Sometimes my blog posts go through a long development process while others are more spontaneous and dynamic. This post is the latter. Written as a response on a email thread for the HHRT (Hip Hop Round Table) regarding the killing of Trayvon Martin by a wannabe cop, George Zimmerman. As many of you now know, Trayvon Martin is the latest innocent Black kid or man to be shot dead for doing absolutely nothing. 18 years ago I could have been Trayvon Martin. The Trayvon Martin story has not only occupied my Facebook and Twitter feed, it’s also occupied my thoughts. In short, “Why the hell does this keep happening?”. Now for those who don’t come from Black and Latino communities this might seem like a rare event. It’s not. Too many Black and Latino families are directly impacted by this level of ultra-violence and inconsideration. It’s really a gross injustice. I think innocent Black and Latino young men getting shot to death will always be a sub-national issue. I’ll tell you why:

  1. Black and Latinos getting shot to death does not impact non-Black and non-Latino communities. Other than the emotional impact, a healthy amount of sorrow/remorse, the disruption in their communities is nil. I don’t say this as a slam to non-Black and non-Latino communities, but these are just the facts. And the reality of non-Black and non-Latinos being served the same type of inconsideration and raw violence is so far removed from their communities and social circles that even the most considerate person would have a hard time “walking in the shoes” of the Walking Dead (Typically Black and Latino men)
  2. The justice system has handled the murderers of Black and Latino people with velvet gloves. Hence signaling to the nation that you can treat Black and Latino life like an expendable commodity. You can kill them in cold blood and the justice system will give that murderer the benefit of the “absurd” doubt. No jail time and maybe a bit of probation with community service. Although we’ve had a few victories against those murderers who kill innocent Black and Latino individuals, it’s clearly not enough to move the needle of justice in the other direction.
  3. The people who do a lot of the shooting to death (police or enforcement brutality) do not come from Black and Latino (typically) communities. You might be tempted to say, “Whoa Malik, this dude was Hispanic and White”. Clearly there’s a difference between ethnic and cultural allegiances. When I say they don’t “come from B&L communities” I mean that have divorced themselves from the cultural, social, and tribal responsibilities that would include you in a B&L community. Just like I have ethnically “White” best-friends that have more insight into “Black” culture than some friends who are ethnically Black.
  4. Black and Latino communities do not have enough political power to stop this. This is why we’ve been “talking” and marching about this since Malcolm and Martin got murked, yet ultra-violence has been institutionalized against Black and Latino communities or individuals.
  5. Black and Latino communities are big business for the industrial prison complex. You now have prison companies on the stock market.

When you have a system that profits from the death and incarceration of certain individuals while the emotional and moral concern is completely absent from the general public, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the end result will be.

This goes back to a post I did last year:
I Want My Country Back But from Who

where I said the following:

This reminds me of the Columbine father that said the following:

I am here today because my son Daniel would want me to be here today. If my son Daniel was not one of the victims, he would be here with me today. Something is wrong in this country when a child can grab a gun, grab a gun so easily, and shoot a bullet into the middle of a child’s face, as my son experienced. Something is wrong. But the time has come to come to understand that a Tech-9 semi-automatic -bullet weapon like that, that killed my son, is not used to kill deer. It has no useful purpose. It is time to address this problem.

It’s sad to see any father lose their son to such horrific violence, but at the time, we had already reached the tipping point where guns were in the hands of our youth. The carnage has now reached “everyones” doorstep, but many doorsteps have already been visited by gun violence. The anarchy is now more widespread. Now that we have shared economic grief, we are harking back to the “good ole days”. Keep in mind that there were many before you that have been living with these wounds, but your wounds are now fresh.

As expected the national conversation on teenagers getting killed went nowhere because the “Columbines” of the world were no longer susceptible to the type of violence that leaves their children dead.

Of course we can’t attribute all of Black and Latino death to enforcement brutality (we have a lot of Black on Black and Latino on Latino crime), but we certainly have a justice system that seems to look the other way on some of the most heinous injustices to Black and Latino men.

Shared sacrifice and grief is becoming a lost tradition in America.

