Last night I happened to watch the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize. The fifth installment. The part about Mississippi. It’s the hardest of the 6 episodes to watch.
It begins with Medgar Evers. Well it begins with his widow retelling the story of the night he was killed. The story moves on to no one being brought to justice despite being able to trace the murder weapon. White men are still shooting black men. Is it that instead of shooting activists for having audacity to stand up for themselves and their people
What has four eyes but cannot see? Mississippi.
I was wondering aloud with my son about how far we may have come since that time. I think of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit.” Will they start lynchings next?
I was watching the footage in Eyes on the Prize. Different white folk from now of course but that reoccurring idea that they want to fly the seditionist flag to be “proud of their heritage.” Heritage is a legacy. The legacy is violence. The confederate flag IS violence.
And all of that was in my head when my newsfeed showed the video of Alton Sterling. He looks a little like my brother who currently lives in North Carolina with his dark skin and his Mexican heritage in an all-white town. I can’t watch the video. I’ve been watching these videos since Rodney King. I just watched the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation sing “Go Tell it on the Mountain” and bawled my eyes out.
I’m trying to imagine what goes through a white cop’s head. I remember how the bully/football players from my high school went into law enforcement. I remember their seeming need for violence. I remember a party being broken up at my grandparents’ house when I was in high school and how the cops took the one obvious gay kid, punched him a few times, and left him behind a Circle K in an area he wasn’t familiar with. WHAT IS THIS FEAR OF BLACKNESS? I can’t relate to this fear. This baseless fear.
I have two kids. As is true of many Xicana/Latinx families our skin tones range from “You don’t look La-tee-nuh” to “are you Chinese?” to “why are you sooo dark? Are you black?” I have stopped myself many times from retorting to an Anglo, “I don’t know. Are you just an asshole?”
I have taught my kids to use their best judgement and to never trust a man with a badge. The badge means nothing except that there’s a slight chance that the man might be helpful–but as kids of color there is a good chance the man will be evil. America has given me no choice but to teach my kids to be weary of those people in uniform. I feel for every black mother whose heart must sink every time her children leave the house. I feel for the family members who have the last moments of their loved ones on a constant video loop.
We are all now witnesses to state sanctioned terrorism and murder. We can replay our witnessing anytime we want. And these poor family members have their loved ones last moments on the planet forever etched in their minds. There is no need for imagination nor metaphor. It’s all blatantly before us in deep red blood on asphalt and concrete. In rolled down windows of parked cars. In the eyes of children witnessing as their fathers are shot down before them.
Mylie Evers talks in Eyes on the Prize about that witnessing too. That night when her husband pulled his body to the front door. Shot without warning from behind. Fearful, coward’s bullets–like a cop shooting a black male driver four times in the driver seat.
Racism is not a fair fight. It never was.
We try to keep our kids innocent and hopeful as long as we can. Mine are 11 and 13. I’m putting together a library for their school. Administrators ask if the books are appropriate. They don’t mean sex–although sometimes they do. What they really mean is are we going to tell them too much about life? Burst their little small town bubble? Make them see their privilege and their aggression?
I saw my first police video back in 1991. Rodney King.
When video was new.
We saw 4 white men on 1 black man. To us it looked open and shut. Like look. They are caught. Look we see it with our own eyes.
And video was our own eyes. And for awhile we expected video to be this thing that brought truth and a-ha! See! Witness! WE HAVE RECORDED WITNESS.
And then the cops were acquitted and LA burned through our retinas. Video of murder means nothing in the face of a middle class white man losing his job, his badge. And now everyone has a cell phone and we can all record the atrocities of white badges on black bodies;
And what do we do now?
We keep on the vigil of witness and hope someday our eyes see justice.