Over 3 Billion Blacks Killed

February 19, 2014

McDonald's signage, Austin, MN, May 20, 2006. (Jonathunder via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC and GFDL.

McDonald’s signage, Austin, MN, May 20, 2006. (Jonathunder via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC and GFDL.

Do you remember those McDonald’s signs back in the ’70 and ’80s, before the corporation went global (from 6,000 to 30,000 franchises since ’92), where they said, “Over 100 Million Served” hamburgers or “1o Billion Served?” If the signage is there at all these days, it usually says “Billions and Billions Served.” That’s about as cheap as Black life is in the US as well, though maybe a bit more expensive in Western countries in general (they do use the Euro, after all!).

I’ve been thinking about the low value of Black lives for years, even in the middle of grad school at Pitt. But I must admit, it’s been on my mind more and more since George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin nearly two years ago. Now, with the hung jury over the murder of Jordan Davis, with so many who find it easy to render Black and Brown lives cheaper than dog meat in the middle of the Roman Coliseum 2,000 years ago, it seems that there’s no such thing as a dead stereotype.

Jordan Davis' Facebook picture, February 17, 2014. (via Huffington Post).

Jordan Davis’ Facebook picture, February 17, 2014. (via Huffington Post).

It’s so infused in popular culture, as life and art intertwine in a macabre dance on Black and Brown bodies. Blacks especially (and for the most part, Latinos) don’t feel pain the same way as Whites. We lack the emotional and psychological control of Whites. We’re irrational and prone to criminal behavior. We’re lazy and don’t mind living in abject poverty. We love illegal drugs, but love malt liquor and hard alcohol even more. We’ll eat anything deep-fried, and don’t mind dying before middle age just so that we can save the Social Security dollars for elderly White folk.

With that as the backdrop, it’s no wonder much of the movies, music, TV and Internet depictions of us ultimately ends in our gratuitous, ubiquitous and anonymous deaths. Yes, even in 2014! I’ve recently binge-watched the now defunct CW series Nikita (2010-14) with Maggie Q as the lead. I counted at least thirty Black actors on the series over its seventy-four episodes. Only two survived the series, and one (character played by Lyndie Greenwood) wasn’t even in the last two episodes because the actress was doing double-duty on FOX’s Sleepy Hollow!

But if anyone were to take some of the largest grossing films and franchises of all time, it would become obvious how cheap folks in the US and elsewhere think Black and Brown lives really are. Between Independence Day (1996) and The Terminator series of films (1984-2009) alone, you would have to assume that almost all of the forty million Blacks living in the US died in these fictional realities, not to mention the 1.2 billion folks of at least partial African descent living in other Western nations, Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and the rest of Latin America. That this has occurred more than once in these films alone puts us at 2.48 billion Blacks killed.

Then, between lesser known/lesser quality films like The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Deep Impact (1998), The War of the Worlds (2005) and Hunger Games (2012-present), it would seem that in every global calamity, most Blacks draw the short straw. These movies (and, prior to these movies, books) put us easily over three billion Blacks and Browns killed. And that’s without accounting for standard action films, cops-and-criminals shows, and other cinematographic renderings of the Black and Brown as disposable human beings. Unless you’re Don Cheadle, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman (sometimes) or Halle Berry, if you’re Black or Brown, your job in popular culture is to die a violent death.

Of course, those upset with my sardonic take will say, “Well what about gansta rap? What about Ice-T, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and so many other rappers who present Black lives as cheaper than bottled water?” Three things: 1. you really need to update yourself on today’s rap, between Lil Jon, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, before commenting; 2. the “gansta rappers” of the ’90s were mostly rapping about a lived experience, not some fantasy life; and 3. they figured out that they could and can make money off of Black deaths in lyrical rhymes, just like folks in the movie, TV and real worlds.

Venison meat for braising, February 19, 2014. (http://www.simplyscratch.com).

Venison meat for braising, February 19, 2014. (http://www.simplyscratch.com).

This will make the likes of George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn, and substantial numbers in the NYPD and LAPD happy. Actually, what would really make them happy would be a version of the movie The Purge (2013). But instead of crime and murder being legal for one day a year, they would have to get a “coon hunting” license to kill themselves a Black or Brown person one day a year. That way, they could keep our numbers low, just like hunters do with deer every fall.


Patriotism, Post-Racialism and Prima Donnas

July 4, 2011

US Flag and Lower 48, July 3, 2011. Source: http://mapsof.net

It’s yet another 4th of July, number 235, and I find myself tired of how the prima donnas in this country think it their right to define for me what patriotism is and isn’t. Last I checked, carrying an M-16 rifle and wearing a uniform overseas isn’t the alpha and omega of patriotism here or anywhere, and saying that it is doesn’t make it so. By that definition, it would mean that Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln and Susan B. Anthony weren’t patriots, while Timothy McVeigh and John Allen Muhammad were. Those who serve in combat are obvious American patriots. But hiding behind our military in defining patriotism allows us as a nation to ignore so many things that contradict our sense of nationalism and patriotism.

Call of Duty Screen Shot, July 3, 2011. Source: http://independent.co.uk

Patriotism is about much more than guns, battles, taking flanking positions or making perfect speeches wholly incompatible with the imperfections of our society and people. As anyone in the education field knows, Americans in general know about as much history as my son knows right now, and he just finished second grade.