Books

  • Race, Crime and The Law by Randall Kennedy
  • The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
  • The Classroom and the Cell: Conversations on Black Life in America by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Marc Lamont Hill

About The Author

Knowledge Wisdom and Understanding

11 Responses

  1. Lara

    Malik, I appreciate the raw emotions behind your blog post, I am completely confounded as to what is taking the Florida police so long to charge the shooter, and your points about the racial tendencies of the criminal justice system as a whole are beyond dispute. But I still think we have to take the time to understand this particular incident on its face before reaching any conclusions about what relates to what.

    Specifically, I wanted to unpack the following statement of yours: “When I say they don’t ‘come from B&L communities’ I mean that have divorced themselves from the cultural, social, and tribal responsibilities that would include you in a B&L community.” What are those reponsibilities, and how can you infer so much about the motivations of this particular individual to know whether he’s divorced himself from them?

    Reply
    • Malik Abdul Rasheed

      Lara, Thanks for your honest and supportive words.

      Just to contextualize that statement, we have to touch on a couple things. When I say “Black and Latino community” that means you talk, communicate, and live within that culture. A perfect example is me living in Qatar. My wife is Arab and I’m close with many Arabs. I now have some insight as I’m apart of their community. I have some cultural insight because I’m among Arabs every single day. Someone who doesn’t, for lack of a better term..”live, eat and breath” in the culture that’s around him or her will not understand that same culture. No matter how many books or films someone reads on Arab culture, that will never take the place of day-to-day interaction and respect for Arab culture.

      The “responsibilities” are those code of “cultural” ethics that you have experienced with that culture. In short, you know where they are coming from. Not in a superficial way, but in a deep and engaging way. Being immersed in that culture you can identify, empathize, and internalize many of the most important issues that pertain to that particular culture.

      Now in my list I wasn’t necessarily saying that Zimmerman has divorced himself from Latino culture, but from the 911 tapes (and some of the Zimmerman’s past antics) we can infer that he is clearly hostile to Blacks. For lack of a better term, if Zimmerman identified himself as a “minority” he would have been more tender being that he saw Trayvon as a minority. Zimmerman’s stuggles as a Latino would have been fused with Trayvon’s struggles being a young black man. He would have recognized that they are part of the same cultural family. But calling someone a “coon”, and inferring that “the guy is suspicious” or “he is on drugs” leaves me to believe that this guy had not only divorced himself from the cultural solidarity that many Black and Latinos have, but he divorced himself from being a human being of sound reason and logic.

      Reply
  2. Alex

    “For lack of a better term, if Zimmerman identified himself as a “minority” he would have been more tender being that he saw Trayvon as a minority.”

    You make some good points but I have to completely disagree with the above statement. There is nothing tender about viewing ones self as a minority – that’s romanticizing something that most people could care less about. Also, I think you view black and latino solidarity as something far stronger than I think it is. Maybe its different where you come form, but in my part of the US, some of the biggest tension and conflict exists between the black and latino communities and most “interracial” violence is between those two groups. When I hear epithets thrown around, its not whites doing the throwing but black and latinos and they are usually throwing them at each other. I am hispanic, and the nasty things that come out of the mouths of some of my fellow minorities toward each other is just shameful. This is the situation in many of the urban centers of Florida so it does not surprise me to see a hispanic man inferring the worst about a young black boy in a hoodie. Now as I said, you may have a completely different experience from me, but I really do not see the black and latino solidarity that you speak of.

    Reply
    • Malik Abdul Rasheed

      Hi Alex, I’m from New York City, so maybe the situation is different. Grew up in a Black, Latino, and White neighborhood (Uniondale, NY). It’s really not a matter of romanticizing where I come from. Yes there will always be tension, but there is some level of mutual respect. So when I say he “identified himself as a minority” I’m talking about that mutual respect knowing that as Black and Latinos we have similar experiences with those in law enforcement or in this case, wannabe law enforcement (Zimmerman). That’s why cops go through “cultural training” (sometimes is goes by a different name) so they can interpret the cultural sign language, verbal cues and body language of so-called suspects in way that gives them more visibility on a “real” threat and a perceived “real” threat.

      When you say this:

      When I hear epithets thrown around, its not whites doing the throwing but black and latinos and they are usually throwing them at each other.

      What exactly are you implying here? I don’t want to make any assumptions so you can explain.

      Maybe a lot of Black and Latinos in other parts of the country have something to learn from those in New York City. I agree with you, it’s not perfect and in no way am I implying that we have achieved the pinnacle of some “kumbaya” moment between Blacks and Latinos in the northeast, but there is a connection (maybe even a thread of a connection but it’s there) that we have in this part of the nation where there is some mutual level of understanding and respect.

