No Safe Black Space?
By Barrington M. Salmon Contributing Writer @bsalmondc
Hate targeted the Black community from the beginning to the end of 2018. Incidents continued to pop up around the United States with depressing regularity: Black folks being confronted and challenged by random White people acting out of the belief that they have the right to govern and monitor Black bodies.
At every turn, Black people were prevented from going about their business or engaging in normal behavior because some White person deemed their behavior criminal or dangerous.
Whites, primarily women, called cops on Black people of all ages including—a Black child selling bottled water in front of the apartment she lives in; Black people barbecuing in an Oakland, Calif., park; Black men trying to enter their apartments; a Black Harvard student sleeping in the common area of a dorm building; a Black teen riding in a car with his White grandmother; a Black man trying to cash a check from his employer; a Black male caregiver babysitting two White children; a Black woman canvassing a neighborhood while running for political office; and Black women golfing too slowly. And that’s just what was captured on cellphone videos.
Dr. Ramel Kweku Akyirefi Smith said unjust policing of Black bodies is one facet of a pervasive and persistent war being waged against Black people. He spoke of his anger and frustration he feels every time he hears or reads about the death of a Black man, woman or child at the hands of law enforcement. In too many cases, he said, the victims were minding their own business— such as 12-year-old Tamir Rice, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin or 23-year-old Korryn Gaines.
“My thing is this, we’re at war and have to be ready,” said Dr. Smith, a Milwaukee-based psychologist and mental performance coach. “We have to be very vigilant and stay in a state of warfare. I remember Min. Farrakhan talking about being pulled over and the cop tried to bait him. He kept calm. But even if you act like he did, you could end up being shot, beaten or arrested. Cops act with impunity and have a certain amount of impunity.” He was referring to the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
White people have taken to governing the way Black people style their hair. School administrators have sent Black students’ home for sporting locs, twists, braids and Afros; employers have told workers that their Black-centric hairstyles are inappropriate in the workplace; the courts have sided with companies; and the military has flip-flopped several times recently about what it deems appropriate styling.
A recent incident thrusting this assault on Black existence to light created national outrage, inflamed passions across the United States and angered Dr. Smith and others because of the blatant nature of the racist act. On Dec 19, a White referee with a documented history of racist behavior, ordered Andrew Johnson, a Buena Regional High School wrestler, to cut his dreadlocks before competing or forfeit the match.
“This hit close to me because I wrestled in high school and what I saw pissed me off,” said Dr. Smith, a licensed therapist, author, educator and former consultant to the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. “When you weigh in, they do everything, check everything. For the referee to wait and not forewarn him ... What really pissed me off is that coaches didn’t walk out. This was a way to say ‘Nigger this ain’t what we do. If you don’t assimilate to our ways, you can’t participate in our games.’ Now this young man has to live with this forever. This was trauma-induced despite him doing the right thing and is a microcosm of the racism we deal with on a daily basis,” he continued.
“The punishment for everyone involved has to be so harsh that they wouldn’t even think about doing this again.”
Philadelphia resident Kimberly Rollins expressed deep anger as well. She was so upset about what happened to the young wrestler that she took to Facebook Live to vent her frustration.
“I was on Twitter, following my people and I saw a post from Shaun King. During the wrestling match, the ref said the young man had to cut off his locs,” said Ms. Rollins, owner and operator of Oxsun Salon and a beauty image consultant. “I was really pissed about what I saw. It resonated because they took something from him that he can’t get back. It felt like a whipping and rather than the whole team walk out, a White coach cut his hair and they talked about him being a team player. He cuts his hair, goes back into the match, wins the match,” said Ms. Rollins.
“(This) racism and this oppression that you continually perpetuate upon us is making me crazy,” Ms. Rollins said in the first of two Facebook postings about the issue. “When has hair ever murdered anyone? When has hair ever oppressed anyone? When has hair teargassed a women at the border? When did our hair become a physical threat to anyone? Not for one second can you justify this young man’s hair, having to cut his hair off. He wasn’t a team player, he was the sacrificial lamb. Who’s going to step up and when is this ref going to be fired?”
In the second posting, Ms. Rollins said she wanted to be proactive versus being reactive and asked anyone who might know Andrew Johnson to link them up.
“I will start his locs over for him,” she explained. “I don’t know if he has a stylist or loctition but in the event that he doesn’t, I’ll offer him a complimentary service to restart them. I support you, honor you and respect you as the wrestler and champion you really are.”
Andrew Johnson’s mother, Rosa Santiago-Johnson, said on Facebook that it was the hardest thing she’d ever seen, saying her son was “good now” but that his ordeal was “brutal emotionally and physically.”
Referee Andrew Maloney has been pulled from officiating any subsequent games while the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association investigates. Meanwhile, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey weighed in, declaring in a tweet: “This is not about hair. This is about race. How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry?”
Hate crimes escalate
“The economy is getting worse and people are looking for someone to blame,” Caleb Maupin, journalist and political analyst told The Final Call. “Tensions that have been long brewing below the surface are starting to erupt.” Those tensions erupted all across the country.
In a Phoenix, Arizona, high school play, three students walked down the middle of an assembly dressed as the KKK. “They were in hooded robes,” said a parent who wanted to remain anonymous. The audience was stunned.
