With the Boston Marathon Bombing trial underway, our contributor asks the question, “Doesn’t Michael Brown deserve a magazine cover too?”
In a perfect world, the color of someone’s skin wouldn’t matter but we live in an imperfect world where it very much does, despite the number of people who insist that it doesn’t. That stubborn insistence by many that race doesn’t matter is naive at best and dangerous at worst because it keeps us from working to create a system that for once wouldn’t condemn certain bodies from the very moment they arrive earth side.
Last fall, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down in a public park in Cleveland, Ohio, because a bystander saw what he perceived to be a Black man with a gun and called the police. Despite saying that Rice might have been a juvenile, the dispatcher didn’t quite convey that part of the message to the responding officers and a young child with a toy pellet gun was murdered by the people who are sworn to protect the public.
Cleveland officials later issued a statement in response to a wrongful death suit by Rice’s family that claims Tamir in essence caused his own death: “were directly and approximately caused by their own acts. . .,” and added that Tamir caused his own death “by the failure. . . to exercise due care to avoid injury.”
“Yet when a white young adult commits a heinous crime, they are painted with the fuzzy brush of humanity that almost excuses their acts of destruction.”
It would almost be laughable if there wasn’t a slew of dead Black and Brown bodies in recent years. Too many times the deceased victim is at fault for their own death, no matter what their age or circumstance. However we live in a time where there is a blatant double standard when it comes to race: a young Black child is perceived to be a menacing scary adult. Yet when a white young adult commits a heinous crime, they are painted with the fuzzy brush of humanity that almost excuses their acts of destruction. How else can we explain Boston Marathon suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ending up on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine with an accompanying article that tried it’s best to humanize him? By the same logic didn’t Michael Brown deserve a cover too? After all Brown and Tsarnaev were close in age; actually Brown was younger and he didn’t kill anyone, yet far too many see Brown as a reckless thug who didn’t do what he was told.
Or let us talk about the young white child who on a family vacation in Arizona in the summer of 2014 accidentally shot and killed her shooting instructor with an Uzi. The accident was a tragedy but last time I heard, no charges were filed and the family was allowed to grieve privately. A few voices labeled the family reckless but overall the family which one might say exercised galactically poor judgment in allowing a 9-year-old girl to handle an Uzi was allowed to be imperfect in their humanity…just a mistake.
Having raised one child to adulthood, I am intimately aware of how Black and Brown children are denied their humanity, their innocence and their childhood. Too many of us feign surprise at these simple truths but this is a country that was founded on the stripping of Black and Brown humanity, where Black and Brown children were often separated from their families and made to serve and work. My own father was the child of sharecroppers in rural Arkansas in the 1950s and 1960s and the stories he has shared about the cotton patch and what the landowners expected of families (the whole family) aren’t tales based in the 19th century but recent history that is now lived as nightmares in the psyches of many older Blacks who are still upright.
When will enough be enough? How many tragedies must happen, how many think pieces and blog posts must be written for all lives to matter? Not as an empty slogan or the predictable “Ugh” or “Disgusting” that is the norm in social media spaces when these tragedies come to light but when will you be moved to take action? How will you do it or do you really care? These are the things we must ask ourselves if we believe that childhood and humanity is for more than just white bodies. Anything less is a form of mental masturbation and if that’s all we are going to do, we should just own that too.
Shay Stewart-Bouley writes at Black Girl in Maine. She’s the Executive Director of Community Change, Inc; a Boston-based non-profit that spotlights the roots of racism in white culture with the intention of dealing with racism at its source, as well as with its impact on communities of color. In 2011, Shay won a New England Press Association Award for her work writing on diversity issues. She lives in Maine, and is from Chicago.