      Reply
  3. Lara

    Thanks, Malik, I appreciate your willingness to talk this through. What I find about race relations in the United States is that both black people and white people talk about race and racism quite a bit–it’s a thing that we really want to work out with one another. The rub is that we mostly talk about it amongst people of our own race. It’s quite rare to have an honest discussion about racism *between* blacks and whites. I’m often afraid to even broach the topic for fear of saying something deeply offensive. What happens when we don’t discuss race with one another is that we tend to not even have the same vocabulary.

    Just to be clear, there’s little doubt in my mind that Zimmerman’s judgment about Trayvon Martin being “threatening” or “suspicious” had to do with the color of his skin. I’m willing to revise my opinion based on whatever new facts come out, but right now, I just don’t see how anyone could deny that race was a factor here.

    I have two issues with what you’re saying about group or ethnic affinity. First, I think people’s feelings of allegiance are a lot more complicated than that, and you can feel an allegiance to several different groups at one time. Speaking personally, I feel that class and education more so than race, ethnicity or nationality determines who I relate to, spend time with and trust. I live in upper Northwest DC, which some people call “upper Caucasia,” but in fact there’s a fair bit of ethnic diversity in our neighborhood and school, and I have friends from many parts of the world, many religions, etc. What I have in common with my friends, though, is a certain level of education, literacy, and economic class. If all of us are sitting here commenting on Malik’s blog, that probably means we are all fairly literate and cosmopolitan, probably own a computer, and have broadband access. I think we all have a great deal in common that transcends race and ethnicity, and we might find that we have similar ideas about who does and doesn’t belong in our respective neighborhoods. Right now, the people I don’t really like seeing in my neighborhood are the young white trashy people who rent the house across the street. They have pit bulls in the backyard, they’re loud, they have a bunch of trash on the front porch, they’re a lot younger than me (early 20s)–these are the things I see about them that make me feel like I don’t relate to them.

    Second, I’m not sure you’re considering the possibility that members of ethnic minorities can absorb racial prejudices and actually act in a prejudiced manner towards their own ethnic or racial group. If Zimmerman were African-American, it wouldn’t change my opinion one iota that his perception of Trayvon Martin was affected by his race. I did a criminal externship when I was in law school, at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. One of the things I learned from criminal defense attorneys is that when you have a black defendant, you don’t necessarily want an all-black jury because black folks can sometimes be *more* judgmental towards other blacks.

    I just think prejudice, racism and ethnic and group affinity is a bit more complicated than you’re giving it credit for. I find myself less concerned with why Zimmerman did what he did, and more angry that the police cannot make a @#$#!! arrest yet.

    Reply
    • Malik Abdul Rasheed

      Lara you’ve put forward a lot of good food for thought. I totally agree with you regarding “race discussions” in this country. Sometimes we are talking past each other and not with each other. I went to Syracuse University where the percentage of Black students was around 5%. I think it’s a little about 7% today. It was extremely eye-opening being that I spent a good portion of my life in predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods. We had a good portion of White folks, but they were around 20%. Even then 1994-1998 there was a lot of racial tension. Personally I was one of those “social butterflies” that just hung out with anyone no matter what. It’s part of my upbringing. Being Jamaican I have cousins from White to Chinese to Indian. So my family is from the darkest to the lightest. Kinky Afro hair and Straight hair. Thick African noes to narrow Eurocentric noses. In some Black circles in Syracuse I did pay price where some would question my “loyalty”. At the time, many just couldn’t understand how I could be doing my “black thang” while then next day hang out at the bar with my White friends. It was extremely divided at times and I had several racially motivated run-ins with White students that could of gotten me kicked out of school if I did what my rage was telling me to do. Luckily these were exceptions.

      Just keep in mind that my explanation was just one dimension of group connectivity. Ethnicity is one of many group dimensions, but ethnicity is a big one. When I say ethnicity I’m talking about culture. At the end of the day I don’t know which group characteristic is larger or smaller. I’ve actually been looking for a good book on how groups connect and how groups are bound to one another. Personally I come from a Jamaican background and that is one of the other dimensions that binds me to my Jamaican culture and heritage. Yet another dimension to who I am. Yes. I’m African American so I have a rich history that binds me to the African American community and it’s related history. I’m of African ancestry so that binds me to my African community. Many Africans think I’m from Africa. I’m Muslim so I have a global community there. I’m technologist so I have a huge community there. I’m a big exercise enthusiast so I have a huge community there.

