Rebels Of Reconstruction
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A law may change the way we react and interact but it doesn't change the way we feel.
Our past of racial imbalance holds the key to the future
It's not like we didn't see this coming. The justice system in the United States does not favor minorities. It never has, which is why we are constantly in need of amending our constitution for civil rights. When George Zimmerman spotted Trayvon Martin on the night of February 26, 2012 and made the decision to follow the 17 year old-despite the contrary advice that the 911 dispatcher that he had contacted had given him-he wasn't inherently being racist. Yes some of you that are reading this will take my statement out of context because for many of us the tragedy carries an emotional weight that has yet to be reconciled. However, please allow me to unfold my thoughts. As I was saying, Zimmerman was not being racist he was however participating in racist ideology. The truth of the matter is that Zimmerman in some ways was protecting himself, not from Trayvon Martin but from the fear of Blackness that the United States has dealt with since the Reconstruction Acts of the late 1800's.
Herein lies the problem with our generation. The mention of history instantly incites responses of, "That was a long time ago" or "What does that have to do with now". In the immortal words of Chad Johnson, "Child Please". The fact of the matter-echoing Stephen A. Smith-is history is the foundation for the future. As much as Black America and White America would like to dismiss the specters of slavery we cannot ignore that many of the laws that were instrumental to forming our current justice system, were put in place to prevent minorities from assuming power. And here comes another reaction from our reactionary generation. "That's not true'we have plenty of opportunities and a lot of us are wealthy and enjoying the benefits". Maybe we do. But let's go back to the era of slavery where in the southern region of the United States some states had as many as 50 % of their total population made up of slaves. We don't have to get into the psychological oppression that it took to hold the black slave population at bay for decades. By the nature of survival there was no doubt a fear that the slave population would revolt and thus the fear of blackness was birthed. Now put that into context during the end of slavery. The United States has freed an entire population of people who by all rights should revolt against the nation. But they don't because they have been conditioned to seek approval from their enslavers. The narrative has mostly been about Blacks trying to fit into a society that fears that they rebel.
Think about each "revolutionary" African American movement and how the "justice system" managed to diffuse it. Whether through Jim Crow laws, segregation and even to an extent civil rights, each movement has been lawfully disassembled. What has remained in our social consciousness is that blackness represents a threat even with legislation to cover and shroud the thought. What George Zimmerman saw the night he confronted Trayvon Martin was not a Black Man but rather "blackness". Which will bring me to why I can assume Trayvon put up resistance. "Blackness" is a problem in our generation because of we have yet to be properly taught to negotiate what to do with it. The justice system and even our social psychology teaches us that "blackness" is dangerous and to be feared. African Americans are a "problem" as identified by W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls Of Black Folk. So what do you do with a problem? You solve it. The United States justice system has made controlling blackness a point of emphasis. Shall I share with you the numbers? Check out these startling facts:
- African Americans now constitute nearly 1 million of the total 2.3 million incarcerated population
- African Americans are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of whites
- Together, African American and Hispanics comprised 58% of all prisoners in 2008, even though African Americans and Hispanics make up approximately one quarter of the US population
- According to Unlocking America, if African American and Hispanics were incarcerated at the same rates of whites, today's prison and jail populations would decline by approximately 50%
- One in six black men had been incarcerated as of 2001. If current trends continue, one in three black males born today can expect to spend time in prison during his lifetime
- 1 in 100 African American women are in prison
- Nationwide, African-Americans represent 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice).-NAACP
Your rebuttal will be something along the lines of, "They chose to be put in that position" or "That's their fault". Okay I can respect that, but we also can't ignore that African American men still pose a threat according the psychology of the law. We have been programmed as a nation to believe that African American men are inherently dangerous, even 17 year olds holding a bag of Skittles and a can of Iced Tea.
Consequently Trayvon was not as innocent as we want to believe he is. He wasn't a model citizen or a saint to be martyred. He represented why we need to change the psychology of the black community. He was full of the same rage and displaced emotion that many African American teens have to try and balance as they negotiate their roles as society's problem.
What has been lost through the decades that have passed since the Civil Rights Acts of the 60's is "rebel responsibility". There is a black rage that exists in each African American as they are constantly reminded that they "black" first and American second. When elders and people of experience where held in high regard we were taught the proper way to play the "game". Now we use terms like "selling out" and being "white washed" or accused of not keeping it "real". What's real is that our position as "problem" has yet to be resolved. If it were resolved they would be no such thing as racial profiling and no one would question if Trayon Martin and George Zimmerman were to change races that the case would be different. We have to stop being dismissive of the past and more inclined to discover why race still matters in our nation despite the apparent progress we have made.
As people took to the streets in protest following the verdict that Zimmerman was not guilty we were reminded that maybe we haven't made the progress we believe. I constantly remind myself that there are people among us that were from that world that had water fountains assigned to racial makeup. There are still people in our society that were taught the belief that African American people were inferior. There is a collection of people that were systematically taught that Black men were to be feared for their ignorance.
A law may change the way we react and interact but it doesn't change the way we feel. We haven't done our generation any favors by monetizing perceived blackness through Hip Hop music and entertainment. Now we have created a sub system that promotes the things that our ancestors were trying to dispel. It is the responsibility of our generation to look to our past for clues as to how we got here and what can be done to prevent things from going backwards. We can be rebels but without a proper cause we succumb to the blackness that has been conditioned in our collective conscious as demonstrated in the Oakland and Los Angeles protest. Purposeless action leads to destruction of property and progress. Today we are no better than we were yesterday because to most of us yesterday is too far away to be significant.
Eric loren Montgomery, Contributing Writer: Eric Montgomery is a M.F.A. in Creative Writing at UCR. He has a B.A. in English Literature from Cal State Dominguez Hills. He helped develop the groundbreaking performance Uncovered: A Pageant of Hip Hop Masters. He has worked alongside several Hip Hop Theatre practioners including Rickerby Hinds, Joe Kolski Hernandez, Cory Coffer and Ana Garcia to name a few. He was a a part of a week long workshop in Ashland Oregon called Mixing Texts: Hip Hop and Shakespeare. Eric is currently a performance... (more...)