by Dr Boyce Watkins
I’ve had an interesting week, at least as it pertains to my conscience. I agreed to join Dr. Cornel West, Carl Dix, Pastor Jerome McCory and Michelle Alexander in a month of resistance against police brutality and mass incarceration about two weeks before Michael Brown was killed. After Michael was shot in an unfortunate incident involving a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, I saw a kind of rage I hadn’t seen for a while.
There were reactions from people who paid no attention when we asked them a year ago to help us fight racial profiling and abuse by police. I heard from my middle class, corporate friends who’d previously been convinced that black people are safe and fine as long as we learn to dress well and behave. I even saw rappers getting involved in protests after many of their colleagues had spent years promoting black-on-black genocide like it was a fashion statement.
I was glad to see this energy, this is what we need. We need black people who aren’t afraid or embarrassed to be angry. There’s a lot to be angry about.
But here’s where it got a little odd. In one of the same mental exercises that led me to write the book, “What if George Bush were a Black Man?” I did another mental exercise and asked, “What if Michael Brown had been shot by a black man?”
After running through this scenario in my head, I came to some very simple conclusions:
1) The national media wouldn’t have covered Michael’s death, and local media would have probably covered it for only one day in the back of the local paper. They did the same thing when my best friend Greg Wilkins was shot in the head in front of his daughter by another black man right after Tupac was killed.
2) Black people would not be marching in the streets. We didn’t march when a 9-year old boy was killed in Chicago last week. Perhaps some feel that his life doesn’t matter as much because he wasn’t killed by a white police officer.
3) Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Iyanla Vanzant, Nelly, and all the other celebrities supporting Brown’s family would never have taken the trip to Ferguson.
4) The Obama Administration would have never gotten involved. They rarely get involved when all the black males are being killed right in our president’s backyard.
5) There would be no independent investigation and the murder may have not even gotten solved. Even though my best friend’s brother knew who killed Greg, the police didn’t want to do the work necessary to gather evidence to prosecute the homicide.
You can see where I’m going with this. Black male homicide clearly doesn’t matter if the victim doesn’t have the luxury of being killed by a white man or a cop. If he’s killed by a black man, then we might even let the killer make money writing a song about it. He could then market that song on a Clear Channel radio station or at the BET Awards.
These thoughts came to mind during a recent appearance I did on Hot 97, a radio station in New York. I have no idea why they keep inviting me on the air, since they cut me off right after I mention the big, racist corporations that make billions mass marketing weaponized psychological genocide to young black males. In fact, I dare anyone to describe any other ethnic group in America that is consistently bombarded with media images and messages that have brainwashed them into singing along while someone talks about taking their sons out in the street and blowing their brains out.
I’m waiting….you have no response. The media doesn’t do that to white people….or white women….or gay people…..or Jewish people…..they only do that to black people then sit in astonishment that we’re crazy enough to dance to it.
You’ve heard me push pretty hard against Rev. Al Sharpton in the past, and I don’t take any of that back. But right now, I must commend Sharpton for his speech at Michael Brown’s funeral. During his address, Sharpton clearly stated that we can’t get up in arms when a white person or a cop kills our sons and then say nothing when our sons/daughters are killed by other black people. We also can’t convince other people to appreciate the value of black life if we consistently commit our musical talents to reiterating how much we want to see another black person die.
Can you say the words “mental illness?”
I’m not sure if my statements make me some kind of Uncle Tom or race traitor, but I can’t really say I care. The defining line here is that it’s one thing to bring up black-on-black crime as a reason to excuse white-on-black crime and another to say that we must deal with both. I say we deal with both of these atrocities with an equally firm iron fist: Any rapper/record label/media company that gets rich promoting the killing of black men and women is an enemy to the African American community. Point blank. Period.
Perhaps artists can get amnesty for past music they’ve produced in the cloud of youthful ignorance. But from this point forward, it is important that we understand that no one is going to value black life if black people themselves don’t value black life. It actually makes us look silly when we seek to draw compassion and empathy for our plight when we don’t even have empathy for one another.
Our fundamental question is this: Are we seeking to blame whites for the deaths of all of our children, or are we seeking to protect all of our children from any and everyone seeking to do them harm? We know what racism does, and there are a whole lot of white individuals and institutions that must be held accountable. But what about black people who conspire with these institutions to tighten the grip and impact of racial oppression?
If our goal is to protect our children from all enemies that might do them harm, then this means that we must realize at least one simple fact: Not every black person cares about black people. There are some black people who will sell you up the river for five dollars. There are black people who will gladly see your son get his head blown off on the way to school. There are also black people who’ve become full partners with those who’ve spent centuries putting us into caskets and prison cells. A black man bragging about how many “n*ggaz” he’s buried is no better than a black police officer who murders black suspects in cold blood.
Fighting against the promotion of black lyrical genocide doesn’t mean that you ignore police brutality. It means that you have to focus on BOTH. We can fight the cops and also fight the enemies from within and win both battles to protect our children.
The conversation must be one of balance, and this is no time for selective, asymmetric outrage. In other words, let’s stop acting like hypocrites.