My grandson, Kameron is 3 years old. He is a bright, energetic and inquisitive boy. Unfortunately, his entry into this world coincided with the rise of a racist/white supremacist shyster reality television personality to the highest office and the most powerful position in the world. In that way, Kam’s timing was really fucked up. But like most 3 year olds, he lives a sheltered existence with narrowly circumscribed responsibilities.
Kam has one job… developing his intellect and ability to think critically. He is well on his way on both counts, he is eagerly learning to count and read… His quest for knowledge is quite voracious… My young beautiful, Black grandson thinks.
A decade from now he will be in a middle school classroom and the subject of riots spreading like wildfire across America’s urban centers will inevitably become a topic of discussion.
As sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, racist/white supremacist police officers will continue to murder unarmed Black men.
At some point, I am quite sure, Kam will ask, “Pop-Pop why did the Blacks loot and destroy their own community?”
Fortunately, I will be in position to explicate some carefully considered ideas to my grandson. He won’t have to search beyond his grandfather and our personal library for thoughtful explanations of behavioral problems that continue to baffle most Black observers.
When he is around 13, I will have to share and explain Neely Fuller’s often cited quote with Kam:
“If you don’t understand white supremacy/racism, everything that you do understand will only confuse you..”
I fully expect that Kam, like most Black people, will struggle mightily with this conceptualization.
His initial response will likely be something along the lines of “Pop-Pop… I’m talking about Black people that participate in the looting, burning and destruction of businesses in their own community. That hurts them as much as, if not more than, it hurts white people.”
Kam will be correct. Their behavior is NOT rational.
Eldery Blacks, the grandparents and great-grandparents of many of the looters and arsonists are disproportionately harmed when community stores, markets and pharmacies are destroyed. The actions of the looters make zero sense when assessed from what is commonly referred to as a rational perspective.
It will be my responsibility to help this highly intelligent young boy understand that while the destructive pattern of rioting, looting and destructive behaviors exhibited by Blacks in the mid-1960’s, the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s, 2010s and now 2020 is not ‘rational,’ it can be considered functionally ‘sensible.’ Although these behaviors take certain forms we usually consider the height of irrationality, they are sensible because they are well-adapted to the exigent circumstances that accompany the racism/white supremacy at the core of the American creed.
It will be challenging, but I know my grandson will grasp the dynamics at play.
For most observers, both academic and journalistic, behavior is best explained utilizing a cost-benefit, reward-punishment approach. The key thing I will want Kam to understand is that the persistence and all-encompassing nature of racism/white supremacy severely limits the explanatory power of the rational choice approach when it is applied to frustrated Black behavior.
Son… racism/white supremacy ain’t rational… and, racism/white supremacy ain’t goin’ nowhere anytime soon.
Police, as you are told over and over in school and through the mainstream media, are there to protect and serve the community as a whole. The narrative is familiar… Citizens experience a threat to their person or property, they call 911 and the police respond. The responding officers take the report and make very effort to solve the crime. The victims are treated in a respectful and professional manner by law enforcement officials. More often than not, the criminal matter is resolved, the culprit is identified, the prosecuting attorney indicts and the justice system holds the criminal to account for his actions. After such encounters with police, every attempt is made to full fully respect the rights of the victims and alleged perpetrators. “Americans are innocent until proven guilty,” that’s what they teach you in school, right? In this way, citizens develop a preference for solving matters within the system in full accordance with the law. This is typical “goal-motivated” behavior. This is what my grandson will come to expect, given the manner in which the educational system and mainstream media deal with crime. This is the world familiar to white Americans, where correct choices lead to benefit and where wrong choice are costly.
That’s NOT the world in which Black America lives.
What happens if justice is made random and unpredictable for Black people? What happens is exactly what “rationalists” would expect; after some trial and error, Blacks sensibly refuse to call upon the police; one might say that rewards being random, they reduce costs to zero.
