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We ended 2013, the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation — a year in which one of the most popular movies, “12 Years a Slave” chronicled the horrors of slavery in Louisiana — with Ani DiFranco huffily canceling her plan to host a “Righteous Retreat” for artists at Nottaway Plantation in New Orleans. That, ladies and gentlemen, sums up your year in race. I understand that most white people never have to think beyond notions of the idyllic and pastoral when it comes to plantations. That these places continue to represent sites of untold horror, violence, and humiliation for Black people is the very kind of knowledge against which white privilege inoculates.
The whole point of being white is that you are never supposed to feel uncomfortable in space. To the moon and back, the world is yours. This past year, “pure” white space has been procured and subsequently sanctified through the precious spilled blood of black bodies – Trayvon Martin, who got no justice, Jonathan Ferrell, who asked for help in the wrong neighborhood, Renisha McBride, who did the same.
In her faux-pology, which doubled as a notice of cancellation, DiFranco claimed to “get it.” But from her passive aggressive chastisement and her choice to accuse her naysayers on social media of engaging in “high velocity bitterness,” she obviously doesn’t really get it. She acknowledged that “the pain of slavery is real and runs very deep and very wide,” but saw as “very unfortunate” “what many have chosen to do with that pain.
The fresh page of a new year—what a thrilling place to be. And to kick off 2014, Colorlines asked several community leaders to share their racial justice wishes for the year. We wanted to to know, what are some truly attainable victories for justice in the coming year? And how could any one of us help achieve them? Just reading the list we received gives me a lot of life and excitement for what lies ahead.
It’s true, 2013 was a painful year in racial justice. Besides the George Zimmerman verdict, Paula Deen and Twerkgate, we witnessed numerous shootings of young people of color, including Renisha McBride in Michigan, Marshall Coulter in New Orleans and Israel Hernandez in Miami. My people, Cuban immigrants in Miami, have a saying that is particularly apt at this moment, lo bueno de esto es lo malo que se seta poniendo—which loosely translates to, “the good thing about this is how bad it is getting.” Fewer people can ignore or deny the race problem in this country. With instant media glued to the palm of our hands, many of us are unable to turn away from the wounds in our communities. In 2013, many of us learned or were reminded, racism actually kills.
The 17-year-old Cook County inmate who committed suicide by hanging himself was my student.
Nothing hurts worse than to find out bad news about someone you knew or someone you loved. And yet, in spite of all the headaches, grief, and high blood pressure medication I suffered at the hands of Tyshawn Carter, for me, he was both. I wonder if he knew he was remembered and loved. Given the choice he made to take his life, I can only imagine that he didn’t know we, his educators at his South side charter middle school he attended a few years back, actually cared about him. And how could he? It seems that all I ever did as his dean of students was to suspend him. Strict, harsh disciplinary measures were the only thing Tyshawn ever received from me, and it grieves my soul to know this, because I believed in him. It was just I had no way of showing him this because he was stuck like a big fat hair ball in a clogged up drain smack dab in the middle of the suspension-to-prison pipeline system, as most young black male students are with emotional and behavioral issues.
That’s the hard part about working with kids. They think you don’t understand their issues. They think “you be trippin” when you tell them to “dress for success” as a way to inspire them to wear their uniform properly because to be a Scholar you have to at least try to look like one. Mind you, I don’t believe you have to deny them the right to enter a classroom if their belt is brown when it should be black. Or if they have a white speck on their shoe to place them in in-school suspension for the day because the uniform code says “all black shoes only.” Those are some of the reasons Tyshawn couldn’t go into class. And this could and would send him into a fit of rage.
The First 48 is an A&E true crime reality show that documents real police investigations for the first 48 hours after a homicide report, including what happens inside interrogation rooms. If this sounds dangerous and ethically questionable, that’s because it is. Police accidentally killed a child as A&E’s cameras rolled, and a legally innocent man came to be known as a murderer after of his appearance on the show. Catastrophes like these have led to lawsuits, and now many cities refuse to work with The First 48.
Even so, the show has become increasingly popular over the duration of its 13-season run. The most recent complete season had 47 episodes, more than any previous season with more planned for 2014, and A&E has also added a companion show, After the First 48.
The First 48 shares its voyeurism and bloodlust with other reality shows, but differs from them in that it has destroyed, and even ended, the lives of people who never agreed to be involved. Another distinct feature of the show is that almost all of the suspects in it are black. Portrayals of non-black criminals are so rare that it’s become something of a social media joke.