Thursday, April 30, 2015

No Place to Be Somebody

As I watched the uprising in Baltimore unfold following the death of Freddie Gray, remembered other young Black men who’ve lost their lives due to police brutality, I thought about Charles Gordone’s Pulitzer Prize winning play No Place to be Somebody. I can’t recall the details of the storyline but the title encapsulates the theme, that American is no place to be somebody for Black men. Gordone was commenting on America in the late sixties. Sadly this is truer now for the average dry-long-so African-American male than it was then, worse than it was in the 50s when I grew up in the segregated South.

In the 50s, before drugs had ravished our communities, The Atlanta Public Schools had hand-me down-books but good teachers, teachers who knew that being Black didn’t mean we were dumb; teachers who helped us discover our strengths. There was a vocational high school, after-school and recreational programs, and summer jobs—things that are only minimally available if they exist at all today in America’s urban cities.

Don’t get me wrong; I acknowledge that lots of things have changed since desegregation. But our successes—people like Oprah Winfrey, BeyoncĂ© and Jay-Z, Robert Johnson, Shonda Rhimes, and our crowning achievement, Barack Obama, the first Black president—isn’t the complete picture. These are people who Dr. W.E.B. DuBois would have called the talented tenth.

Since Monday, I have been enraged by the bias in the news coverage. These are journalists who know the nuances of language but choose incendiary words like riot, instead of uprising, who identify these disillusioned Black men as thugs. CNN has not reported what Mother Jones revealed regarding how this unrest began—teachers and parents maintain that police actions inflamed a tense-but-stable situation. Why do we know how many policemen have been injured but know nothing of the injuries of citizens during this uprising? I find the media's emphasis on loss of property over the loss Freddie Gray’s life sickening.

When Baltimore was relatively quiet Tuesday night, their police commissioner downplayed the importance of community intervention in maintaining the peace. He vowed that policemen and national guardsmen would remain in Baltimore until the streets are safe. My question is when will these streets be safe for young Black men?