The North Star has dropped its paywall during this COVID-19 crisis so that pertinent information and analysis is available to everyone during this time. This is only possible because of the generous support of our members. We rely on these funds to pay our staff to continue to provide high-quality content. If you are able to support, we invite you to do so here.
White Supremacy is the never-ending pandemic to Black humanity.
It is the beginning of May and it already feels like the longest calendar year in modern history. For nearly three months, our world has hunkered down at the behest of the coronavirus. Despite the universal song of somber, the novel virus has the planet agonizingly humming, and white supremacy has yet again forced Black folks to belt out cries of “gone too soon” in a heart wrenching and familiar register. By now the world knows the name of Georgia native, Ahmaud Arbery, the same way we learned the names Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis: young Black men killed in the prime of their lives by white (or white presenting) men who pursued and executed them. Although Black America has culturally endured an exhaustive reel of unarmed Black citizens gunned down by would-be exonerated law enforcement officers, there is another layer of fear and paranoia that comes with the idea of average citizens being able to kill Black people with impunity.
At the time of this writing, Gregory and Travis McMichael, the two men responsible for the killing Ahmaud Arbery, have been arrested and will be charged with murder and aggravated assault. Pressure from millions made that happen, not the information prosecutors were previously presented with. These recent developments still do not excuse the 74 days that Glynn County/Brunswick, GA officials sat on their hands. The pandemic was used as an excuse to justify investigative inaction. A deeper dive into the background of the suspects pointed to the district attorneys’ familiarity with Gregory McMichael as the primary reason for not only a recusal to pursue this case, but also their apathy.
And while awaiting an arrest of her son’s murderers, Wanda Cooper was placed in the recognizable position of Black mothers we have come to know by way of their loss. The mothers we have seen appear on national news giving intricate details about the personhood of their slain children. Wanda Cooper will spend this Mother’s Day without her youngest child, the child she gave birth to on Mother’s Day in 1994. The child who would have only been 26-years-old. The child she described as caring and protective of his older siblings. Her baby who ran on a consistent basis to keep himself in shape and died at the shotgun gripped hands of heightened white imagination/fear. A fear that rationalized slaughtering a Black body in broad daylight as somehow fulfilling its civic responsibility.
Before the state of Georgia went under momentary stay at home orders, Ahmaud Arbery faced the same public health crisis that has plagued Black Americans from the beginnings of our origins in this nation. It’s a societal illness that has buried an innumerable amount of Black folks diagnosed with merely existing within proximity to white supremacy. We know this history of premature death on account of predisposed Blackness all too well. It is a condition we are born with that research has proven to permeate our bloodlines. One that leaves us susceptible to blood freely exiting our bodies at the hands of racists who unload shots as vaccination to cure this country of our alleged impurity.
It is the rope that reaches our furthest points of social distance…
What we know of systematic disenfranchisement, structural inequity and plain old racially motivated abuse of Black folks, is none of these social deficiencies take time off or sick leave when it comes to instigating Black suffering. Recently a number of videos have surfaced out of New York City that have shown NYPD terrorizing Black communities in the name of getting Black New Yorkers to adhere to social distancing. These images are in juxtaposition to images of NYPD officers being of assistance to white New Yorkers in various parts of the city. A city does not become the birthplace of stop & frisk policing, the test site for the broken windows theory and the watch party for the execution of Eric Garner without having a deep history of structural anti-Blackness. New York City is home to over 18 million people and of that 24% of its citizens identify as Black or African American. But Black New Yorkers are eight times more likely than white New Yorkers to be arrested and charged for marijuana possession, and that is just one example of racial disparities in the city’s criminal justice system.
So what does it mean for Black folks in NYC or any other urban center in America to feel safe in the midst of a pandemic when members of law enforcement are still practicing abusive tactics as a method of control? COVID-19 as a global health crisis and once-in-a-lifetime phenomena has been taxing on everyone either physically, financially, emotionally, psychologically or all of the above and we learned early on that it is especially fond of invading and destroying Black bodies. Yet Black folks are still being subjected to aggressive policing, still living with the fear of being profiled while wearing masks for protection, still being othered as the message of “we’re all in this together” allows public leaders to feign unification while ignoring the inequalities that still prevail.
It is the outbreak that transmits between generations…
Last fall while working on my spoken word project, The American Audit, I heard one of the most profound analyses of American racism ever uttered. While interviewing Dr. Thomas Durant, a retired emeritus professor of sociology on the legacy of American racism, he stated that “racism survived because of cultural transmission”. That lone statement helped me further contextualize American racism as this country’s most persistent virus. But it is not a sickness that exists in isolation, it is most commonly paired with classism and exacerbated when combined with other societal ills such as sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism. It is a disease that infects the psyche of the oppressor and ravages the entirety of the oppressed. It is not incurable, it is foundational and that is where the impetus to rid it from the anatomy of our culture gets discarded in the lab. American racism, more specifically white supremacy, thrives off of Black folks’ degradation as a primary source of sustaining its vitality. Black America’s resolve has been a consistent antibody to the antigen that is white supremacy, therefore white supremacy has no other option other than to continuously and forcibly spread itself.
Sadly, Black America often relies heavily on treatment advice from political leaders who have little to no interest in altering the disease course of white supremacy. Because if the symptoms of white supremacy (nationalism, privilege, microaggressions etc.) are thought to be mild, but manageable enough for Black folks to still be able to do America’s bidding, then why go through the labor necessary to flatten its impact?
And we have died and died from its complications. Oh Lord, where is the vaccine?
The 21st century has been a reawakening for many Black Americans with respect to our collective awareness of racial violence. Much of the post Civil Rights era, specifically the 1980s and 1990s, began scripting a couple of new narratives around Black American life that would reshift the focus of racial terror.
This reframing of racism as a not-so-imminent threat to Black existence was supported by at least two newly accepted cultural norms: 1) that upward mobility/ascension into middle class status would neutralize racism, and 2) that “Black on Black” violence had replaced white supremacy in its role of Black genocide. For a while we bought into the belief that if we could adapt hip hop’s ingenuity sans its violent undercurrent, embody Cosby-like ideals of respectability and generally assimilate more into the fabric of America, we could shake the terrors of our past. But racial violence did not take the end of the 20th century off so much as we did not always identify it. We talked about James Byrd and Rodney King and the largely inescapable headlines, but the reality of a still racially, violent country began to hit differently by the turn of the 21st century when mobile devices were able to capture racially charged massacres in real time. It is during the peak of #BlackExcellence by way of the Obama administration that #BlackLivesMatter was born. It is in the latter years of the 2000s that violence against Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo and Oscar Grant would usher in a bloody 2010s, where white supremacy would go viral time and again for taking Black lives.
The sobering reality is Black folks have never been immune to the violence of American racism and white supremacy. Our bodies have never been able to quarantine from poisonous flare-ups of hatred. We are to America in 2020 very similar to who we were in 1920 and there doesn’t appear to be any plan to eliminate this strain of virus that has served America well with respect to what population it has always sought to control.