Photo: by David Elikwu, in New York

13: How to get away with being Black (An update)

Newsletter 🗞 May 17, 2020

This week I'm republishing and adding commentary to a race-related piece that was taken down after some tweets of mine went viral. It's important right now. TW.


We’re taking a slight deviation this week to focus on an issue that has troubled me for a long time, though it is something I can’t bear to keep discussing. It’s a painful subject but I often realise how rarely people connect the dots, and so occasionally these reflective moments are necessary. If you find this issue informative, please share it with a friend.

Perhaps next week we can return to ruminations of bettering ourselves and finding joy in everyday triviality. If you are easily affected by stories of trauma and death, particularly where black bodies are concerned, It’s okay if you don’t want to read this. I’m writing today for two reasons:
  1. I want people to see that beyond these seemingly individual incidents, there are alarming systematic patterns that have proliferated for far too long. As a community, we should be far more concerned than we already are.
  2. I’m reposting (below) an article of the same title which I wrote three years ago on a blog which was hacked and deleted after some related tweets (also below) went viral. I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any means, but I’d like to re-submit this entry to the public domain.

Yesterday I read a news story about a man who had been arrested for shooting at intruders in self-defence. His crime was that the intruders happened to be police officers. The police officers were actually at the wrong house, but they blew the doors down without warning anyway and sprayed the room with 20 bullets, killing his wife. The man, startled and confused, shot back. Just once. Hitting nobody. And was dragged before a judge on charges of attempted murder. The cops were home with their families in time for dinner.

This came just a week after the story of Ahmaud Arbery spread like wildfire online. A black man caught jogging in a white neighbourhood, who was penned in by three armed men and murdered. The actual incident happened in February. There were no charges; there was no case, until months later when the video surfaced online and the justice system was forced, reluctantly, to re-evaluate.

The world has become far too calm and complicit in the face of injustice. Last year I attended the press screening for Just Mercy - a real story about a real lawyer, Bryan Stevenson who headed to Alabama after graduating from Harvard to defend those wrongly condemned or not afforded proper representation. The most poignant moment for me came in the credits after the film when I realised two things: First, the story took place in the same small Alabama town that decades earlier had inspired To Kill A Mockingbird - a fictional story based on true observations. Second, the Sheriff in the case (which happened in the ’80s) was re-elected six more times and retired peacefully in 2018.

It drove home the reality that in most cases, justice is a fiction not afforded to people of colour. And this applies equally in the US as it does in the UK.

The events that led to the satirical essay below being deleted are as follows:

I tweeted this:

As those tweets began to blow up, Twitter actively began suppressing them:

And then my blog, in its entirety, was deleted. Along with several essays regarding Colin Kaepernick, Michel Bennett, and others. In the interim I was reached out to, and had several conversations with the families of the victims mentioned above, and listed below, who encouraged me to continue to share.

And so here in full text, is the piece originally published on October 1, 2017.


The state of race relations on both sides of the Atlantic play out like a HBO drama directed by Shonda Rhimes. It seems like every other week for the last few years we hear stories of black people being killed, going to jail, being arrested or just having some kind of altercation with the police, ordinary people, and the media.

All too often on Twitter and other corners of the internet, I hear excuses made for the treatment of black people in various contexts: Let’s hear both sides, he probably deserved it. What was he doing there in the first place? Why was he standing like that? WHy was she in that neighborhood? But didn’t he get 3 D’s at school and his best friend’s second-cousin’s brother-in-law was a drug dealer!!!

So for those of us who don’t have “the complexion for the protection”, here’s a satiric guide on keeping your nose clean. Today we’re going to analyze how to get away with blackness in 2017. No more gifs, this is serious stuff. It’s also a long read – bring your finest tea.

What if I do something stupid but not excessively criminal…

Let’s get this one out of the way. Don’t commit crime of any magnitude. Why? Our first case study: Timothy Russell was high and driving with Malissa Williams on a suspended licence. Naturally, the police responded with “appropriate force” and 60 police vehicles chased the couple for 25 minutes culminating in a one-way final “shootout” where the unarmed couple were shot at 137 times in a school playground. Needless to say, this also covers the “what if I’m just a passenger” scenario.

