by: Terrence A. Merkerson
Fatigue. Restless fatigue. It seems as though every other week, black people are victimized, mostly for just being a Black. Violence against Black bodies is no new thing, but in an age of instantaneous, pervasive media and camera phones, we are able to visually witness more violence, unrest and unjust treatment of Black bodies more than ever before. The moniker, #BlackLivesMatter, has been used to express the discontent against overtly violent and racist acts that have taken the lives many and endanger the lives of many, MANY more. As a Black man, I have no choice but to know and understand deeply that Black lives matter. I see the shirts and hashtags bearing the handle, but I find myself wondering exactly to whom Black lives actually matter to… Of course they matter to me and Black people, but to who else? After much thought and observation from a macroscopic perspective, is it Black life or Black death that really matters most?
Let us think over the course of history in America. Every major shift in social equality, in regard to black people, in this country has come off of the heels of Black death. Nearly every time that we have united to fight, protest and demand fairness and equality has been in response to Black death. This has been no more prevalent than in the last few years, starting with the death of Trayvon Martin and has carried itself though the more recent stream of police brutality against black people that has questionably taken far too many lives, most recently that of Sandra Bland. It has been 150 years since the South was defeated, but it takes the deaths of innocent black people, in a church, in the South, (sound familiar?) to make us question the purpose of flying the battle flag of the Confederacy? This may be somewhat antagonizing, but I believe that we care more about Black death than we do Black life.
Racism, in its overt and institutionalized forms, has not gone anywhere. Over the years, it just has become more proficient at disguising itself. In very select moments, if you read, listen and observe carefully and consciously, you will hear it, see it, and be able to identify it almost immediately. It is the discomfort that a black man feels in an elevator with a white woman who clinches her purse and holds on to her children as soon as you walk in. It is the having White people ask you borderline-offensive questions about your “culture”, then appropriate parts of your culture that they find “cool” but disregard and ignore the parts that they do not like. It is when white co-workers do not recognize (or acknowledge) you in casual clothes outside of work. There are many more subtle examples that are rooted in racism that people of color, particularly black people, experience every day, but the tension, anxiety and distrust directed towards interaction with the justice system and law enforcement has and continues to be overtly racist and discriminatory.
Black people largely DO NOT trust the justice system and this is no new thing. Law enforcement and people of color have always had an adversarial relationship and recent events has only reinforced what most of us where already sure of. Before Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland and countless others, we did not trust the police. Black people have been getting abused, mistreated, falsely accused, falsely convicted and killed by the police as far back as formal law enforcement has been in existence in this country (and long before its existence as well). We have rioted, marched, and prayed for parity and a fair justice system since our emancipation, yet 150 years later, the only way that Black people have had a medium to justice is through the Black death, grossly evident, egregious acts of violence leading to Black death and sadly, that is not always a guarantee that justice will be served (see Trayvon Martin). Black lives are not found to be all that valuable outside of our own communities. Black talents are appreciated, but not Black opinions. Black culture is loved to the point of ‘select’ adaptation, but the no one wants any part of the struggle from which the culture beautifully manifests itself. Black bodies are admired, but no one would want to live one day inside the skin of a Black body. Black lives DO matter, but Black death seems to be the only thing that swings the pendulum.
Terrence Merkerson is the Founder & Creator of Avenue Fifteen. Terrence earned Bachelor’s Degrees in both Political Science and Gender/Race Studies from the University of Alabama. Terrence also completed Graduate School at the University of Alabama earning a Master’s Degree in Communication Studies.
He currently resides in Baton Rouge, LA.