Friday, December 5, 2014

This feels like strange fruit dangling from a tree

I feel numb.

That is the only way to describe what I’ve been carrying for the past week. It’s been hard to move.  It’s even harder to speak with clarity related to what just happened – two grand juries ruling not to indict white police officers in the death of unarmed black men.

My numbness is not caused by shock.  It’s the outcome of hauling painful luggage for as long as I can remember.  I’m saddened even more by the knowledge that I’m not alone.  Most black men share the burden of stuff so deep and old that we can’t frame words to define the angst in our souls.  Black women bring feelings compounded by anxiety related to witnessing their sisters beaten and killed, potential husbands broken, and their children and other kinfolks opposed by a system rooted in enduring hate.

I simply don’t know how to feel.  What I do know is how the madness impacts the assumptions I bring to the work I do. My work as a journalist forces me to discard many of the ethical expectations we embrace when we say yes to this work.  I’ve abandoned the desire to be impartial in my reporting and writing on the stories involving the death of black men and women.  I’ve rejected the need to get the other sides of the story.  I’m critically aware of how all of this influences my credibility as a journalist.  I get all of that, but I’m too numb to make the transition back to the land of impartiality.

I’m not sure if it is possible to keep yourself out of the story.  Journalists are taught not to make the story about you. I’m long past violating the sacred trust of locating the real story and allowing readers to come to their own conclusion.

I get it. I embrace all of it. I teach it, and I want my students to enter the field with eyes pointing beyond their assumptions.  All of that is true, but how can I commit to that vision?

This story has impacted me personally.  I carry the commentary regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner with me each day.  The images of their dead bodies follow me to work, to school, and the places I spend money.  My faith is measured by their deaths.  My willingness to trust is impacted by the disappointment of no indictments.

It is about trust.

I’ve been seeking clarity regarding this numbness. Where did it come from? What can be done to overcome this pain that has my heart beating faster than it should?

It came to me after listening to Charles Barkley dispute Kenny Smiths contention that we shouldn’t bring up slavery whenever problems like this show up. Smith penned an open letter for USA Today to address some of the comments made by Barkley during a recent broadcast of NBA on TNT. Barkley called those who looted stores in Ferguson, MO “scumbags”

Barkley apologized for going too far by calling looters “scumbags”. What followed was an enlightening conversation that displayed the complexity and diversity of responses in the black community.  Smith questioned why the media quotes Barkley as an expert on black life and thought.

The conversation shifted when Barkley stated his opinion on slavery.

“The only problem I had with Kenny’s, umm, open letter was, umm, I don’t think anytime something bad happens in the black community we have to talk about slavery,”  Barkley said during Thursday’s broadcast of the NBA on TNT. “Listen, slavery is, uh, well, I shouldn’t say one of the worst things ever, because I don’t know anything about it other than what I read or what my grandmother told me,”

That’s when it hit me.  The tension in America is about slavery.  Barkley suggest we shouldn’t bring it up whenever there is a problem in the black community, but is it possible that all of the tension is the result of the lack of trust related to treatment during slavery?

Is that the foundation of my personal numbness? I can’t trust that America won’t treat me like my ancestors during slavery.  So much of the evidence authenticates the legitimacy of my fear.

It’s like a person in an abusive relationship.  We tell them to leave before it’s too late.  If he beats you once, he will do it over and over again. Despite the warning, she comes back.  Isn’t that what we feel? Has trust been shattered due to the constant attacks after we come back home to try again?

I had to pause to contemplate my thesis.  Is it the same? What do I feel when I witness the body of a dead black man burning on hot pavement?  What are my thoughts connected to watching a police officer chokes a black man after he cries “I can’t breathe”? What do I carry, deep down, when I watch until he stops moving? How can I move on when I see it over and over again, and each conclusion ends the same?

No indictment.

That’s when it hit me.  This is our strange fruit.

That’s why I can’t stop crying. It could be me dangling from the tree.

Its bullets instead of nooses made from rope. 

Slavery officially ended in 1865, but it feels like we’re beaten whenever we attempt to run from the grip of the white man on the plantation.

That may be an unfair assumption, but those are the emotions behind this numb feeling.

How can I move toward the future when the past stands in the way?



    I feel the same. It has forced me to dig into the word. The only solace for me.

  2. Live only in the past and be a perpetual victim, irresponsible for your own life because "they" (whoever "they" are) control it. Remember the past, however, and let it guide you to make the future better than the past. That's the duty of all of us as human beings.

