by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Yesterday, I did a short interview with WHUR radio in Washington, DC. The topic was how race might or might not have played a role in the way the public viewed the recent killings in Newtown, Connecticut. These conversations always seem to be sad distractions in the midst of serious tragedies, and to be honest, I hate them. But while I do not enjoy discussing race in the middle of such a traumatic set of events, I see these “undercard conversations” to be a necessary evil in a nation that continues to live in serious denial.
When it came to race and whether or not the nation paid more attention to the kids in Connecticut than they would have otherwise, my statement was quite simple:
“People believe that little white kids in the suburbs have the right to live. They have the right to be happy. They have the right to peace. When it comes to black babies in urban neighborhoods, people don’t believe these children deserve to have similar rights. When people say things like ‘I can’t believe this would happen here,’ they are effectively saying that there are some neighborhoods where these tragic outcomes are far more acceptable. I reject this notion entirely, and it is reflective of both white supremacy and classism.”
If those babies in Newtown had been black babies on the south side of Chicago, there would be few tears, especially in the White House. To put it in ratios, 20 black children would have to die before they receive the sympathy that would be given to one white child. But when one considers how many hundreds of black kids have been murdered in cold blood since we got our first black president, even the 10-to-1 ratio appears to be somewhat optimistic. We could tell one tragic story after another to nearly every Democratic politician in the country, and these words would inspire very little action – if you’ll recall, even our beloved president came to Chicago for the wedding of Valerie Jarrett’s Harvard-educated daughter and didn’t say a word about the scores of children who’d been killed right down the street.
I was hurt by what happened in Connecticut, as was the rest of the nation. But what continues to keep me offended is the fact that a white child has to be harmed by a gun before our legislators believe that gun control should be made into a priority. Anyone who wonders why so many African Americans don’t feel fully invested in the American melting pot should realize that the lack of black interest in the Great American Partnership largely exists because we continue to have our needs and issues subjugated to the whims of those who are in power.
Black people pay taxes too, and it’s patently unfair that our tax money is consistently used to solve problems for people who live in other communities. We learned 200 years ago that taxation without representation is an unacceptable violation of civil liberties. We should not have to wait for a black problem to become a white one before our elected officials do something about it. Our children matter too: When you beg for black votes, then you should be prepared to help solve black problems. When a relationship lacks reciprocity, it is both unethical and worthless.
The bottom line is this: All children have the right to life, happiness and peace, no matter where they were born. The fact that it takes an atrocity of this magnitude to help us realize this fundamental fact is a testament to just how warped our society has become. Sure, the Sandy Hook Massacre was a wake up call for the nation, but some have chosen to keep their eyes closed longer than others.