Our Humanity Is Worth More Than Their Bottom Line

I hadn’t planned on updating this space yet, I’ve had something else in the works but wasn’t ready to release it yet. But in the wake of this disgusting, though unsurprising, decision not to indict Darren Wilson, I had to disrupt my plans.

We all know the stat…every 28 hours a Black person is killed at the hands of police, security, or vigilantes…and apparently, no one is culpable for those deaths except the victims themselves. The media goes to ridiculous lengths to sway public opinion of these Black victims by denigrating their characters — “thug,” “no angel,” “possible gang affiliation,” “alleged drug use,”—while excusing their murderers. Hell, white mass-murderers have gotten better biographical sketches than the many unarmed Black victims.

As we waited these past few days to hear the expected ‘no indictment’ decision, 3 more people* died at the hands of police, none of whom were armed.  In Cleveland, 12-year old Tamir Rice, was shot in the torso outside of a recreation center in the middle of the afternoon after allegedly reaching for a bb gun. Also in Cleveland, 37-year old Tanisha Anderson, a woman whose family called 911 after her needing mental health assistance, was subsequently killed in police custody after they slammed her head against the pavement. In Brooklyn, 28-year old Akai Gurley who was minding his own business walking up the stairs in a housing complex, was shot by a rookie patrol cop who was apparently startled by his presence. (*And I’m sure there are others who I’m presently unaware of.)

Today is Thanksgiving, a bullshit holiday that through the revisionist history utilized to ignore the genocide of indigenous people, now represents their amicable coming together with the pilgrims to share a meal reaped from their “cooperative” harvest. The same holiday that has been further capitalized to make billions of dollars for corporations as they play on our sentimentality to “give thanks” for what we already have, while simultaneously encouraging us to spend all day Friday, and much of Thursday eve, consuming more things than we ever knew we wanted. The irony of all this is that we’ve made it acceptable to essentially riot at store openings, trampling (and killing) each other in the name of materialism, and yet we condemn protests (“riots”) in the name of human rights.

Fake-holiday aside, I do enjoy the opportunity (and privilege) to spend time with my family. A family, that in many ways looked a lot like the Cosby’s [I recognize how unfortunate this metaphor is in light of recent revelations about the man behind the character, but stick with me here]: A highly educated, two-parent household, where I and every one of my sisters engaged in a multitude of unique childhood activities, where we were all afforded a (very high-caliber) college education, where I completed a graduate degree from a “prestigious” university, where almost every one of my aunts, uncles, and cousins have a college degree, where no one has been incarcerated, and where most everyone is employed in excellent jobs, are homeowners, taxpayers, church goers, voters, philanthropists, responsible community members, and the list goes on.

So as I look around this room full of family today, I am truly reminded of all that I have to be thankful for—things that a large segment of our population doesn’t even have to be conscious of:

  • I am thankful that I’ve never had the heartbreak of losing any family or close friends to the type of unjustified, senseless violence in our white supremacist, institutionally racist, society, the way that thousands of others have had to and are painfully reminded of, especially on a day like today
  • I am thankful that we’ve never had one of our unwarranted traffic stops (driving while Black) or unnecessary police encounters (existing while Black) escalate into violence.
  • And, perhaps the thing that I’m most thankful for is that none of us (well-educated, privileged, “respectable” black folk) have fooled ourselves into a false sense of security thinking that any of those above mentioned characteristics will save us from state sanctioned violence.

When all it takes to justify murder is the perception of imminent threat, and the only thing that it takes to perceive a threat is blackness, we need to move beyond the belief that individual achievement, or education, or responsible citizenship will save us from the same fates met by the hundreds (in just the last couple years) of Black and Brown bodies.

