The devaluation of Black life

Monday, March 19, 2012

The deaths of Emmett Till, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant and Trayvon Martin counter the narrative that all human life is valuable.

by Shanelle Matthews, Communications Manager

As the news of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s murder floods the airwaves I sit, familiarly reflective and saddened by the loss of yet another Black life at the hands of a sanctimonious racist. But like many of you, I know that this experience is not an isolated one. Largely, the lives of young Black men have never held great value in this country. From birth to untimely death, they’ve been treated as mules for labor, obvious scapegoats, easy targets and disposable – at no consequence to the disposer. We’ve watched as the media and policy makers have heavily overlooked the outright assassinations of countless Black boys and men with little to no significance placed on the value of their lives or the racial implications of why they were murdered.

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It’s enraging when I think of how capriciously Americans shrug their shoulders and turn the other cheek when considering the value of Black life in this country. Institutional and interpersonal racism has left Black America in a very precarious place; just leaving our homes puts us at risk for being assassinated by any self-righteous, gun-yielding neighborhood watchman who deems us suspicious.

This way of thinking is an example of a broader societal philosophy that literally begins at conception of a Black life. Black mothers, often considered hyper-sexual in nature, are frequently treated with little to no dignity by doctors who dismiss their pregnancies as accidental or inconsequential. With a maternal and fetal mortality rate higher than any other race (often caused by stress brought on by racial burdens), Black mothers often experience traumatic birthing experiences that include forced cesareans, trivializing attitudes by medical professionals, and contemptuous care that has led to death or serious injury. If they survive this, Black children are given the least resources, have the least access to healthcare, endure some the most toxic and contaminated environments, and deal with structural and interpersonal racism throughout adolescence and into adulthood, where they risk the chance of being shot to death by people like George Zimmerman.

It is disheartening how people have desensitized themselves to the plight of communities just because they don’t look like their own or how the lives of Black children are so undervalued, not because of something they’ve done but simply – just because. I can’t reconcile how some people have positioned themselves to make ethical decisions about who is and who isn’t deserving of safety, security, and justice and how those decisions magnify and shift culture, leaving entire communities on the fringes and moving targets for the Zimmermans of the world.

Sites like Black and Missing have been erected because those with the power to reach the masses refuse to prioritize anyone who isn’t white, hetero or wealthy. Black and brown children who go missing in this country or are raped, beaten or murdered rarely ever make primetime news so communities of color are forced to find their own channels of distribution to get justice for their loved ones.

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Trayvon’s death, and the subsequent lack of swift justice, is one more example the little importance placed on the lives and deaths of young Black boys. When will the media and policy makers start raising consciousness and awareness about the marginalization of Black families? Where are all of the folks who rallied behind Caylee Anthony, a child is a child and none of them deserve to die so why no vast humanitarian effort to convict Trayvon’s killer? This worry-less behavior is unearthing some Jim Crow-like vigilante energy, and I am genuinely afraid for Black and Brown youth. This country has vilified young men of color so heavily that just existing makes them dangerous and threatening. Some say you can't put value on life, but the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Emmett Till and so many other innocent young men of color says otherwise.

Take a minute and sign this petition calling for the arrest and conviction of Trayvon Martin's killer who is still safe in his home and share it widely. We should all feel personally charged to acknowledge the racial politics involved in his murder and to spread awareness about it.

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