Ok I’ll follow the law – what if I have a concealed carry permit?

If you must have a firearm, following the law and registering for a permit is the best way to go. Philando Castille was riding with his fiance and a baby in the back. He was pulled over and asked to identify himself. He complied, reaching for it while informing the officer that he was a licensed gun owner. The cop then “panicked” and shot him dead in front of his girlfriend and child.

It is important to note here that in some states white people make up as many as 90% of concealed carry permit holders. Further, the top five concealed carry ZIP codes per capita are all predominately white and middle class. I’ll let you have a guess at how many police officers “panic” and shoot innocent drivers in those neighborhoods with the highest percentage of known gun owners. Hint – if you guessed more than 3 you’re dead wrong.

Fine, but what if I’m a police officer myself?

Our third case study concerns an officer who the Missouri police dept. decided not to name. A hero, patriot, and eleven year veteran of the St. Louis police department who despite being off-duty, saw the scene of a crime and came hoping to offer assistance. As soon as his colleagues on the scene saw him approaching, he was ordered down onto his knees like a criminal. They approached with firearms drawn and, eventually recognising him, ordered him to stand up and come towards them.

As this unfolded one of their colleagues who had worked with the black officer for eight years arrived at the scene, saw the unarmed black man in plain clothes and promptly shot his “black friend”. Because even if you are a police officer surrounded by so-called friends, when you’re not wearing that famous blue anti-racism supersuit, to be black is to be dangerous, and presumed danger is a natural and justifiable prerequisite for white violence.

What about a doctor?

Easy – let’s talk about when therapist Charles Kinsey was caught helping an autistic patient. Having seen the spate of recent killings of unarmed black men by armed police, Kinsey lay flat on his back with legs splayed, arms raised. Zero threat from a man lying down with hands up right? He definitely got away safely right? Wrong. The police officer walked up to him and shot at him three times, hitting his knee before handcuffing him in the car on the way to the hospital.

How about the time a young and exceptional PhD student Lawrence Crosby was beaten, cuffed and still charged by police when someone called the cops thinking he was breaking into his own car. He was charged with not obeying orders despite video evidence showing him being jumped by police as soon as he stepped out of the car with hands raised.

Did I mention he was black? Because if you’re black and not driving a crappy old car that could belong to a struggling drug dealer, police will panic and shoot you. P.s. if you do drive a crappy hustle-mobile and also have the misfortune of looking like a drug dealer (read: black), police will still panic and shoot you.

A CHILD – nothing safer than being a child, right?

Wrong. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was shot by a police officer after he was spotted playing with a toy gun by a neighbor of a certain demographic. The officer was not indicted after murdering the child because if you’re black, once you’re 10 years old you’re practically 18. Everyone knows this.

Meanwhile, two months after a jury failed to indict the officer, the city of Cleveland filed a claim against the 12-year-olds estate over an unpaid $500 EMS bill. The documentation explained benevolently to the grieving family that $450 of the bill was for ambulance services and $50 was for mileage. Apparently, there’s a steep price to pay for having your children executed in the street by law enforcement.

Ok being a black child is too dangerous… what if I go to college?

Freshman student-athlete Jamarlon Robinson was at his girlfriend’s place when US marshals pulled up like drunken gangbangers and emptied full clips through the door. After three minutes of sustained fire, they kicked the door down, entered the house, threw a flash grenade at him, and shot at him 93 times with 76 bullets connecting. They then dragged his lifeless body down the stairs and onto the landing where more bullets were emptied into the dead boys head.

When the child’s grandmother arrived to identify the massacred remains of her grandchild, it was impossible. The marshals showed her a picture of the boy they had come to kill (did somebody say entrapment?). It wasn’t him. They had apparently murdered the wrong child. I’ll let you guess how many officers were convicted of his wrongful slaughter or how much the family was compensated. If you guessed any more than 0 and 0.00, you’re dead wrong.

