On the heels of the murders of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, Writer Greg Howard recently penned a poignant piece for Deadspin titled, “American Is Not For Black People”. And if what Howard wrote was a church sermon, the whole congregation would probably say “AMEN”.
This sort of thing—especially on the north side—is what gets glossed over a little too easily when we try to fit a particular incident into a broader narrative. Ferguson is a small town of 21,000, mostly white until the 1960s, when whites fled anywhere but where they were. Today, Ferguson, which is a bit north of St. Louis, is mostly black; Ferguson and St. Louis County police are mostly white. That fits a metropolitan area flanked by two rivers that divide neighborhoods and regions by race, the sixth-most segregated in the United States.
To people, like me, from the coast—I’m from Maryland—St. Louis can seem like a blank in the middle of the country, a place where people and even ideas get stuck on the way to somewhere better, or at least somewhere else. But St. Louis is like New York (the fourth-most segregated metro in America), or Los Angeles, or Miami, or Dallas, or Washington, DC, only more so. Far from a blank, St. Louis is often regarded as the most American of America’s cities.
To even acknowledge this line of debate is to start a larger argument about the worth, the very personhood, of a black man in America. It’s to engage in a cost-benefit analysis, weigh probabilities, and gauge the precise odds that Brown’s life was worth nothing against the threat he posed to the life of the man who killed him. It’s to deny that there are structural reasons why Brown was shot dead while James Eagan Holmes—who on July 20, 2012, walked into a movie theater and fired rounds into an audience, killing 12 and wounding 70 more—was taken alive.
To ascribe this entirely to contempt for black men is to miss an essential variable, though—a very real, American fear of them. They—we—are inexplicably seen as a millions-strong army of potential killers, capable and cold enough that any single one could be a threat to a trained police officer in a bulletproof vest. There are reasons why white gun’s rights activists can walk into a Chipotle restaurant with assault rifles and be seen as gauche nuisances while unarmed black men are killed for reaching for their wallets or cell phones, or carrying children’s toys. Guns aren’t for black people, either.
After reading this article, three times as a matter of fact, I truly wondered…if America isn’t for black people, then what place is?
Clutchettes, do you think America is for black people?