By Dr. Agya Boakye-Boaten –
Please Stop Killing Us. A Plea for Anti-Racism in America.
Americans continue to grapple with the dark side of racism and racial violence. Racial violence is woven into the fabric of American society, and for generations, some Americans have tried to exorcise the demons of racism and its concomitant violence. However, racial violence, particularly against African Americans, either by agents sanctioned by their governments or individuals emboldened by their perceived entitled racial superiority, continue to expose the raw wounds of racism and racial violence. Racial violence is deeply embedded and is considered as American as apple pie and baseball.
It Was There at the Founding
Racism and racial violence have been integral to the founding of this country and continue to manifest in many facets of our society. Therefore, it is imperative to expose America’s darker side, racism, and concomitant racial violence that continues to destroy black and brown bodies. Black and brown bodies cannot continue to be human sacrifices for the insatiable appetite of white supremacist, neoliberal, capitalist greed. There is no justification whatsoever for the dehumanization of black and brown bodies in 21st century America or for that matter at any time or anywhere. People are dying because of who they are, and that is unequivocally unacceptable!
Racism and racial violence are not the fault of the victims. What is the justification for any human being suffocated to death or being hunted down and killed? Yet such has become the horrific reality of American society, of which race is the organizing principle. When W.E.B. Dubois declared that the problem of the 20th century was the problem of the color line, he reminded Americans that organizing society on racial principles and racial hierarchies was inhumane, unjust, and a blatant disregard for human life, based on the color of one’s skin. What continues to plague this society is the difficulty in accepting, without question, the humanity of African Americans.
The Coded Color Line
Chief Justice Roger Taney in Dred Scott v. Sandford, in 1856, opined, “The question is simply this: Can a negro [sic], whose ancestors were imported into this country, and sold as slaves, become a member of the political community formed and brought into existence by the Constitution of the United States, and as such become entitled to all the rights, and privileges, and immunities, guarantied [sic] by that instrument to the citizen?”
This is the coded color line, which is still operational in 21st-century America. It is the color line that continues to be deadly for African Americans. The normal daily existence of African Americans is the delicate negotiation of not tripping on the color line—a line so visible to African Americans, yet willfully ignored by European Americans as simply a figment of African Americans’ imagination. While the Bible says the wages of sin is death, for African Americans, the color of their skin is their death.
What is truly baffling is the constant refrain by European Americans that they are not racist, thus absolving themselves from any complicity, and denying that race is a major determinant of many of the ills afflicting African Americans today. While acknowledging that not all European Americans are racists, or actively working to dismantle racism and the underlying ideology of white supremacy, they are simply non-racists—and that is not enough. Being non-racist simply implies that European Americans enjoy the tremendous benefits bestowed on them by institutionalized racism and racial policies, without acknowledging and questioning this racial privilege.
As an example, when Dylann Roof, a white supremacist who in 2015 callously murdered nine members of Charleston, SC’s Emanuel AME Church, was arrested, the officers, in spite of the horrendous nature of the crime he committed, still saw in him his humanity and offered him a Burger King meal because he was hungry. They felt compassion for him. His humanity was accorded to him.
Now the question is, why wasn’t the same compassion extended to Eric Garner and George Floyd when they were arrested for allegedly nonviolent crimes? Instead, they were lynched in broad daylight by the very people who had sworn to serve and protect us all.
This is the compassion that has eluded African Americans since the days of their enslavement in this country. This is the color line that many non-racist European Americans don’t understand.
Most non-racist European Americans engage in episodic solidarity. They examine their racial benefits during episodic periods when racial violence is so public that it can’t be ignored. This is when they reach out to their African American friends to express their support and comfort them. They become gripped with emotions and touching words of solidarity. But then the episode passes, and they all head back to business as usual, drinking their kombucha and engaging in contemplative yoga—awaiting the next inevitable episode of racial violence to again extend their solidarity. Solidarity in comforting words is meaningless unless it is accompanied by collective action to deinstitutionalize racism and a personal commitment to engage in anti-racism work.