What if I’m the first person in history to make $1billion from sports AND pretend I’m not even black?

Mainstream media paints black men as guilty before they even step into the courtroom. When Tiger Woods was arrested earlier this year for a DUI the media condemned his character, talked about his marital problems and his issues in the past, continuing to poison the well with damning evidence against him.

Actual evidence would later prove that alcohol was not involved, Woods blew a point-zero when tested and was instead under the influence of pain medication he had been prescribed for a bad back. Tiger Woods doesn’t even identify as black so that clearly won’t help you either. When the chips are down, if you’re darker than a Stormtrooper costume you might as well be as black as Darth Vader.

“BLACK MEN HAVE TO LEARN THAT NO MATTER HOW RICH YOU ARE IN AMERICA, YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A “RICH NEGRO” TO THE POWERS THAT BE.” – QUANELL X

Not enough? Ok what if I’m exceptionally rich, an internationally renowned athlete, Olympian, and still in my prime?

This was clearly evidenced by the incident NBA superstar Lebron James was the victim of earlier this year. A man widely considered the best basketball player on the planet, who makes tens of millions more money off the court via enterprise and endorsements than he does on it, James still had to face this reality as his home was defaced during a game.

You can be one of the highest paid and most prolific athletes in the history of organised sport, but come home to find the word “nigger” emblazoned in green ink across your doorstep.

And the delusional, facile irony is the asinine rhetoric enabled by vicious and regressive coons like FS1’s resident Uncle Tom… I mean… *ahem* – seasoned commentator Jason Whitlock, who preach that when faced with the reality that despite your talents, achievement and everything you’ve ever worked for, because you have the rare and limited blessing of being financially well compensated for your work you should be able to ignore the fact that you are hated because of the colour of your skin.

“NO MATTER HOW MUCH MONEY YOU HAVE, NO MATTER HOW FAMOUS YOU ARE, NO MATTER HOW MANY PEOPLE ADMIRE YOU, BEING BLACK IN AMERICA IS TOUGH,” – LEBRON JAMES

I wrote an article on Colin Kaepernick last year at the time of his brush with national infamy, and another recently on Michael Bennett (publishing next week!!) after the 270lb lineman was ordered to the ground by police who held a gun to his head and threatened to “blow his f***ing brains out” because he happened to be at the scene of a false alarm 911 call.

In retrospect, it’s frightening to see how accurate those early predictions were, now that Kaepernick has lost his job and been blackballed from a league in which he is statistically comparable to (if not better than) up to 16 of 32 current starting QBs.

Okay okay okay – but what if I’m the first Black president, leader of the free world, liked by almost everyone, my biggest scandal is wearing a tan Easter suit, I’m the head of a wholesome black family, GQ thinks I’m cool, AND I’m supported by arguably the most educated and cool (and beautiful) first lady in the history of the republic?

Lol. Nope. Nah, Never. No dice here either. I’m not even going to get into this one but suffice to say it’s no coincidence that certain demographics wail and moan that the arrival of the first president darker than a Kleenex used to clean white tears, coincided with a decade of spiralling race relations.

Oh but that’s not simply because he’s a black man in a racist country, it’s actually his own fault… for being unapologetically black… and taking what many blacks would still even argue was a limp and politically restricted stance on the widespread slaughter of his skinfolk.

Needless to say when his time was up, the stoic citizens who “have black friends” and “voted for Obama twice” replaced him with a white supremacist demagogue who on national tv openly advocated for the emergence of neo-nazis armed with tiki torches and rifles. #ChangeWeNeed right? (NB: see any police asking white supremacists for ID or their firearm permit? I didn’t think so).

The final irony is that Obama’s replacement led a long and ridiculous crusade with the “noble” intention of proving Obama was a foul and nasty no-good immigrant that wasn’t born in America. That same President Trump would later give us our first Eastern European first lady born in communist Yugoslavia, after successfully running a year-long presidency campaign on the premise that a wall would be built by Mexico, for Mexico, to keep immigrants out of America.

