October 12, 2016
Black Lives Matter. I repeat: Black Lives Matter. Yes, you read that correctly. Black Lives Matter. I say this openly and without concern for any specific word choice or possible consequences of false impressions. I say this because it needs to be said more than it is heard now: it needs to be read more than it is published now. Black Lives Matter.
Now, to the common laymen, these words carry rhetoric and convoluted meaning as they can invoke multiple, mixed feelings all at once. But, the time for the conversation on race and/or ethnicity needs to continue if already started: it needs to start if not already begun.
The recent police shootings are only a stark reminder that having a biracial sitting US President does not make for a post-racial America. In fact, it only shows that though we have made positive and pertinent progress, the work ahead of us demands the same attention and due diligence that any movement before us has been given, from the abolitionists of Pre-Civil War Period to the Civil Rights Movement of the latter half of the 20th Century.
But, to understand a convoluted subject matter such as race, we need to decipher some of its history and language. Race is a sociocultural construct with minor biological consequences: we choose to categorize people based on social and cultural differentiations but also considering genetic predispositions as well. In fact, race was not created by what we would believe to be explicit racists, such as the Ku Klux Klan. It wasn’t created by the horribly unethical Mid-Atlantic Slave Trade. Oh, no. It was actually in academic institutions that the political and socioeconomic power of individuals was decided in the specific context of race.
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach was a German physician and anthropologist with other specialties. He was a professor of the University of Göttingen where he published research, including that of human crania. In fact, he took upon five skulls and horizontally compared them to create what we know may know as the five races. In total, these were the Caucasians (White Race), Mongolians (Yellow Race), Malayians (Brown Race), Ethiopians (Black Race), and the Americans (Red Race).
Though it would be harmless at first thought, the true mistake of his presumptions are seen in his interpretations of these five skulls. He argued that from Adam and Eve, all mankind was originally Caucasian and through “degeneration” we had become less of the original norm or White and become lesser through thousands of years of migration. In the five skulls diagram, he called the ones at the ends “the ugly ones”, pointing to the Mongolian on the far left and the Ethiopian on the far right. He purposefully places the most “beautiful” skull in the middle, which was the Caucasian.
This was a single professor of high reputation and status in western society. In modern day, the majority of academic circles would throw him out for his inept and unruly claims. However, it is still the norm we practice today. Through colonialism, industrialization, imperialism, and institutionally supported slavery, among other global mechanisms, we have spread these deleterious ideas across the globe.
But, you may ask, “What does this have to do with Black Lives Matters?”
The norms we follow today have historical roots in the men and women who contributed to these deleterious claims in academic circles. In fact, the US Government’s Census still categorizes in the five races as “White, Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian”. There are some variations that the Census allows for, but this is formal proof of modern institutions using race to identify people.
What’s more problematic is that we are stuck in these racial categories in our minds. Indeed, there are practical differences between any given person on their skin and inside their bodies; however, making assumptions of what these differences mean to the point that we treat people differently is where the issues of racism, sexism, transphobia, etc. stem from.
An almost innocent version of implicit racism is through our cartographies. Yes, even maps are racist: as incredulous as it sounds, it is starkly and disturbingly true. Go back in your memories as a child in elementary school to the last time you looked at your world map in social studies class. Look closely and remember the details, carefully. You were looking at a Mercator Projection map that was made famous by the Flemish cartographer, Gerardus Mercator in 1569. These maps actually inflate the size of northern countries to the point which Greenland looks bigger than Africa.
Our education informs us that continents are larger than countries, yet that ideal shatters when we have the Mercator Projection Map which truly places a Euro-centric version of the world in which the European and North American nations are larger than nations of the Southern hemisphere.
Hold on. I can’t be racist by looking at this map, can I? Oh, yes you can. Racism is fluid: it’s not something you buy at Wal-Mart, like a physical object that you can later get rid of. It even perplexes Neuroscientists many times over because you can’t show racism in a brain as clearly as other neurological diseases, such as Multiple Sclerosis or Schizophrenia. It doesn’t mean it’s not there: it just means it’s hard to visually dissect on a MRI image.
However, human beings are a visual species and we feed through our eyes in order to learn from our natural environment more so than other senses we depend on. So, if you are repeatedly shown visual images that portray an uneven depiction of groups of people, such as different ethnicities, then it will be further normalized into your everyday reality. You won’t question it because that is the norm.
Actually, we are all prejudiced. No seriously, all of us. From me to you, we are all prejudiced. One can measure this claim by checking out the Harvard Implicit Bias Test via Google. This digital tool allows for people to really assess their assumptions about various categories of individuals, from religion to race. In a quick word association test, you have to pair a word that pops up with a positive or negative categories or the stereotype versus the other categories. The results shock most people because it is so quick that demands an answer that you bypass long term thinking processes to function purely on impulse.
The impulse is where your limbic system of your brain loves to dictate reality from its own perception. That subconscious part of your brain truly relies on multiple sensory stimuli in your entire lifetime to form and grow and thus, if you are fed multiple visual impressions of something, you probably already believe it without consciously knowing. Hence, implicit bias or attitudes and behaviors we hold about specific categories of individuals, unconsciously, is in all of us.
