I’ve been thinking for days about whether – or how – to write about the Danzig Street shooting.
I first thought I was going to write about how all we need to do to prevent such horrific incidents is to expect the best of young black men. Then I discovered that Tianna Dowie-Chin had already written about that.
I then read Antonia Zerbisias’ article about the connection between Hennessy cognac and the commodification (read: exploitation) of urban/hip-hop culture, and thought I was going to write about how very unlikely it is that this will ever change, because it is so profitable.
Then I read Kiese Laymon’s How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America, and I thought, “God.damn.”
Because I remembered something I’d said to my fiancé in the days immediately following the shooting: “Violence begets violence.” What I meant was this:
It is an act of violence to automatically malign people because they are (often) from low-income neighbourhoods, (usually) male, and (always) black.
It is an act of violence to exploit their modes of cultural expression. (To be considered exploitable is to be considered disposable.)
It is an act of violence to curtail their opportunities to learn the code words and “secret handshakes” that will help them to be successful in society.
It is an act of violence to presume that they are from Jamaica.*
It is an act of violence to push them out of their community (perhaps the only one they’ve ever known) in the name of “revitalization“, and offer glib, false promises that the things will be just as they were, but “better”.
It is an act of violence to erase their voices, stories, histories, lives, perspectives from our education system.
It is an act of violence to glorify them only as entertainers on the stage or on the sports field, even when – or, especially when – that entertainment is aggressive and oppressive.
It is an act of violence to cross the street to avoid passing them on the sidewalk.
It is an act of violence to move out of the neighbourhood to avoid living near them, and/or to avoid having your children attend school with them.
It is an act of violence to pathologize their difficulties in school and use that as an excuse not to provide them with the supports – and challenges – they need.
It is an act of violence to brand them as a “ghetto dude” when they are doing exactly what you have told them they should be doing. (That the culture of the cabinet office allowed for such comments in the first place is also an act of violence.)
It is an act of violence to over-represent them in the lowest tracks of education, thereby almost guaranteeing them a spot in the school-to-prison pipeline.
It is an act of violence to tell them that if only they worked harder, stayed stronger and “just said no”, their lives would be better.
It is an act of violence to assume that basketball is the only thing they are – or ought to be – interested in.
It is an act of violence to criminalize their difficulties in school through zero-tolerance policies.
It is an act of violence to dismiss their truths, their realities, because they don’t mesh with your own.
It is an act of violence to expect them to be twice as good in order to be considered half as worthy as everyone else.
It is an act of violence to blame their behaviour on their fathers’ absence: not only are you implicitly blaming their mothers, but you’re also ignoring the limited range of choices made available to their fathers. (A range which they, too, stand to inherit.)
It is an act of violence to keep them waiting for emergency services while their friends die in the street. (Or, in the hallway of their high school.)
It is an act of violence that they are not able to grieve properly over the murders of their friends and family members for fear of retaliation.
It is an act of violence to inundate them with messages that material goods = personal worth and value, and then judge them for not being able to resist those messages. (Can you? 100% of the time?)
It is an act of violence not to act… on the hundreds of studies, reports, briefs, papers, policy statements and op-eds that have detailed how to solve this problem of youth/gun violence.
These are just a few of the hundreds of thousands racial microaggressions** Black people face. Constantly. Relentlessly. It is like a poison, infecting every aspect of our lives. For myriad reasons (e.g. age, gender, language, community, accidents of birth, the unpredictability of chance) some of us are able to live with this poison, and even thrive despite its toxic effects.
Some of us, however, can’t. Not because of any intellectual, personal, spiritual, or moral weakness, but because the violence of living in a fundamentally racist society, of being denied the (collective) ability to grab the world by its shoulders and cry, “WE. ARE. NOT. WORTHLESS!” has poisoned them too quickly, quietly, and deeply. To the point where they will do anything to get it out. And if that means killing themselves and others (slowly or otherwise) then that’s what they’ll do.***
So, the question becomes, what will we do?
What will you do?
* Not that there’s anything wrong with being from Jamaica; it’s just that Black people have been in Canada for at least two hundred years.
** When Googling for a definition of “microaggression”, I came across this piece of awesomeness: The Microaggressions Project.
*** To be clear, I am not condoning killing – or attempting to kill – anyone, nor am I suggesting that the people who do so shouldn’t face jail time. As Edward Keenan points out, however, locking people up is the easy part. (It’s also quite expensive.)