By LaKeshia Myers
James Baldwin once said, “If we were white, our heroes would be your heroes too. Malcolm X would still be alive…when the Israelis or the Poles pick up guns and say ‘Give me liberty or give me death,’ the entire white world applauds. When a Black man says exactly the same thing, he is judged a criminal and treated like one. Everything is done to make an example of this bad n**ga so there won’t be any more like him” (Baldwin, 1970). Baldwin’s characterization of black heroism and villainization is rooted in truth.
From Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831 to the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, to the murder, incarceration and exile of political prisoners such as Fred Hampton, Mumia Abu Jamal and Assata Shakur – being bold and standing up for equal treatment in America has always been dangerous for black people. I have often felt the sentiment of many white Americans is one of tolerance; as if to think our living in the United States should be viewed as a privilege to be held in such high regard that we should disregard the many generations of mistreatment and inequity.
I will admit that the events of the past few weeks have been difficult to process; a nationwide pandemic which was compounded by the lynching of George Floyd. For many in this country, they are at a breaking point. A point where too many realities have begun to hit home—poverty, pandemic and the presumption of guilt. Not only guilt based on race, but also of class. In his speech “Strength to Love” Dr. King said, “God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty” (King, 1963). I think of the aforementioned freedom fighters and I realized they were not only threatening because they sought to change race relations, they also had strong opinions on eradicating poverty. Their revolutionary ideas sought to also make economic distribution proportionate in this country.
This is why I believe the current protests will yield true change. The fire has been ignited for not just a black response, but a collective response to change the way we operate.
Because of the pandemic, Americans were able to turn on their televisions and see what has been happening for generations; because of generations of abject poverty among both blacks and whites, there is a renewed resistance to corporate greed and a push for economic reapportionment; because we are all finally awake we can see our reality through new eyes. In order for systems—whether racism or poverty—to exist, there must be someone deemed lesser than.
James Baldwin sums this notion up perfectly when he said, “What white people have to do, is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a n***er in the first place, because I’m not a n***er, I’m a man, but if you think I’m a n***er, it means you need it.