      You said:

      Second, I’m not sure you’re considering the possibility that members of ethnic minorities can absorb racial prejudices and actually act in a prejudiced manner towards their own ethnic or racial group.

      Absolutely. Self-hatred is a huge problem in many minority communities. It’s something that I’ve talked about a lot on my blog. From skin lighteners to self-destructive behavior that is springing forth out of our psychological self-hatred.

      At the end of the day it’s all about doing a heavy level of self-reflection to be better at assessing and understanding the world around us. I have a couple books that I’d like to share that touch on some of the issues we discussed. Please share any resources you have too. I’m always interested in what folks are reading being somewhat of book junky.

      • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Collins Business Essentials) by Robert B. Cialdini
      • The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (Author) Cornel West (Introduction)
      • Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
      • Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell (I’m sure you’ve read this but had to mention it)
      • Whistling Vivaldi: And Other Clues to How Stereotypes Affect Us by Claude Steele

      I want to be very clear on this. I’m only sharing this because I find this stuff interesting and not in a “hey, you need to learn something” way. Sometimes I’ve offended people by suggesting books. Go figure. I just read a lot and when I find something fascinating I like to share it.

      Reply
  4. Lara Ballard

    Thanks for the reading list–I appreciate it! I have read Blink and it definitely influences a lot of my thinking on this. The Huffington Post has a new article on Zimmerman today, and as I suspected, he’s a complicated character. He has a black friend who is now personally vouching for him as not really capable of racial discrimination.

    Another part of the problem seems to be that we think of people as either “a racist” or “not a racist,” and make out racists to be such monstrous creatures that people want to avoid being called a racist at all costs. But really, I think racial prejudice is a form of mental shorthand to whicih we can all fall victim. I see Zimmerman as a guy who probably strives not to be racially prejudiced, but he still has these stereotypes rumbling around in his head about African-American teenagers wearing hoodies, which probably many of us do, and which cause us to make snap judgments, just as is described in “Blink.” The difference between Zimmerman and a lot of the rest of us is that he had a handgun, and his conduct was shaped in part by this ill-conceived “stand and defend” law in Florida. This created a set of circumstances where he was able to allow his knee-jerk prejudices to manifest themselves in the form of a fired bullet. Without that handgun, he’d be just one more somewhat nutty self-appointed neighborhood watchdog with some prejudices rumbling around in his head like probably 90% of Americans (particularly those who live in gated communities).

    I didn’t know you were from Jamaica. Yes, that definitely would seem to make your own feelings of ethnic identity more complicated. There seem to be a number of cultural attributes that are very, very specific to the African-Americans who share the legacy of American slavery. It’s a particular kind of unhealed wound that is passed on from generation to generation and simply isn’t shared (at least in its entirety) by a lot of American immigrant communities, including Caribbean immigrants of African descent. Colin Powell, for example, always struck me as having a different take on things than a lot of African-Americans (including his willingness to shill for the Republican Party), and he’s also of Jamaican ancestry.

    Reply
    • Malik Abdul Rasheed

      Tony/Lara some of the commentary are responses to earlier commentary. Although some of are direct response to each of you, feel free to read both responses.

      @Lara
      Personally I’m not convinced by one person of Black ethnicity vouching for Zimmerman as an individual that does not have any pathologies that could invite him to use excessive force against individuals of Black ethnicity or dark skin. There is too much evidence and context to believe that Zimmerman doesn’t have some pretty dangerous pathologies regarding Black people. If a community of Black people came out to support Zimmerman then that would be a better indicator that he is entrenched in the Black community.

      You said this:

      Another part of the problem seems to be that we think of people as either “a racist” or “not a racist,” and make out racists to be such monstrous creatures that people want to avoid being called a racist at all costs…The difference between Zimmerman and a lot of the rest of us is that he had a handgun, and his conduct was shaped in part by this ill-conceived “stand and defend” law in Florida.

      I think that is part of the story. Behind closed doors our direct community and social circles can reinforce certain types of racial pathologies. Whether it is directly through family, social media, television, or the some hate filled site on the internet.