At a Baraboo, Wisconsin, high school, 50 male students were photographed in a widely-shared social media image that appeared to show students giving the Nazi salute. A Black Baraboo student told reporters he’s worn headphones to drown out hearing the N-word at school.
Gregory Bush, a White man, is accused of fatally shooting Vickie Lee Jones and Maurice E. Stallard at a Kentucky supermarket after he had tried to enter the predominantly-Black First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown. Church members saw him outside aggressively trying to open the door. He drove away when he couldn’t get inside.
The list of hate incidents and crimes in America continued to grow. Hate crimes/incidents rose 17 percent in 2017, the third consecutive year of increases, according to the FBI Hate Crime Statistics released November 13. Blacks, again, top the list as nearly half of all race/ethnicity/ancestry motivated hate crimes.
“The increase in reported hate crimes is a chilling reminder that we must redouble our efforts to combat the rise in hate crimes and hate-inspired incidents across the country. We are especially concerned about hate incidents directed at African Americans and other racial minorities which reflects the toxic rhetoric and racially divisive policies that we too often see at the federal level,” explained the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in a statement.
Ms. Rollins, Dr. Smith and many others blame the toxic racial environment on the occupant of the White House. Since he assumed office, President Donald Trump has pursued a strategy and policy of racial division, the scapegoating and demonization of Blacks, Latinos, immigrants and others, argue critics.
Mr. Trump has continued with a steady negative drumbeat, inciting fear in White people and warning that Whites will soon be overrun by the Black and Brown hordes. He called Black players in the National Football League “sons of bitches” for kneeling in protest against racial injustice, intolerance and police brutality. And he directed scorn and derision towards strong and powerful Black women, including U.S. Congresspersons Maxine Waters and Frederica Wilson; former Ambassador Susan Rice; sports journalist Jemele Hill; and White House reporters April Ryan, Yamiche Alcindor and Abby Phillip.
Mr. Trump’s eschewing of political correctness, politeness and civility has emboldened other Whites who have seized upon the opportunity to confront, question and challenge Black people in just about every social venue and call police “just because.”
Ms. Rollins, mother of a 12-year-old daughter, said Black Americans are under siege.
“A lot of this creation of unsafe spaces for Black people is Trump’s fault. White people were sitting at the gates of hell waiting for permission,” she said. “Whites and others have infiltrated our safe spaces. There is public support for this type of behavior and no repercussions for what they’re doing. Hate crimes rose under Obama and they’re through the roof now,” added Ms. Rollins.
“The perpetuation of the marketing of race and oppression continues. We’re not in control, never were. It’s crazy and it’s untenable. Something’s going to happen. I think the bubble will burst. A race war isn’t far-fetched. You can feel it in the air and it’s so sad. I’m leaving this country.”
Karen Fleshman, a San Francisco-based anti-racism educator and founder of Racy Conversations, echoed what experts, Black scholars, historians and others already know: that the phenomenon of White people and women calling the cops and asserting authority is nothing new.
“It was present during slavery, Jim Crow and what happened to Emmitt Till,” she told The Final Call. “The National Rifle Association has an ad with a White woman saying she’s unsafe and feels so secure now that her husband has a gun. This is a longstanding practice and way of behavior with White women. It stems from a deep dissatisfaction and anger of their role in society and they take it out on Black people.”
Ms. Fleshman, an attorney and activist, said blaming Black people makes no sense. White women should be taking out their anger and frustrations on the White men who are oppressing them but they don’t. Historically and now, most White women act against their own self-interest, siding most times with White men.
Ms. Fleshman, who is White, calls the targeting and criminalization of normal Black behavior “disturbing and sick.” She recently penned an “Open Letter to White Women” and released a video expressing her worry and concern.
“I’m profoundly disturbed but not surprised by the spate of White, college-educated women calling police on people of color for absurd reasons,” she said in the video. “… why are White women so miserable and angry White women? And why are we taking our anger and frustration out on people of color who have done nothing to harm us? Black women have been trying, telling us for centuries that you can’t end sexism without ending racism. It won’t work. White women, everybody hates us. And with the exception of White men, we’ve earned that hatred through our lack of self-awareness and empathy.”
The “mask of civility” of White people will continue to come off as they become more angry, Min. Farrakhan forewarned. “As Caucasians begin to feel ‘threatened,’ and their ‘security’ is compromised, ‘the mask of civility’ comes off—and then you see murder coming out of their hearts and their eyes,” warned Min. Farrakhan in part 27 of his lecture series, The Time and What Must Be Done.
“It is the same in France; it is the same in Belgium. It is the same in Norway and Sweden, and Finland, and Denmark. It is the same in Germany, and in Russia. All over our planet, the hatred of Black is manifesting,” said the Minister.
Dr. Smith observed that there’s nothing he’s seen and no current establishment institution that gives him any confidence that the conditions and circumstances confronting Black people will change. Consequently, Africans in America must be cautious, fight back and protect themselves and their families, he said.
“We have to somehow defend ourselves or we’re prey,” he said. “Power respects power. Maybe we need to speak their language. You don’t want to send people to a slaughter but they have to understand that if someone gets struck, there’s a vanguard. We have to be strategic,” said Dr. Smith.
“We’re not going to change what’s here,” he continued. “We need a new political party that breaks away from the Democrats and Republicans. It will take a new generation to rise up. We need a movement.” (Nisa Islam Muhammad and Final Call staff contributed to this report)