There is a moment in every public discussion of race where the topic is no longer the justice or injustice of an action, the existence of structural discrimination, or lack thereof.
Comments explode beneath news stories, viscous and sticky, about what the personal appearance says about the people involved.
If the subject is a black woman they start with her hair, move on to her nails and end up with her clothes. If the subject is a black man the sequence is usually hoodie, sagging pants, and “gang related accessories”, meaning anything from his shoes to his tattoo’s to his jewelry.
Just how “white” does a black person have to look, dress or sound before their appearance isn’t a factor that caused what happened to them?
Samaria Rice, the mother of Tamir Rice, the 12 year old boy shot on Cleveland’s west side, was derided for her choice of hairstyle at the press conference where she talked about her son being killed by police. Followed by comments about her being a bad parent, her son being a “thug”, and how he deserved what he got because he didn’t follow police orders.
Maybe if Samaria Rice looked more like Condoleezza Rice (no relation), maybe the attacks on her character would lessen. Maybe not.
Now the brutal truth of Samaria’s description about her daughter’s treatment by the police when she ran to her little brother after he was shot is now on the video released by the city. As Samaria reported, her daughter was tackled by police, handcuffed, and placed in the patrol car. The police look so cold-blooded and heartless, and the girl looks so desperate to get to her brother, that it made me cry to watch it.
There is no sound with the video but her mother said when she arrived she could hear her daughter screaming for her from inside the patrol car. On the video its 15 minutes before any police officer even approaches the car to talk to the handcuffed sister. Its five minutes after that before they take the handcuffs off her. The video ends, her mother and brother are on the way to the hospital, and the girl is still sitting in the patrol car. In shock I would imagine.
Comments on the video say things like her treatment proves stupidity runs in the family as she did not comply with the cops either, and people need to teach their children better and so on.
I’m wondering what visual might get people to feel compassion for the little girl traumatized by seeing her brother shot and bleeding on the ground. Maybe if she were more light skinned? Wearing a school uniform instead of jeans and a hoodie (we’ll overlook the fact they were at a playground & rec center).
How about this one?
I know I don’t have anything productive to contribute to the conversation at the moment. No solutions, no call to action, just observations and suppositions.
The world is complex outside the comfortable hegemonic box. Sometimes it can be made simpler for people with careful preparation, like Mrs Rosa Parks whose story helps school children understand what 15-year old, pushy Claudette Colvin started by shouting about her constitutional rights on that Montgomery Bus. Both were necessary for change to happen.
So who is the attractive, composed, light-skinned, well-educated, married African-American symbol of this civil rights revolution I wonder? Or maybe video and the internet will make that concept obsolete.
Watch the 30 minutes of the Tamir Rice video that was released and let me know what you think.