I’m not here for respectability politics. Respectability politics are the rhetoric of the deluded. Our clothing attire, whether we speak standard English, whether we’re tatted up, have natural hair, or “weird” names bear absolutely no relevance on whether we deserve to be executed in the streets. We like to shout in this country about how our greatest achievement is democracy, that we have innocence until proven guilty, that we have the right to fight whoever gets in our way (including our own President) to protect our individual rights afforded us in the constitution (including the right to due process and a fair trial). And while we hear politicians scream about democracy, pro-lifers scream about the sanctity of life, and right-wingers scream about preserving the family, at the end of the day, our society demonstrates that those screams are hollow gestures not meant for people who look like me.

I’m not here for those of you trying to ride a moral fence by stating—‘yes, it was wrong for Darren Wilson to kill Mike Brown, but we/they shouldn’t be looting.’ You’re essentially saying that the destruction of property is equitable to the destruction of life. We all know the history of Black people as property, but lately we’ve been devalued even further as less than the value of those store fronts and police cars. When is this line of thinking going to end? When are we going to stop overshadowing loss of (Black) life with the discussion of lost property values? Property is replaceable.

So since Black bodies only seem to be as valuable as our massive purchasing power, as valuable as we are able to make money for white bodies as athletes and entertainers, as valuable as our incarceration to the prison industrial complex—and since our pleas to receive justice for those murdered continually fall upon closed ears—then I’m in agreement with the many others that the only way to be heard is to affect someone’s bottom line.

It’s time to divest. It’s been time. Already there have been calls to #BoycottBlackFriday and #BlackOutBlackFriday. On the biggest shopping day of the year, this is an important first step. But I’m challenging myself and everyone else to extend this even further: ONE YEAR. The Montgomery Bus Boycott lasted longer than that and we need to demonstrate our commitment to effect change at that magnitude. We need to show that we’re not going to let this issue die at the next news cycle, that there needs to be tangible steps towards a massive overhaul of every level of our justice system—starting with our police force.

My cousin said it best a couple of days ago—stop spending your money on non-essential items. And when you do have to shop for the essentials, like groceries, only buy locally instead of those corporate behemoths who abuse their workers (*Wal-mart & Publix*). For all the goods and services you spend your money on you need to seriously be looking at whose businesses you’re patronizing. Many folks know that in the days of segregation, the dollar would turn over within the black community several times (over 100x on Black Wall Street) before going out to the profits of other communities. Black owned businesses not only existed, they thrived. We were the source of our own economic empowerment. For me, if I don’t need it, I won’t buy it, but if I do, I will be going out of my way to find Black owned businesses (other POC-owned businesses and then small local businesses) before I go to these big retailers. I will be doing my research and making sure my dollars are going into pockets that view ALL lives as of consequence, specifically Black lives.

I’m sure folks will shout it’s not “us v. them,” but the stats don’t lie that it’s Black bodies that are disproportionately lying in the streets, locked behind bars, and economically disadvantaged. Some will say we need to focus on voting rather than protesting. But it’s not either/or. It’s both/and. In a country that wants us to be seen (for entertainment) but not heard, we need to do both. The dedicated masses in Ferguson and elsewhere have sacrificed their life plans to have their voices heard, and they’re calling for collective action. So let us be our own economic, political, and social empowerment. The lack of jobs and resources are always at the root of our disempowerment. The current system is not and never was meant for us, so we need to dismantle the system and build one that includes us (and other systematically oppressed groups) in its vision. And a huge part of that will be removing ourselves from the dependency on corporations—people—who don’t have our welfare in mind, who maintain control of the status quo through their vast wealth earned from our purchases, talent, and incarceration.

I’m acutely aware of the fact that not everyone can engage in such an economic boycott to the same extent. It takes a certain level of privilege (access to a vehicle, access to internet, time to make calculated choices) in order to fully participate. But this is what I will be doing, and I’m hoping that others who can, will do so too. For ONE YEAR. 

Many other people have spoken more eloquently, thoughtfully, and concisely on this topic, and I stay inspired as I read their words on social media and elsewhere. And since folks stay falling back on the words of Dr. King—twisting his words out of context to condemn the actions of Black people today—I will leave you with this quote that’s been circulating lately in regard to all the criticism about riots and looting that have overshadowed the actual loss of life:

“Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.” –Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.