His brother was murdered by a white man (this was not a lynching, it was apparently a straight up assault, possibly over a light skinned black woman that he was courting), and when my great uncle got upset then he was lynched for being uppity (though there was a convenient take over of his land as well so…), and my great grandfather sent the rest of the kids & my great grandmother away while he & my great great uncle (my great grandmother’s brother) went hunting white boys. Name changes & trips all over the country followed until the family reunited in Chicago.
Hard men in hard times doing bad shit & no sign that the women were afraid to get their hands dirty either. That’s my family history. Mind you this is all on my maternal side, I don’t know who my biological father is so I have no idea what that history could look like, but it’s clear that between my grandfather’s family & my grandmother’s we just weren’t built to get along with white people who didn’t know how to recognize danger. My aunt gave me a list of names & I’m backtracking through some very muddy waters right now.
I see a lot of "slavery is over, black people should move on" rhetoric on the internet. And mostly I roll my eyes & keep it moving. But I notice that people who say these things lack historical knowledge. They don't know about the Red Summer in which race riots broke out in 36 cities. The government blamed unions, Bolsheviks, & even the NAACP for what happened since it was apparently impossible to blame white Americans for the lynchings, rapes, & general mayhem that triggered the riots. In fact Attorney General Palmer filed a report that faulted black people for fighting back.
"ill-governed reaction toward race rioting...In all discussions of the recent race riots there is reflected the note of pride that the Negro has found himself. that he has 'fought back,' that never again will he tamely submit to violence and intimidation. "the dangerous spirit of defiance and vengeance at work among the Negro leaders."
Mind you, the Red Summer came after the East St. Louis Riots, the Atlanta Race Riots, some 2400 documented lynchings and countless other acts of violence that didn't receive much (if any) official attention. The Rosewood Massacre, & the destruction of Black Wall Street in Tulsa followed, and still there was no move on the part of the government to actively change the racial climate in America until the 1960's. Jim Crow laws (in effect from 1876 to 1965) were the successors to the Black codes that were on the books from 1800-1866, and if think that the Civil Rights Movement fixed everything the day separate but equal was legally abolished? You haven't been paying attention. Look at America's track record when it comes to welfare reform (and the mythical Welfare Queen), the War on Drugs that conveniently was more likely to heavily punish black offenders, predatory lending to black homebuyers, treating the pain of black children, & of course police harassment and brutality. America's got a long way to go, and ignoring the past or the present won't fix a thing. You want black people to let things? Stop supporting the systems that oppress them.
I could be Rekia Boyd. Easily. I can’t tell you how many warm nights have included me hanging out in the park with friends. Just shooting the shit you know? Have we been loud? Probably. But there’s a reason it was an off duty cop “new to the neighborhood” & not a patrol car.
People who grew up in the area wouldn’t call the cops over something as mundane as people hanging out in the park. Because they know that Chicago police can be trigger happy, and no one wants that on their conscience over some hollering. I don’t buy the idea that a large group of black bodies = crime, but I know a lot of people who trumpet on & on about the joys of gentrification do. Lawndale is definitely facing gentrification as the West Loop gets to be the newest hot spot. Garfield Park & Lawndale are right there & full of big cheap houses that could be worth millions in a few years.
So, there are new neighbors who talk about how great the properties are & how scary the long time residents are even if they never quite say why they find them so frightening. The cop mistaking a phone at someone’s ear for a gun? That’s part of the same system of scary black man myths that killed Trayvon Martin. It’s so embedded in America’s collective psyche that we’re criminals that it probably didn’t even occur to this cop that black people could be out enjoying one of the warmest March days in history & that not be a reason to suspect anything more than an impromptu block party. No weapons were recovered at the scene, a woman is dead, a man is injured & has been charged with assault for standing outside on his phone. That’s what it means to be black in America.
I kept talking to him, and he mentioned racist kids at his school & how there’s one teacher who lets them get away with it, but who threatens to write him up if he says anything back. And I asked him if he wanted us to get involved & he said no because he’d already handled it. How did he handle it? He told the teacher to go ahead & write him up and then they could all talk to the principal about the things she lets kids say to him. She left him alone after that so he doesn’t want me to come wreck shit.
Which…says a lot about my kid & about our family I guess, but the reality is that it’s good that he’s learning to defend himself against the system. And shit like that is why we stay in cities & don’t live in suburbs. My parents moved me to burbs in high school, and it was a lot more than one teacher turning a blind eye to racism. I don’t have any answers for other parents of young black males. None. I’m muddling through & hoping that this can all be life lessons he never needs to use.
But, his 19 year old cousin is planning to come over & talk to him about dealing with the cops because he’s been there and done that. And I just…we’re passing down through the generations life lessons on how to handle/avoid police brutality because it’s just that necessary. And people want to claim that America is post racial, or racism isn’t widespread. How many individual acts does it take to make up a system? How many beatings, rapes, & deaths will it take for that system to be acknowledged by everyone?