But, these biases can manifest into discrimination, such as physical violence or unethical legislation, that can treat people unfairly in a lifetime. In fact, we hold many double standards in this society because of this implicit bias driving us to act on irrational claims more so on thought out, well-reasoned research.
For instance, when we look at the Expanded Homicide Data Table 6 provided the Criminal Justice Information Services Division, we see that the biggest threat to Whites in terms of murder and statistically speaking is…Whites.
In the Data Chart presented for 2012, about 2,614 White individuals died by White perpetrators. Whereas, 431 White individuals died by Black perpetrators. Hence, this depiction of African Americans being threatening figures to society is ludicrous as White perpetrators show up more in numbers.
It is true in the same chart that 193 Black individuals died by White perpetrators, while 2,412 Black individuals died by Black perpetrators. At first sight, one could easily scream “Look! This shows Black on Black crime! Look how violent they are.”
However, to dissect that statement, reduce the following logic. If African Americans are so violent then why aren’t they consistent? By this I mean, why is that they kill other African Americans in larger numbers than Whites? If Blacks are supposed to be represented as threatening figures to all members of society, then they are proportionately responsible for homicide rates against all victims, regardless of the ethnicity of said victim. But, that is not the case. That assumption and belief is not true in this binary sense because Whites and Blacks can’t be purely quantified in one race being superior to another in terms of who kills more.
So, the clear answer is not “the Whites are more violent or the Blacks are more violent”. This definitely is not a solution either. Because earlier I mentioned how the five races were created to categorize the complex human species according to White academics. Do you see how that influence has created these problematic generalizations of ethnic groups based on skin color differentiations?
When a shooting is reported on national media, the White shooter is dealing with mental illness, the Black shooter is a gangster thug, and the Brown shooter is a terrorist: these are not the exact words news stations will use but they are the mischaracterizations that play out through odd tactics. It’s very perplexing when there was no “White representative” asked on any level of news media to explain the Charleston Church Shooting Massacre or the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood Shooting even though both shooters identify as White. However, we expect Black correspondents/celebrity figures or the Muslim community to answer for gang violence and terrorism, as if African Americans are the sole cause of all gang violence or as if the 1.6 billion + individuals who identify as Muslims around the world can all think as one entity and figure out how to solve terrorism, so easily.
Some double standards raise the question, why did we make a concerted effort to disband the Black Panther Party, but not the KKK? Why do we support Caucasians with Free Speech arguments when they say the word Nigger, but shame individuals because they don’t state the pledge of allegiance or stand for the National Anthem? Why does the White Supremacist Dylann Roof get apprehended with the least amount of force while young, unarmed Black men do not receive the same treatment? I’m referring to cases, such as Eric Garner who may have been selling cigarettes illegally but apparently he needed to be taken down by brute force until he couldn’t breathe any longer for some twisted reason. Or more recently, Terence Crutcher was another person who was murdered without cause. But, we don’t like using the word “murder” when describing police because of the high standard there is for the badge and the profession.
However, when one officer on the scene simply says “That looks like a bad dude” and when Terrence Crutcher raises his hands up and is against his own car without showing signs of resistance or belligerent behavior before he was shot down immediately after, you have to wonder why is this something that is so normal that you don’t react in rage? Why is this something that the African American community has to relive arduously over and over again, not just from the physical threat but from the extensive psychological damage on people of color, in general?
Black Lives Matter. That statement does not mean policemen are the evil. That statement does not mean individuals who identify as White are inherently evil and immoral. That statement does not mean the lives of individual who DO NOT identify as Black or African American mean that they are less in value. The phrase, Black Lives Matter, is literally screaming out that the lives of those who are Black are in danger, so much that those lives need the appropriate attention and justice received because of the disproportional violence and racism shoved their way.
When individuals say All Lives Matter or Blue Lives Matter in response to Black Lives Matter, they are the same individuals who interrupt a wedding and say “I’m getting married too, everyone is getting married, why should we care about you?!” in metaphor. It is also like interrupting a funeral and screaming, “All people are dying too”. Of course, other weddings happen and of course, people die every minute without any one individual knowing it so. However, the topic at hand is Black Lives. And for the moment, they do not matter in the eyes of the multiple institutions that serve as pillars for the American society.
That has to change. But, if we think shaming NFL players for kneeling down during the National Anthem is worthy of hateful and racist Tweets on Twitter, then explain to me why it’s okay to gun down a Black father when he does everything that is supposed to be done in these situations and not receive the same blowback on social media? Why do we herald Whites as saviors, heroes, and the ultimate class of people without admitting that we do, openly and honestly? White privilege is not a term we throw around because we desire to sound intelligent and distinguished: it is the crux of many plagues that poisons human reason and progress.
Black Lives Matter. If that phrase offends you, I implore you to educate yourself in world history and the multiple institutions of trade, education, literature, film, medicine, etc. that spread the erroneous characterizations of specific demographics for the sake of political hierarchy. No institution is safe from criticism and no individual can claim an alibi to absolve oneself from this conversation and this dissection of human civilization. Because honestly, equality can feel like oppression when you are used to the privilege that coddles you.
This article was edited on Thursday Oct. 13 to reflect that Deepankar Tripurana is the author.