      David Shenk touches on this in Data Smog: Surviving the Information Glut. Although written in 1997 his contributions in understanding how our communities are becoming more fractured and splintered are tremendous.

      @Tony
      I too, had experienced quite an odd situation of sorts when I went to a Venezuela resort. This was around late 90s. Although I didn’t get such a perverted level of curiosity when I was there, when it was time for me to leave the country I was refused. At first I didn’t hear the guy properly. I said “Excuse me?”. He said “No, you can’t leave”. I showed him my passport again and again and he just said “No’. Then I looked around and was the only dark skin guy around. Luckily an old white lady from our resort group saw the nonsense that was going on then walked over and said “What are you doing? He’s okay” to the airport security guard and immediately he let me through the gate. So it wasn’t my “U.S. Passport” that got me out of a country by my passport was an old white lady. So in doubt, always have a white man or woman by your side to validate your existence. Of course this is Venuezla that has deep African roots but some “Blancitos” of spanish speaking countries like to play dirty when it comes to darker skinned individuals.

      @Tony just be thankful that someone didn’t come up to you and ask you to serve them a drink or bring their suitcases to the door. Unfortunately your experience and mine are NOT edge cases. I could fill up a whole entire library of crap that has happened to me because of my skin color. How about the time I went into a convenience store to get directions after going to my friends wedding and the clerk at the convenience store thought he knew me because I looked like the server at some catering company that he knew. Or the time that my the store manager of big supermarket chain laughed hysterically at me when I told him I was applying to Syracuse University to get a technology degree and he literally said “Ha ha. they don’t accept people of your kind there”. He was dead serious. Or the time I was called a coon (although the guy apologized later) and how i was “steppin and fetching” for taking his TV spot on a university television show at UUTV. Or the time me and group of African American employees were standing in the hallway and a top level manager (who also apologized) said to me “It’s pretty dark down that hallway” after I walked away from the group. I don’t mention any of this to bring up old racial wounds. I’m just explaining a sliver of the type psychological battering of racial insults that many Black and Latinos have to go through.

      At the end of the day I hope these incidents (Trayvon Martin) serve as an opportunity for self-reflection for all us. An opportunity for us to challenge our personal sensibilities. An experiment of creative destruction along cultural and social pathological lines. If we can be humble enough to scrutinize how we see the world around us, I truly believe we’d see less of this inter-ethnic hyper-violence.

      Reply
  5. Tony Lawrence

    I visted several countries in Europe a few years ago. Everybody was cool and that went for my young nephew as well. Racism is a curious thing. Ten years ago my ex-wife and I vacationed with my daughters, granddaughter in Mexico. We stayed at a nice mid level resort. We were the only Black family and we were a curiosity to most of the White people who stayed there. My wife overheard several remark, I wonder who they are.

    As if we couldn’t have saved our money as they did. Mind you this was a three star resort at best. It seemed most of the people were from small cities. Racism is in my mind a combination of the unfamilair and the different. Part of why college educated Whites tend to be more liberal and less bigoted. A recent study found that people who are racist tend to conservative and not very bright. http://news.yahoo.com/low-iq-conservative-beliefs-linked-prejudice-180403506.html

    Those that hold bigoted views about minorites tend to be… well less educated. They watch FOX and listen to Rush. They see ALL Blacks in largely the same way those who we met in Mexico saw us. We couldn’t be normal people like them. We had to minor stars of some sort. In fact one kid asked my daughter if she was a ‘gangster’. Too funny because she’s a Prada and Coach kind of girl. As long as American Whites see American Blacks as different and scary we will have cases like the Trayvon Martin murder case. As long as we are seen not as Tony or Malik but as Black men first then we will never move forward.

    Bill Maher had a sad but telling video on his show this season. A film maker had traveled to Miss. and interviewed some White citizens and one said he hated Blacks. When asked why, he had no answer. Hate and stupidty need no reason.

    Reply
  6. FightThePower

    I think its ok that blacks are on both sides of the discussion. Not all of the facts have come out. I think this while thing is being hijacked by Al, Jesse, and the media. A witness said on day one that Tray was attacking Zimmerman and yet we never hear from this witness.

    Note however a new witness came out yesterday and suggested Zimmerman was on top:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eYf2xTvJpzU

    Two sides to every story I guess…

    Reply

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