For African Americans, the effects of racism are not episodic occurrences, but a daily navigation of the color line for survival.
Excuses, Justifications, “Reasons”
There are always justified reasons European Americans present for why the African American candidate did not get the position, was not admitted to a particular college or program, or was killed in the process of arrest for allegedly committing a nonviolent crime. America has manufactured a plethora of excuses for the conditions of African Americans while masking white supremacist ideology as the main culprit. African Americans are thus forced to compete in this uneven playing field while white supremacist ideology determines their fate.
What do you think are the reasons for the wide opportunity gaps between European Americans and African Americans in our schools? What do you think is the reason why one in four African American males will see the walls of jails by the age of 35? What do you think is the reason for the wide income disparities between European Americans and African Americans? What do you think is the reason for the wide health disparities between European Americans and African Americans?
If your answers to these questions do not acknowledge race as the common determinant of these outcomes, then you are part of the problem, and your periodic and episodic display of solidarity is simply a mockery of centuries of murder and suffering of African Americans.
Non-Racism v. Anti-Racism
For far too long, America has denied and ignored the suffering and anguish of African Americans as a result of the color line, constantly blaming them to be inadequate. This consistent dehumanization of African Americans results in their violent and catastrophic destruction, with many non-racist European Americans sitting on the sidelines with willful culpable deniability. In spite of this persistent racial genocide, African Americans are relentless in the pursuit of freedom and justice.
My European American friends, being non-racist is not enough. Reaching out to your African American friends to express your solidarity when one of their kinfolks has been brutally murdered is not enough. When you collect food and do clothing drives to distribute to the so-called underprivileged, it is thoughtful, but not enough. When you go on your outreach to public housing developments where African Americans have sought shelter because they have been denied access to loans for decent housing, it is not enough. The so-called benevolence of European Americans to African Americans, those whose blood and toil built this country, is not enough, because they are still literally dying. Being non-racist is not enough. Being anti-racist is the most viable option for dismantling racism in America.
To be anti-racist is to acknowledge the color line and work actively to dismantle it. This is a transformational act, which starts with a critical introspection by European Americans on how their non-action normalizes racism and racial violence. One cannot deny that they benefit from the racially discriminatory institutions and policies of this country and claim to be anti-racist. All of us, and especially European Americans, who have been exclusive beneficiaries of the bedrock discriminatory institutions and policies of this society, should be proactive in eliminating racism. In all our endeavors, one must pause and ask, what can I do to practically work against racism? Racism is a function and a product of epic immoral proportions that corrupts the humanity of all of us. Racism betrays our humanity.
A Heritage and a Challenge
Ta-Nehisi Coates states in his book, Between the World and Me, “Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.” This is the heritage we ought to reject in order to make whole our collective humanity.
So, after all the messages of solidarity, healing circles and all other superficial platitudes that make European Americans feel better, we must return to our homes, communities, places of worship, schools, places of employment, wherever, and ensure that our individual actions are aligned with ending racism and not sustaining it.
In the end, Malcolm X said, “The common goal of 22 million Afro-Americans is respect as human beings, the God-given right to be a human being. Our common goal is to obtain the human rights that America has been denying us. We can never get civil rights in America until our human rights are first restored. We will never be recognized as citizens there until we are first recognized as humans.”
This should be the goal, so please stop killing us because of the color of our skin. For four hundred-plus years, African Americans have been human sacrifices. For the sake of God and country, please help us stop this inhumane carnage.
May the souls of all those who have been killed because of the color of their skin and their humanity not recognized by others rest in perfect peace and power.
Agya Boakye-Boaten, Ph.D is chair and associate professor of Africana and interdisciplinary and international studies at UNC Asheville. Dr. Boakye-Boaten has been awarded a 2019-20 Fulbright U.S. Scholar grant to teach and conduct research in Ghana at the University of Cape Coast.