Sigh, so America is a no-go. What if I’m in the UK?

Wrong again. GQ man of the year and multi-award winning artist Stormzy had his front door kicked in by police when his well-meaning neighbors of a certain demographic, precluded that the only explanation for a black man driving into AND ENTERING (*gasp*) a house on their street was that he was robbing it. Here, in full print, is the formal apology he was issued by the Metropolitan Police:

“.”

So where am I safe to be back?

Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not afford bail, do not collect the right to vote – alongside one in three black men if you’re in the US, and somehow even worse odds if you’re in the UK according to a recent report by David Lammy MP. This is the only future that many will want you to see and it’s a glum prospect.

Despite the negative tone of this article, there is still an abundance of promise for young black people growing up today. However, it is important to highlight the circumstances many young people are faced with growing up.

It is extremely easy to see why disenfranchised blacks see no hope for themselves or their future when they battle implicit racism on the streets with one hand and with the other, push back against systematic racism in the form of targeted legislation, policing and judicial indiscretion.

I’m tired of hearing certain demographics whip out the “Appeal to Martin Luther King” as though it’s a Yu-Gi-Oh trap card. Dr King for all his kindness, love and virtue was shot in the head just like Malcolm X, just like Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Akai Gurley, Walter Scott, Laquan McDonald, Mark Duggan, Edson Da Costa and the plethora of other young blacks who died off-camera and without media attention.

How to get away with being black?

Frankly, at the moment, you don’t. When you can be killed unarmed and innocent at 12, 15, 16, 18 by law enforcement, the executive branch of a government that’s actively advocating for your disenfranchisement, it’s easy to see why so many young men and women become disillusioned with promises of “change” that will come “soon”.

The revered emblem of peaceful protest Dr King died almost 60 years ago. Change needs to come faster than soon, it needs to come yesterday.


If you have any further thoughts, I’d love to hear them. Reply via email, leave a comment or send me a tweet!

Three men walking at the sidewalk in New York: A photo by David Elikwu
Photo: by David Elikwu, in New York

This week on The Knowledge

This week on the podcast I share a conversation with activist and campaigner Seyi Akiwowo who shared her journey from being Newham’s youngest Councillor to starting Glitch, an organisation campaigning to end online abuse. We talked about therapy, safeguarding the community, and digital self-care.

You can listen to the episode now on ‘The Knowledge’ wherever you listen to podcasts!


Reading list

Books I’ve read/seen/will impulsively buy and add to my “to read” shelf on Goodreads. Recommendations from newsletter readers are always welcome:

  1. Decolonising the camera by Mark Sealy - wishlisted. This poignant recommendation comes from Keleenna, a reader, and is a really important read for fellow photographers and digital creators.
  2. They can’t kill us all by Wesley Lowery - impulsively bought. A front-line account of the Black Lives Matter movement. I’m suggesting this because it’s topical today, but there are loads of other titles in the same vein I’d recommend.
  3. Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones - wishlisted. This has been showered with praise and highly recommended by Sarah, who has earned back-to-back recommendation slots.

Things I’m loving

Films and shows:

  • Extraction - Netflix algorithms have been shoving this title down my neck for weeks but I finally watched it, and it was great. Well done Netflix. Are you happy now?
  • Friends - Possibly the most underappreciated work of art in modern times, I’m constantly perplexed at how little credit this show is given for its contribution to popular culture and lexicon.

Resources:

  • Audible - because that’s the only reason I’ve already managed to read 18 books this year. It would’ve been more but I read a book so good I took two weeks off reading and have just been listening to podcasts. Personally, I think it’s the bee’s knees. Try it for 30 days and see how you find it - with that link you’ll also get a free book and two free Audible originals!
  • Daily inventory / Mental health tracker - keep a daily inventory of how well you’re sleeping, eating, exercising, working and more, so you’ll know in advance when you’re heading towards a rut. You’ll get scores and charts based on your responses, and there’s now a daily journalling function as well!

Let me know if you have any suggestions for next week. Feedback is welcome too! Email me or drop me a tweet here.

Until next time!!

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