But what if Blacks are forced into encounters with the police. Real life, after all, frequently forces Blacks into police entanglements when avoidance may be their preference. Suppose you are Amadou Diallo, an unarmed 23 year old Black man, standing in front of your front door and four white plain-clothed officers—Sean Carroll, Richard Murphy, Edward McMellon, and Kenneth Boss claim to have mistaken you for a rape suspect from one year earlier and fire a combined total of 41 shots, 19 of which strike and instantly kill you, outside your apartment in the Bronx.
Suppose you are Abner Louima, a 31 year old Black man and you get into a fight in a Brooklyn nightclub. You are arrested and on the ride to the station, racist/white supremacist cops beat you with their fists, nightsticks, and hand-held police radios. On arriving at the station house, they kick you in the testicles, and while Louima’s hands were cuffed behind his back, a sadistic cop squeezed your testicles and then sexually assaulted you with a broken broomstick. After sodomizing you, the racist cop walked through the precinct holding the bloody, shit-stained instrument in his hand, bragging that he “took a man down tonight.”
Suppose you are Rodney King and you try to outrun the police in a high speed chase. Once the police stop you, they use their nightsticks to batter your joints, wrists, elbows, knees and ankles. Officers attempted numerous baton strikes on you, resulting in some misses but 33 blows hitting you, plus seven kicks. You was taken to the hospital after your arrest, where you are found to have suffered a fractured facial bones, a broken right ankle, and multiple bruises and lacerations. In a negligence claim filed with the city, you alleged you suffered “11 skull fractures, permanent brain damage, broken [bones and teeth], kidney failure [and] emotional and physical trauma”.
Suppose you are Walter Scott and you end up shot five times in the back after a traffic stop for a broken brake light. Suppose you are Philando Castile and you inform a cop during a traffic stop that you have a licensed gun in the car and he shoots you five times at close range. Suppose you are John Crawford III and you pull a BB gun off the shelf in a Wal-Mart and a cop shoots you twice killing you instantly inside the store.
Suppose you are George Floyd and a store clerk alleges that you used a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase a pack of cigarettes. Seventeen minutes after the police arrive on the scene, you are dead. Three officers have you pinned on the ground, in the street next to a car. One of the officers is using his knee and body weight to literally crush your throat.
Existing within an explicitly racist/white supremacist society, Black men in America have always faced an insoluble problem. Frustration is inevitable when faced by problems that are impossible to solve. Black men want to live but racist/white supremacist police repeatedly kill them and, for the most part, are not held accountable by the justice system in America.
What happens, essentially, is that frustrated ‘raging’ behaviors become stereotyped. Some Black males loot. Others destroy property proximate to their communities. These behaviors are consistent across geographic regions and over time. These stereotypical behaviors persist whether or not their friends, families and neighbors will be negatively impacted. Most striking is the fact that the stereotyped behavior persists even when sanctioned and approved protest opportunities are available. Frustrated Black males are aware of the locations and times of sanctioned protests, but they pillage and loot anyway.
This is evidence of the extent to which, these patterns of frustrated behaviors have become fixated.
Virtually every cop killing of an unarmed Black man is accompanied by raging behaviors among young Black males. So much so, that by now it should be evident that a percentage young Black frustrated males no longer inhabits a world of choice at all.
Kam, after centuries of existing within a racist/white supremacist society, a segment of the Black community that has a developed an infrequent orientation to the future… Plainly stated… They don’t “give a fuck!” They have developed a level of resignation and fatalism and tolerance for behaviors other regard as pathological. Kam, people will continue to ask “what’s wrong them?”
Racist/white supremacist law enforcement officials will continue to murder unarmed Blacks. A segment of Black men, unable to reasonably expect the criminal justice system in America to hold racist cops accountable, will engage in fixated behaviors that severely damage their immediate surroundings.
“Pop-Pop… What can be done about it?”
Kam… As long as racism/white supremacy exists, anything done that is not intended to eliminate racism/white supremacy and to help produce justice, is a waste of time and energy… Racism/white supremacy is a helluva drug son…