Tuesday, March 27, 2012

This just in...

Well, would ya look at that? No sooner than I write about how we finally have a case with a clean victim, someone in the Sanford police department leaks information about how Trayvon Martin had been suspended three times from school.

Well, this changes everything! People who get suspended and/or smoke marijuana totally deserve to be followed down the street and shot to death.

Keep it classy, Sanford PD.

Who are we kidding? This is a blatant attempt to distract us from the the issues at hand. An unarmed boy was shot to death, and the police responsible for investigating the matter chose not to look into it further, until hundreds of thousands of people told them to.

I am really debating how much more I want to keep arguing the details. I will ask these questions: was Trayvon's school record a factor in deciding in whether or not to arrest George Zimmerman? If yes, what makes it relevant? If no, then what are the reasons for the information being leaked?

Moving on.

I said in my last post that I was going to talk more about how the connotation of black = dangerous got drilled into people's heads. But then I got all riled up and ended with that awesome video instead.

It is quite the fascinating story though, so I want to take this opportunity to share it with you.

I recently watched a documentary called Slavery by Another Name on PBS. From the website:

Slavery by Another Name is a 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans’ most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. The film tells how even as chattel slavery came to an end in the South in 1865, thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality. It was a system in which men, often guilty of no crime at all, were arrested, compelled to work without pay, repeatedly bought and sold, and coerced to do the bidding of masters.

Some brief lowlights from the film:

Pre Civil War, fifty percent of the capital that was invested in the South was invested in the purchase of slaves. So when the Emancipation Proclamation happened, slave owners were at risk of losing a huge amount of money. Because you know, they couldn't return their slaves and get their money back.

What happened then?

Well, lawmakers in the South started criminalizing a lot of normal behaviors and greatly increasing the penalties for petty crimes. New crimes were created like loitering (aka walking around and looking about,) vagrancy (aka not having a home since you used to be a slave and now you weren't anymore,) and walking next to a railroad track, became things for which you could be arrested, fined and sentenced to hard labor. And if you didn't have the money to pay the fine, that was no problem--they just increased the amount of time you had to do hard labor.

So, how did the hard labor work?

Well, wouldn't you know it--the State would rent out these "criminals" to private business owners. Some of the same people, who a few years before, had been slave owners! Imagine that.

The business owner gets to profit from the labor, and the State gets to profit from the renting. And the black people? They get to be forced to work for free.

And they were actually get treated worse than when they were slaves, because as rented workers, there was no incentive for the business owner to treat them well. If they got sick from horrible living conditions, or just got worked to death, the business owner would just go and rent another guy. Under slavery if a person died, the slave owner would lose the money invested in the purchase of the enslaved person.

myblackfriend, you're really starting to bum me out--what does this have to do with the connotation between black and dangerous?

I know, it bums me out too. Let me get to my original point.

Before the Emancipation Proclamation, most people in the criminal justice system were white. Not long after slavery officially ended, 90% of the inmates in the criminal justice system in the South were black. So this disproportionate number of black people in jail thing has been going on ever since we were freed.

And here's something curious about how white people's perceptions of black people changed over time. While black people were being dominated in almost every way under the institution of slavery, many white southerners saw them as hardworking, trustworthy and obedient. Once slavery ends, that's when you see the narrative of black people being dangerous criminals start to form.

And in some ways it would make sense. If you're a young white kid driving around the South with your parents, and you see a chain gang full of people in prison stripes and they all just happen to be black, in your mind you may start to think black people are inherently dangerous.

It's only when you start to examine things a little more closely, that you begin to wonder if there aren't other factors at play.

Well, myblackfriend...slavery was a really long time ago.

True, but as we just learned, it would appear that it wasn't nearly as long a time ago as we were originally led to believe. And it just so happens that things like this are still happening today.

Have you ever heard of stop and frisk? That's when the police can stop and search you, just cuz. It's completely legal, and apparently happens a lot in inner-city neighborhoods. Lots of black and brown people get stopped and frisked, and some have drugs on them ( little known fact: 83% of drug arrests are for possession.)

Do you know how many white people I've known that would have drugs on them if they were stopped and frisked? Several.

What kind of neighborhood do you live in? When is the last time the police routinely stopped and searched people who were minding their own business in your neighborhood?

I am not even trying to say that people should or shouldn't be arrested for having drugs. What I am saying is if you're going to have such an invasive procedure in place, apply it to all citizens equally. Don't target and punish one group of people and let another group get a pass. Don't put one group of people in jail and call them violent and dangerous, while another group of people is doing the same thing, and they're allowed to get high and watch Workaholics in peace. That is just plain UnAmerican. At least the America that I like to believe, and sometimes just have to hope (despite depressing evidence to the contrary,) actually exists.

But do you want to know the most pernicious thing about it?

All of these things: don't run away, don't learn to read, don't walk next to the railroad tracks, don't raise your voice around white women, don't try to come to my school, don't walk down the street with marijuana in your pocket, don't date my daughter, don't wear a hoodie, don't come into my gated community, don't look at me when I'm looking at you, don't write a blog that focuses on race, don't be smart, don't be stupid, be just like me, remember you'll never be like me.

