ON MY RIDE TO FERGUSON AND BLAMING BLACK PEOPLE FOR ANTI-BLACK VIOLENCE
Written By: Jamila Lyiscott
Photo By: Tsige Tafesse
I can remember the bored lifeless face that I would give to peers who found pleasure in playing the “stop hitting yourself” game with me as a child. As the “culprit” used my own hand to playfully (and annoyingly) force me to hit myself in the face while repeating the silly statement, I would note that the only thing they could possibly want or expect from their provocation was a reaction. I would note that the game itself was a feature of immaturity. And in later years, in considering this as a metaphor for America’s consistent blaming of Black people for anti-Black violence, I note that had the “culprit” moving my hand been invisible to onlookers, my psychological wellness would be put into question as I sat there seemingly hitting myself in the face.
My spirit is still not the same since I returned to Brooklyn from the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Freedom Ride to Ferguson, MO on Labor Day weekend of 2014. Alongside 600 Black people from across the nation, we delved into the emotionally charged movement ready to stand and work for tangible change. We raised our hands and voices in unified chants of “Don’t Shoot”…We made promises to all who would listen to the timbre of righteous rage in our voices, that if there was no justice, there would be no peace. The hugs, laughs, and smiles between us were just as urgent, just as pressing, just as powerful as the fists, the tears, and the collective vigor that stirred in our hearts as we chanted “Black. Lives. Matter!” at the top of our lungs from beginning to end.
But since then for me, even more distressing than having seen the exact spot where the dead body of Mike brown laid unattended to like an animal in the street, are the re-emerging assertions that…
1. Black people ought to be less outraged about the crimes against our communities because of the existence of crimes within our communities.
2. Black people are in some way(s) to blame for the continued legal disposal of unarmed Black people throughout America.
These articulations conjure up the childhood game in my mind…they give me deep pause as I witness the invisible hand of white privilege playing the “stop hitting yourself” game with Black communities like Ferguson all throughout the country, convincing Americans that a culture of self-defeat, poverty, ghettoness, hypersexuality, violence, illiteracy and let’s not forget the worst crime—sagging pants—is to blame for the way that Black lives are viewed and valued in America.
As our crew from NYC, NJ, and Philly boarded the bus in Harlem for our 18-21 hour ride into Ferguson, we knew that the trip would be one small component in a web of efforts to fight the hatred against our communities and the brokenness within our communities. We also knew that well before the guns or tanks or tear gas ever touched ground in Ferguson, it was crucial for America, and for the people using these weapons to buy into a historical narrative that assures us that Black lives require excessive force in order to be controlled for the greater good of this nation. So the world is watching the war zone that is every day Black life in wonder and confusion…why won’t we stop hitting ourselves?!
What we fail to see is that in order to massage our collective consciousness into accepting the death of Mike Brown as legitimate, a completely unrelated video of him allegedly robbing a store was released to assure us that he brought his execution upon himself—“Stop hitting yourself Mike!”
What we fail to see is that, in order to lull us to sleep to the reality that our justice system supported the murder of an unarmed teenage boy, Trayvon Martin, by a random armed citizen, we were flooded with a barrage of unrelated negative information about the victim’s character to assure us that he somehow brought his execution upon himself—“Stop hitting yourself Trayvon!”
Let me be clear: The argument that Black people are to blame for anti-Black violence is in perfect alignment with the logic and legislation that upheld the heinous design of slavery in America. In order for world powers to maintain slavery and post-slavery racist legislation, it was crucial for the people to believe that the uncivilized nature of Africans required excessive force, policing, and restraint.
There was no shortage of animalistic images of fugitive slaves with the word “DANGER” written boldly across the page to drive this sentiment home. The enslaved were a danger to others and to themselves, so the average citizen was convinced that Blacks were responsible for their fate and thus, the abuse and execution of Black bodies were upheld by law.—“Stop hitting yourself Black people!”
Aside from the fact that “there’s no such thing as Black-on-Black crime”, the idea that we ought to be less outraged about the crimes against our communities because there are crimes within our communities forgets that the violence and crimes in our communities are ILLEGAL while the string of police brutality and killings in our communities are deemed legal by the policies and practices that continue to uphold them.
We are not in support of violence in any capacity. We are outraged, disgusted, sick, and tired of the legalized violence and hate that continues to saturate the Black experience in America because BLACK LIVES MATTER.
To suggest that Black people are responsible for the myriad of issues that emerged from our dispersion, enslavement, and colonization is to blind ourselves to the hand of white privilege that has been playing this silly, but deadly game quite effectively for some centuries now. And this is not to say that we do not have some responsibility in maintaining and perpetuating some of our own ills, but it is high time for us to stop falling for silly tricks and adopt more critical perspectives than what is fed to us by the same hand that is playing the “stop hitting yourself” game with us in the first place.
Jamila Lyiscott is currently a doctoral candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University where her work focuses on the education of the African Diaspora. She serves as a community educator and adjunct professor and is currently a Graduate Research Fellow at the Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME). Jamila was recently featured on Ted.com where her video was viewed over 2 million times.
Follow her on Twitter: @blackrelevance