, I knew there would be a next time.
With the events of the past months, and as Austin McCoy discussed here on Nursing Clio last week, it should be clear that white privilege is still alive and well in the United States. Despite the optimism following President Obama’s election six years ago, and the Republican Party’s tweets, we do not yet live in a society where the color of your skin doesn’t matter. To make matters worse, while the discussion should be about how best to fix the problems of racial injustice and economic oppression in the United States, substantial numbers of people refuse to even accept that it’s a problem. They prefer to believe that those who suffer from systemic poverty, police violence, and a biased justice system get only what they’ve earned by being lazy, or breaking the law, or acting badly.
“It would be grossly unfair to omit recognition of a minority of whites who genuinely want authentic equality…But they are balanced at the other end of the pole by the unregenerate segregationists who have declared that democracy is not worth having if it involves equality. The great majority of Americans are suspended between these opposing attitudes. They are uneasy with injustice but unwilling yet to pay a significant price to eradicate it.” In the wake of Michael Brown’s killing and the Ferguson uprising, I am reminded of these passages written by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Lyndon Johnson’s National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, commonly known as the Kerner Commission. Both quotes reflect hard truths about the history of black uprisings in the U.S.—they are not the products of criminality or pathology; they are responses to longstanding grievances against racial and economic inequality. And in light of the Ferguson uprising, we should all take note of one argument advanced by Dr. King and the commissioners: America refuses to acknowledge how generations of structural racism have created the conditions for black rebellions.
Recently, a Canadian fertility clinic made the news because it refused to allow a white client to be impregnated with sperm from a donor of color. The clinic director told the media, “I’m not sure that we should be creating rainbow families just because some single woman decides that that’s what she wants.”
When I first read this, I felt offended. Personally. My husband and I are different races, and our kids are bi-racial. I guess I had never proclaimed us a “rainbow family,” but ok. The clinic’s decision to avoid creating bi-racial children seemed like a judgment on my family. Like, my family’s not terrible or anything, but as a society we wouldn’t want to go making extra families like mine if we can stick to normal, uni-racial families. Am I a bad mother because I ignored race when I chose my spouse? Would it have been more responsible of me to have my kids with a white father?
Renisha McBride’s death once again reveals how the criminalization and dehumanization of black youth and the violent policing of black bodies persists in spite of triumphant declarations of post-racial America. On November 2, nineteen-year-old Renisha McBride became the latest African American to die because someone perceived her presence as a threat. That night, McBride was involved in a car accident with a parked car in Detroit. Two hours later, she was shot dead in the face at a house in Dearborn Heights. McBride’s parents claim she was looking for help. The homeowner thought she was trying to break into his home, and his gun discharged accidentally.
The community in which I live held a march in memory of Trayvon Martin two weeks ago. It seemed so dated, in a way. In this 24-hour news cycle that we live in, it feels like forever ago since Trayvon Martin was shot and killed on February 26, 2012. It seems like ages since the jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of his death this past July. Yet the killing of Trayvon Martin continues to haunt me, as it probably does the people who joined the march. The news cycle has moved on, but the issues that Trayvon Martin’s death brought to the forefront have not. When I first heard about Trayvon Martin’s death, it made me fear for my son. That fear has not gone away in the last two months. It will probably never go away.
Rap superstar Jay Z and CNN news anchor Don Lemon added some extra hot sauce to the “conversation about race” in the wake of one of the “hottest” and racially-charged summers in recent memory. In a July 24 interview with journalist Elliot Wilson, Jay Z responded to a series of comments that Harry Belafonte made about Jay Z, Beyoncé, and other black celebrities in an interview last year. When asked to respond to Belafonte’s lamentation about current black celebrities’ inability or unwillingness to use their fame to advocate for social change, Jay Z shot back: “I’m offended by that because first of all, and this is going to sound arrogant, but my presence is charity. Just who I am. Just like Obama’s is. Obama provides hope…”
I cannot bring myself to write Sunday Morning Medicine. Not today. Like many of you, I am heartbroken over the George Zimmerman verdict. My heart aches, not only for Trayvon’s family, but for every young black man in this country. I find myself feeling helpless, enraged, and at a complete loss for words.
During this week’s oral arguments on California’s Prop 8, Justice Samuel Alito questioned whether the court could take a stand on gay marriage, which, he claimed, was “newer than cell phones or the internet.” Questionable logic aside, Alito’s insistence that wariness represents the appropriate response to any sort of “new” arrangement of sexual politics attracted… Read more →