All of these messages exist to support one basic belief: Everything will be just fine, as long as you stay in your place. If you don't stay in your place--we're going to have problems.

Well, my friends? I roundly reject these messages. And I invite you to reject them too.

Comments? You know what to do.


  1. Anonymous5:14 PM

    Great post.
    I am so sick of hearing "drugs were found on the victim" or "the victim had a history of minor criminal offenses" on the news. It's code for "he had it coming"
    Travon Martin was suspended from school? Holy cow! It's a wonder he made it to 17!
    Anyone that would imply a rape victim had it coming because of the way she was dressed would be looked upon with disgust yet we make the same implications about black and latino victims all the time and not only are people not disgusted, they shake their heads sadly in agreement as if to say "when will they ever learn?".

  2. NSangoma6:00 PM

    Anonymous 5:14 PM,

    My son is a rising upper school senior; he will not be 17-years old until this summer.

    My son busted a +30 on his ACT on his initial attempt; we expect to see his SAT results within the next few weeks.

    My son has never been suspended from his upper school, does this make him some kind of square?

    We as a people must stop rewarding negative behaviors on the part of our youth.

    The high school girls giving up the pssuy are giving it up to the bad actors; the ones with the gold grills on their teephs and who also sell weed.

    What are the good kids to do if they continually see Trayvon Martin type Negroes getting all of our attention.

    MotherFcuk Trayvon Martin, and his nas-si-sti-ty mama!

  3. Anonymous6:18 PM

    It's such a power trip. How disgusting. Thank you for your hard work on putting all these points together for us, MBF.

    I've been thinking about the parallels of blame the victim to rape lately too. In fact, I do think that women are blamed for what they're wearing ALL THE TIME. And it flies.

    It is not a victim's responsibility to prevent a crime from happening. It's the assailant's.

    Ashley (the other anonymous commenter who just plain forgets to sign her name)

  4. So, here's what I think happened....

    Trayvon was walking back from 7-11...became aware that Zimmerman was watching him....became aware that Zimmerman was following him (scary looking big dude)...Trayvon got scared (as would any rational person)...Someone said something like, "Hey, where you going?" or "Hey, Why are you following me?"...

    Then testosterone got involved (why do we not have these stories about women, hmmmm, yes, I am being an essentialist, which I don't even believe in)...

    and someone made it physical...

    do I think Trayvon punched the guy...yup...

    do I think Zimmerman was a nightmare waiting to happen, YUP...

    At the heart of the altercation are racist beliefs...why is this black kid in this white neighborhood (not saying it's white, but perceived as white)...and so you have two people who are scared of each other. We can argue whether these fears are justifiable...I think we can agree that these fears have been systematically taught to us...

    Racism is a trap that ensnares us all, and sometimes, that trap results in horrible tragedies like Trayvon being killed.

    I see another culprit in this whole tragedy is gun ownership. Had Zimmerman not had a gun, this might have not been lethal.

    Thanks, DeAnna for writing!

  5. Anonymous8:04 PM


    That's great about your son, really.
    When I was in high school I got a 28 on my ACT (can't really remember the SAT score now). I was also suspended and eventually expelled from the private school I attended. I used drugs regularly and probably committed some other crimes as well. Today I am a husband, father, have a good job, pay my taxes, etc.
    The point is some kids do stupid and self-destructive things for a while, move past it, and go on to be productive members of society. Maybe Trayvon would have grown past some of the things you reference (if some or all of those things are true is debatable) like I did. Or maybe not. The point is we'll never know because he was gunned down in the street by a wannabe cop for fitting his profile of a thug and criminal.
    Even if everything you site in your post is true, and I'm not saying it is, does getting suspended from school, smoking pot, wearing jewelry, and having burglary equipment (whatever the hell that is, a screwdriver? a flashlight?) mean you somehow deserved to die and are now an embarrassment? Really? And for the record I don’t really care if Zimmerman was getting his ass kicked at the time he decided to shoot. There was an incredibly easy way for him to avoid that situation: call the cops and let them deal with it.

    Oh lastly, my first post was as anonymous at 5:14, I had some trouble getting logged in.

  6. Anonymous7:02 AM


    Okay troll, you win. Have fun trolling for arguments. I'm out.

  7. Chunk Hotzumomo1:47 PM

    This post is excellent.

    The words that keep resonating in my head are "Your being glib, you dont know the history."

    Granted, the source of those words is odd, but the statement is powerful. It seems to be very common in the country to be glib, and offer analysis without understanding the history of an issue.


    This post, the documentary mentioned, and the books on the right, allow us to learn enough of the history that we can finally connect the dots. A direct link can be made from slavery, to the current manufactured stereotype of the criminal black man. If more people were able to understand this link, we would be a less glib nation. This might allow us to finally maturing beyond the cradle of injustice from which our nation was born.

    Okay, so I got a bit poetic at the end --but the point is still valid. Learning our history will allow us to move toward the post-racial society. To use another powerful quote from our pop culture;

    "You cannot change what you do not acknowledge"


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