“When someone asks me about violence…what it means is that the person who’s asking that question has absolutely no idea what black people have gone through, what black people have experienced in this country since the time the first black person was kidnapped from the shores of Africa.”
Quality of life has been determined by skin color ever since the transatlantic slave trade began in the mid-15th century. The history of violence in the United States against black bodies begins in 1619 when the first slave ship, White Lion, arrives in Virginia, and spans up until today. Violence against black bodies is not specific to any time period within the history of the United States. Rather, it tells the history of the United States. For over 400 years, the United States has been capitalizing on the oppression of those with black skin.
Before we continue, let’s have a brief history lesson.
Do you remember learning about slavery in school? I do. It was a relatively short unit that did not accurately represent – neither in duration nor information – slavery’s lasting effect on the United States.
Slavery was a major component in the foundation of the nation’s economy in both the North and the South. For over the first half of the 19th century, more than half of the nation’s exports came from Southern plantations. Southern cotton then fed directly into Northern textile mills making slavery a major asset to the Industrial Revolution of the United States. And let us not forget that the White House is, indeed, built in part by slaves. For more information about the role slavery plays in the foundation of the United States, check out The 1619 Project.
Growing up, I was taught in school the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 was what ended slavery. This is a common misconception. Slavery was not abolished until December 6, 1865 with the ratification of the 13th Amendment, stating, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.” Now, slavery ended over 155 years ago, so how does the United States still capitalize on it? Look at the 13th Amendment again. There’s a loophole regarding the outlaw of slavery: “except as a punishment for crime.” Ava DuVernay’s documentary,13th, demonstrates the nation’s long-standing exploitation of this loophole. After the Civil War (1861-1865) the United States sees its first prison boom; Black bodies were again forced right back into slavery. Mass incarceration continues to be one of the biggest social issues in the United States today.
And let us not forget that segregation, the “Jim Crow” laws, did not end until the mid-1960s. The Civil Rights Movement was less than 60 years ago. Oprah Winfrey was born in 1954 – put that into perspective.
History lesson over.
Clearly, we need a movement. The decades-long Civil Rights Movement is the only reason any change persevered before. The Black Lives Matter Movement (BLM) is currently leading the way, its mission being to “eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” BLM began in 2013 in response to the case of Trayvon Martin after officer George Zimmerman was acquitted on all charges.
As all 50 states (Yes! All 50!) protest in the wake of George Floyd’s death, it is only becoming more and more evident that these types of incidents neither start nor end with George Floyd. Have you seen the list of Black Americans currently circling on social media that have either lost or had their lives threatened because of their skin color? It is long:
Christian Cooper. Ahmaud Arbery. Botham Jean. Atatiana Jefferson. Jonathan Ferrell. Renisha McBride. Stephon Clark. Jordan Edwards. Jordan Davis. Alton Sterling. Aiyana Jones. Michael Brown. Tamir Rice. The Charleston9. Travyvon Martin. Sean Bell. Oscar Grant. Sandra Bland. Philando Castile. Corey Jones. John Crawford III. Terence Crutcher. Keith Scott. Clifford Glover. Claude Reese. Randolph Evans. Yvonne Smallwood. Emmet Till. Amadou Diallo. Walter Scott. Eric Garner. Freddie Gray. Breonna Taylor. Rodney King. George Floyd.
This list is in no way complete nor do the majority of these cases represent just outcomes. In fact, on December 4, 2019, George Zimmerman filed a $100-million lawsuit against the Martin family claiming false evidence and abuse of the legal process. What happened to “Rest In Peace?” For many black Americans, it is no longer an option. To “Rest In Peace” is slowly becoming yet another white privilege.
The fact that BLM is “Life Or Death” is not an exaggeration nor has it ever been. These types of injustices are systemic within the United States. For too long these injustices have been ignored because they have been deemed tolerable by the white majority. Why? Because these injustices do not directly negatively impact the white majority’s quality of life. So, what finally changed to evoke the protests occurring today?
Rather, history repeated itself. For the second time in the 21st century, a U.S. law enforcement officer denied a black man of the most basic human need: air. Eric Garner and George Floyd share the same last words:
“I can’t breathe.”
Breathing is not a human right; breathing is a human instinct.
As all 50 states protest, we must remember that our most recent actions are only “infinitesimally microscopic fraction[s]” of resistance against the history of the United States. I do not say this to discourage anyone. I say this to remind us all that the society from which we are now demanding reform and restructure from is over 400 years old.
If we want change, we must continue protesting, whether that is out in the streets or at home. Click here for some tips on how to stay safe while out protesting. There are plenty of other forms of protest to engage in from home as well. To sign petitions click here. Want to donate, but strapped for cash? Stream videos on YouTube that pledge to donate 100% of advertisement revenue to advocacy organizations like Black Lives Matter and protestor bailout funds. How genius is that? Turning capitalism on itself!
We must continue educating ourselves. Remember that listening is a form of protest, because for so long we have oppressed black voices. The history of oppression is just barely taught in school; learning its impact is a form of protest. We must make the conscious, daily choice to no longer tolerate turning a blind eye to any ugly, uncomfortable truths.
Maybe then violence against black bodies will finally end. But will it be during our lifetime?
Until it does end, remember that This Is America.
Will Violence Against Black Bodies End In Our Lifetime?
Yes, it has to!
Hopefully by the next lifetime…