Our aversion to history is especially noticeable when it comes to race. We’ve declared ourselves post-racial when we haven’t even been pre-racial. Meaning that in order to get beyond race, we actually have to deal with it directly, head-on, without holding back, the ugly history of race and racism that is as American as apple pie. I’m afraid that it’ll take a national tragedy, though, for more Americans to dare be that brave, that honest, that, well, patriotic.

It’s sad, because most of us are prima donnas, or rather, imperial narcissists who talk about patriotism without understanding that being a patriot often means using one’s brain and vociferously resisting the status quo. We’re more concerned about winning Mega Millions and Powerball or the price of gas than we really are about troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan or making US foreign and economic policies more equitable abroad and at home. We somehow assume that “America is #1!” is our birthright, even as many of us haven’t the socioeconomic capacity to partake in America’s remaining riches.

Alexandra Pelosi (a documentarian and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s daughter) has been doing the media circuit talking about her latest film, Citizen U.S.A., the story of immigrants becoming naturalized

Citizen U.S.A. Poster, June 2011. Source: http://www.jfklibrary.org

American citizens and their appreciation of what they believe America is about. Her message has essentially been “shame on you” to native-born Americans for not seeing our nation the way these immigrants can and do.

But even Pelosi’s perspective is limited in its prima-donna-ness. There are millions of us who see the direction of the nation and work not to illuminate its already over-hyped greatness — a classic sign of imperialism, by the way — but to make the nation a better one, a nation that lives up to its ideals. Isn’t this another example of one’s patriotism, one that’s forward-thinking enough to work for the long-term success of a nation, rather than chest-thumping about greatness in the present?

It seems to me that we should illuminate the fact that we expend so much energy making millions of Americans who are not with the prima-donna program into unpatriotic outcasts. So much so that most of us have never had an independent thought on this topic in our entire lives. And if the 4th of July is to be about more than guns, speeches, guns and denigration, we need more people to think for and beyond themselves about patriotism, even if some of us are incapable of accepting independent thought and criticism from them.


Patriot Days

July 3, 2010

Source: Donald Earl Collins, Fear of a "Black" America Cover

Few things are more annoying or more confusing than my understanding of patriotism and how others — mostly White — perceive my patriotism and the patriotism of people of color more broadly. It’s something that I’ve struggled to grasp for more than thirty years. For those of you whose patriotism is akin to breathing, that’s your prerogative. I’ve found that something like one’s love for their country, like one’s belief in God (or not), shouldn’t be one that comes without thought or without any doubts at all. For without giving it any serious or critical thought or without any questioning or lingering doubts, most American patriotism is like being a Yankees or a Lakers fan. Patriotism in that sense is simply rooting for a team that can do no wrong, one that is expected to win in any contest simply because that’s all they’ve ever done.

My sense of patriotism began in ’79, when I started to devour history books and volumes of World Book Encyclopedia. I wasn’t completely naive, because I had also read Lerone Bennett’s/Ebony’s three-volume Black America set while learning about World War II. But I did believe that America ultimately stood for goodness and prosperity, for freedom and democracy all over the world. I fervently saluted the flag at pledge of allegiance time in school in fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh grade.

Snoopy & Charlie Brown. Source: Charles Schulz, Peanuts

At one point between fourth and sixth grade, I even created a pretend nation-state in our bedroom at 616, where I played out domestic and foreign policy issues through make-believe characters, from, of all things, the Peanuts comic strip. I saw the Cold War with the Soviet Union as one we absolutely had to win in order to keep the totalitarian communists at bay. Several of my Humanities classmates can attest to my defense of American foreign policy as late as ninth grade.

But even as I generally saw the US as the country the Scholastic Weekly Reader described it to be, I had my doubts as to America the always right and beautiful. It started at the end of fifth grade, when I hit the chapter in our social studies book about how we ended World War II with Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I hadn’t seen the mushroom cloud or the fire-bleached skulls before then. It scared me, but more importantly, it made me think about how cruel it was to wipe out a city the size of Mount Vernon but with three times as many people in the same space.

Then, with the Reagan Years and the almost complete refusal to acknowledge racism and poverty in the ’80s got me to the point where I refused to recite the pledge by my junior year of high school. One of the reasons I never saw the military as an option for escaping the abuse and poverty I’d grown up with was because I saw American foreign policy as one that was at least as imperialistic as that of the Soviets. Iran-Contra, Vietnam, El Salvador and Grenada were examples of us over-stepping our role as the leader of the free world.

It got worse for me before it got better. The Gulf War (’90-’91) and my growing knowledge of American history and atrocities at home and abroad made me feel as if this country was never meant for me, never meant to be mine.

Luckily I had other people from which to draw inspiration about how to approach a nation that generally takes people like me for granted, as if my life and death doesn’t matter at all. People as varied as Derrick Bell, Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, W.E.B. Du Bois, Anna Julia Cooper, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ralph Ellison — not to mention my Army ROTC friends who served — served to inspire another sense of patriotism.

Their writings and speeches, their acts on behalf of civil rights, human rights and social justice did teach me two things. One, that even folks who serve in the military deserve credit for understanding that their projection of American power means little without clear objectives and a clear sense that this use of power is necessary, justifiable and can actually matter to and gain the support of the rest of the world. Two, that holding my country’s feet to the fire around racism, poverty, imperialism and other forms of injustice is a form of patriotism. Without the socially conscious, this country’s ideals, its flag and other symbols of power, are meaningless beyond the imperial. So, for better and for worse, happy birthday America.


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