    Journalists have an important duty to discover truth and to report it. They are trained to do this and society needs them to do this. No journalist is free of bias, but if they fail to follow the facts and the law, then they fail in their life's work. If the only "facts" they seek are those that confirm their own beliefs, then those are the only facts they will find. Self-examination is always uncomfortable, both for society and for individuals, but that's the function of journalists - help us examine the world around us. A journalist cannot do this responsibly if they only write what they feel and not what the facts show - and I mean ALL the facts, not just those that comfortably agree with our pre-existing beliefs. If the journalist cedes his/her integrity, the journalist ceases to be of use. Your essay indicates you know this, but choose to ignore it because you are depressed by events. Feelings outweigh truth.

    Past slavery causes you to now be "beaten whenever we attempt to run from the grip of the white man on the plantation." Such victimhood disregards the accomplishments of Rev. King and so many others of both races that worked tirelessly to achieve the racial progress that has been achieved to date. Okay, racism still exists - so what? Each time we encounter racism are we to turn and cower because the "white man" must surely be responsible for everything wrong in our lives? Your blog indicates we must give up because some apparent racist acts still occur.

    Perhaps that's what the semi-articulate Charles Barkely was trying to say. If past slavery is your explanation for everything in the black community, then just give up. No hope for you. After all, you can't change the past. But the rest of us will go on fighting to make the future better, with or without you.

  3. and if white people are or continue to be generally fearful and distrustful of blacks because of the complicity of their (white) race in that same horrible past, then we're never going to get anywhere.

  4. Dear Anonymous Two: What makes you believe that white people are fearful or distrustful of us because of SOME of them might have had ancestors involved in slavery? Most whites acknowledge that past and the subsequent years of racism that followed. Many of them have "white guilt" over the past, even if neither they or their ancestors had anything to do with it. Many of them have died or suffered adverse consequences in order to help us combat racism.

    Today's racists are not that way because of past slavery. Some merely reflect the teachings of their parents. Others react to their perception of us as because of the stereotypical, violent, criminal actions of some in our community. Others react because of the militancy and misogyny of some of our music that reinforces those stereotypes. Others react for deep seated psychological reasons .

    To put all whites in the same racist bag is to commit the same stereotypical racist profiling that you and Carl accuse whites of doing to us. None of our racial groups are monolithic, and neither race should act as if they are.

  5. This is Anonymous Two. Some clarification is in order. By the way, I am white. My point was that some whites may be fearful and distrustful of blacks in spite of or because of their white guilt. They actually get why a black person might want retribution against whites, especially because even in this day and age they can't get an even break on other fronts. Whitey knows this and it makes him fearful. I wasn't trying to paint people with a wide brush. I'm just trying to understand this whole thing like everyone else. I understand Carl's emotions around this, but Anonymous One is right, it won't do him any good to remain in that place. The devil is laughing at us.

  6. The numbness of Dr. Kenny is well noted.... the thoughts of these replying are great, the comments of Mr Barkley are interesting... from the mentor, role model.entrepreneur etc.etc..... perhaps the sum of this whole thought processing on both sides of the isle is "FEAR" watching these injustices and how it all is playing out in verbal or video commentary is beyond shocking anymore, but a revelation of who we have become. We need the great thinkers to articulate thought and reasoning...I'm reminded of a statement that fits all of this "an offended brother is hard to win" .... the undermining of systemic racism has offended many especially those who have connected interacially by marriage or otherwise,
    The reaction, the solutions, the next step, from all of the mental gymnastics...
    To discipline our energies to the most effective place, That voice of FAITH that has guided countless millions from troubled pastimes ...Our intelligent designer has given us the tools to defeat ,shield and protect, against every enemy foreign or domestic. I say to Dr. Kenny and all who wish to comment anonymously.... my mother taught me... "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change COURAGE to change the things that I can and the wisdom to know the difference" In the brilliance of wisdom and courage I see... providing for the common defense and promoting the general welfare, reestablishing the constitution of unity. This will stop the laughter of the devil and his cousins and put him on the run.

  7. anonymous 3 here - I don't feel qualified to have much of an opinion, but here I go. I am a white woman with two small children. I agree not all people are racists, but why can there be only one view from the black race? Why isn't there room at the table for the opinions of Mr. Barkley, Mr, Smith and Mr. Kenney? Maybe they all have valid points that we need to hear.

    I was taught a somewhat sanitized version of slavery in HS (at least that's what I feel I received in the 1980's). It wasn't until I was an adult and read on my own that I got a bigger picture of how things were and are when it comes to race in this country.(both the bad and good). I also think as a country we still haven't fully acknowledge the sin of slavery and the results of it.

    Your posts help me when I have conversations with my children. People are hurting and we need to hear many opinions. Maybe your calling isn't to be a journalist in the true sense of the word. Your writing is passionate and it does have a place as we all progress and make this country better for everyone. Unfortunately, in this day and age passion is usually frowned upon except for a select few (remember Howard Dean's campaign feel apart because of a few screams?), but maybe a little passion is what we need.