Black Death Matters
Some time ago I wrote My Black Life Doesn’t Matter. As the machinations and shenanigans associated with BLM continue to disturb my peace, I think I have come to an appropriate way to describe it. Having come to this realization, I find it entirely consistent with my understanding of coming to grips with an identity one doesn’t choose and how the Civil Rights movements of the past are so starkly and fundamentally different from what’s going on today.
George Floyd has become a fungible.
He has been press ganged into a parade of celebrity victims by a crowd of activists and their sympathizers. His actual black life has been hounded into a representational dead end. Or to use more commonly bandied about language, he has been culturally appropriated. George Floyd is not his life, he is only his death. What his life might have meant has succumbed to the public acceptance, almost unanimous, about what his death has symbolized. I too, like the family of Floyd, know what it is like to lose a family member suddenly and tragically. I know what that kind of grief and loss feels like. I have experienced this for myself, twice. What I do not know, is what it feels like to have a family member’s entire life be overshadowed by a moment of infamy and then converted into an avalanche of political activism. I have not had a family member erased.
On the other hand, I familiar with the theme. Anyone who has attempted to write, as I have, as a black writer, knows how difficult it is to get your writing recognized as a legitimate and authentic representation of your lived experience. You can call this an economic injustice if that term suits you, because it is clear that the economic power of news organizations and political organizations and cultural production companies in any medium quite handily overwhelm the truth of any individual writer. Only the writer who is broadly published and becomes famous because of that is relatively safe from misrepresentation. That safety is under a greater threat than ever in my memory, owing to the cowardice and volume of Cancel Culture and their blue meany alarm-clowns. As much as it is told that diverse voices are being empowered, these are only pigeonholes. They are as common and as generic as rainbow graphics and full [people of] color brochures for liberal arts colleges. It is hard enough to have the actual details of life accurately portrayed in a world where racial stereotypes rule, even in life itself. When I moved from Los Angeles to Brooklyn around the corner from Crown Heights, it was assumed that black Americans all had the same negative connotations of Jews. So I was asked to join certain protests. I never had anything but normal relations with Jews my entire life. When I moved from NY to Atlanta’s largely white Cobb County suburbs, it was assumed that I would inherit all of the black culture of Fulton County, largely black. Black diversity, that phrase you never hear, is real but it is always smothered for the premises of black cultural and political unity, and by the liberal confirmation bias that assumes it. That’s why black diversity not part of today’s narrative. That’s why George Floyd’s dead body means so much more than his life. His ghost can’t defy the narrative. It generated a perfect storm because it was racially predestined.
When I first got on the net in the early 90s, a close friend of mine said something fundamentally profound. It was that blackfolks didn’t need and weren’t looking for a black leader, so much as it was whitefolks. Specific, hungry whitefolks were famished for a black leader to speak for the masses, someone they could accept or reject and then compare the ideas of the leaders to those black Americans with whom they wished to embrace or denounce. Where do you stand on Khalid Muhammad?, we were asked. Where do you stand on Mumia? What is your opinion on Cornel West? It was as if black America lived in an hermetic universe whose bubble could only be pierced by the Fungibles who communicated with the rest of us at the Wednesday Night Meeting. At the same time, we acknowledged it was true that some black Americans were looking for symbols to back up their stories of “I told you so.” to anyone who doubted the reality of racism. The dynamic remains. There is a hot market for tales from the hood. I cannot tell you how many breathless inquiries I have received in the vein of “What is the most devastating racist thing that ever happened to you?”.
In this inverted world of show and tell, only the bleakest, blackest tragedies are monetized and taken up by the American political elites. The short attention span theater of the mainstream media does not have the inclination, time, patience or budget to put more substantive non-fiction into their agendas, certainly nothing that defies the new conventions of multicultural political correctness that is superdistributed to the teaming millions. The common man must be left to his own devices of consumption, but these distributors are not interested in the common man’s living reality. If the New York Times survey says X, then the public had better believe it for its own good. All the acceptable alternatives are to be consumed by the first class citizens in the magazines that matter. Perhaps I’m being cynical and shrill. I simply hate drowning in the banal menu of deepest darkest horrors of the ‘black lives’ that matter. Once upon a time there were celebrated men like Vernon Jordan and women like Mae Jemison who got to represent what America could provide to its citizens. Now the examples are the mistreated, maimed, & murdered.
In my writing, I have dealt with just about every one of them. Sean Bell, The Jena Six, Latasha Harlins, Rodney King, Ron Settles, Michael Zinzun, Don Jackson, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Mumia Abu Jamal, ShaquandaCotton, and many more that I don’t currently have the patience to link to an appropriate post in my archives. Nevertheless I have no problem simply listing them:
- Abner Louima
- Genarlow Wilson
- Dunbar Village
- Jonny Gammage
- Tyisha Miller
- Eric Garner
- Tamir Rice
- Freddy Gray
- Philando Castile
What did they do? How did they live? It doesn’t matter. They were crushed, liquified and distilled into the fuel of the race relations machine, now all we have are their ghosts haunting every newsroom, every political mention of race. They have become, in the hands of the priests of the cult of the New Anti Racists, the only blacks that matter — the dead ones. Nobody is able to celebrate black life in this narrative, unless you call a sudden plethora of films pulled from the digital attics of Apple and Amazon a living celebration. When is the last time a major sponsor pulled advertising from a news program hyping racial strife? It’s black death that pays the bills. It’s black tragedy that keeps the newsrooms buzzing. It’s black dysfunction that keeps people talking and editorializing and coming up with some of the most nonsensical political ideas outside of Lilliput. This game is old, tired and wrong.