Written By Daniel Johnson
There is a particular cacophony of violence in the experience of being Black in America. There is so much violence involved in this experience that there is no room for us to fully hear all of the distinct sounds of violence in this symphony of horrors constantly ringing in our ears. There is the ever present threat of physical violence, from the police for Black men, from Black men and the police, for Black women. Economic violence against poorer Black people in the form of expensive food sources, food deserts, gentrification, cut back food and nutrition programs, a lower income bracket and neighborhoods that are drastically lower in value as compared to majority White neighborhoods. Legal violence against Black people in a country where the laws are set up to fail to enforce the standards when it comes to Black people, in the form of a falsely waged War on Drugs, mandatory minimum sentencing, mass incarceration, debtors prisons, bail bond that is set at a price that does not reflect the severity of the crime nor takes into account the citizen’s ability to pay said fine, a criminal justice system that convicts killer cops at a less than two percent rate, and failure to pursue justice in an equal manner when the criminal is a White male. Social violence in the form of placing the videos of brutality and the deaths of Black people at the hands of the police on a loop, while telling us that the deaths of some White newscasters is “too graphic” to be depicted as we’ve watched Black men get shot in the head and Black women literally tased to death inside of jails, in the form of hate speech and songs which carry the threat of lynching in them be classified under the protection of free speech, a further reminder that we were afterthoughts in the creation of this country’s founding document; in the form of ahistorical history books which boldly declare that African people were brought here as “workers” and not as free slave labor, in the form of the defense of a flag flown under the banner of a sectarian group of states formerly belonging to the Union which openly declared that slavery would be mandatory for membership.
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All of these forms of violence expressed in America are not expressed for all ethnic groups in America, but particularly when you are a Black American there is a compression and a compounding of violence against you which you must face head on, and be told that it doesn’t exist by America. This too is violence, the violence of erasure which seeks to tell you that you are making up your oppression even as you drown in the sound and fury of it. To be Black in America is to put your headphones in to drown out the screams only to find out that your ears cannot hide what you eyes are observing. The twisting of the face, the tears streaming down the face, the blood staining the concrete, the houses being torn down and families forced to leave their homes because they can no longer afford to live there, watching the news and seeing how another officer killed another Black body and will not be forced to face consequences but has earned a paid vacation. Do you have any idea how traumatizing this kind of experience is? When you are constantly told that you are not good enough, that you don’t deserve justice because you’ve made a mistake, that your history doesn’t matter, that you have a certain proclivity to violence, and many other lies, what is your recourse?
The swirling clouds of the violence involved in the American experience can render you numb to the effects of it because it’s so much to feel at once that it overloads your nervous system and you shut down. There is only so much violence to your existence that you can absorb before your body tells you that it has had enough. There is only so much cheap food you can toxify your body with before your organs betray you. Here in America, we are staving off Heart attacks and aneurysms and strokes because of the compounding of violence to our collective system and we are so stressed out that we have to go off the grid and detox just to survive in an atmosphere of oppression. There is so much violence here that breathing is an act of active resistance, there is so much vile treatment here that there is no space of America that is not violent towards Blackness.
We are on dry land, drowning in violence but being told that we’re imagining our pains. Violence swirls around us, slowly sucking out our wills to live, but where can we truly go where there is no threat of violence due to our skins? Even our Motherland is not untouched by the spoiling of violence as bleached skin screams of violence towards our self esteem and self images, spoiled by the violence of Colonialism that ruined Africa centuries after we built the grandest civilizations the world has ever seen. Violence, violence everywhere, but there is a special collection of violence reserved for the land of the free and the home of the formerly enslaved, still suffering violence under slavery by another name. This violence is insufferable and inescapable, haunting us like the ghosts of the past that America has tried so hard to hide, but they still rattle their chains in the attic.
There is no escaping this violence by merely pretending that it does not exist, this pervasive brand of violence must be met with a violence against the injustices that suffocate us.