“Please don’t let him be Black.”
“Puh-lease, don’t let it be a brother,”
“Girl, I just hope it ain’t one of us”
One of these statements, or something similar, is the second thing that many of my friends and family say or think following a crime. First, we acknowledge the victims: “how horrible” “poor child”, “Oh, I feel so sorry for the family.” ”Lord, have mercy, what is this world coming to.”
Then we think or say, “Please don’t let him be Black.”
Indeed, if we are honest, it is sometimes the first thing we think if the crime is one of national significance and/or political or social impact.
Being originally from Virginia, I was particularly saddened by the deaths of Alison Parker and Adam Ward, the newscaster and cameraman from Virginia who were recently shot while on live TV. However, I am embarrassed to admit that I was then relieved, momentarily, when I heard the shooter’s name,Vester L. Flanagan–until we saw his picture. Damn.
I remember sitting around the dinner table when I was younger and any time there was a heinous crime featured on our local news station’s “Crime Stoppers” segment, my Grandmother would literally bow her head and pray aloud, “Lord, please don’t let it be one of us.” And if it turned out that the cops were indeed searching for a “medium build, brown man, with black-kinky hair, then my (usually soft-spoken and Black-folks-loving) Uncle would hit his fist on the table, and yell, “Ain’t nothin’ we can do wit you spooks.” Those were the only times that I would see my Uncle frustrated.
I would have thought that this was just another one of my families idiosyncrasies (don’t judge — your family has some too) but, I’ve lived long enough and received too many phone calls from friends who have said, “Guuurl, Thank God the shooter wasn’t Black” or something similar.
Earlier this week, there was a professor shot in Mississippi and again while I felt a real sadness for the victim, I also felt a sense of relief when I saw that the shooter was White. I am not suggesting this is a good thing, but I always talk about the real thing. I then started to wonder, is this a Black thing? Conversely, were there some White families that were sitting around the dinner table ruing over the fact that the Mississippi killer was White? My guess is no. So why are we, as a people, so concerned about the race of the offender? I pondered this a bit, and this is what I’ve come up with thus far:
- Black people are not seen as individuals. Rather, we are seen as a monolithic race, or even just a category. Therefore, every publicized crime is a setback not just for the criminal, not just for his family, but for the entire race and the way we are viewed. If a Black person commits a crime; Black people are criminals. If a White person commits a crime; it’s just one bad seed.
Many of us, even if it’s unconsciously, are out there representing our race to the very best of our abilities, so to then have this person whom we don’t even know set us back is frustrating.
I had to reflect on how I even put the pressure of the entire race on my kids. I said to my son just last week, “how does it look that the ONLY Black kid in the class…” I didn’t just put pressure on him to perform for him; he needed to perform for his race. I hadn’t realized that I did this at the time, but I did (all you perfect parents, please send your advice to my comment box. I’m already aware that I make at least 10 parenting mistakes daily).
- Secondly, after a Black person commits a crime, we get post-crime fatigue (PCF Syndrome –yes, I just made that up). When we commit a crime, we know that it will be shown and the criminal’s face will be shown 950 times vs. if it’s a white criminal, the person’s face may never be shown. I really believe that it becomes almost psychologically damaging, like hearing the same thing played over and over again. Isn’t that an approved form of torture used by the FBI?
- Lastly, we know that the Black criminal will be further criminalized—actually demonized, whereas, the White criminal will be analyzed. Even different verbiage is used – one is a “killer” while another is a “shooter.” So I think that sometimes we almost feel conflicted because you begin to feel defensiveness about the portrayal of the criminal.
We so earnestly pray, “please don’t let him be Black” when we hear of a horrible crime because if the crime has been committed by a Black person, the crime suddenly becomes personal. We are still in the struggle—still trying to overcome. We want all of our soldiers to stay in step. When one of our sisters or brothers is acting poorly, we cringe on the inside as if it’s us –because it is us.