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The Constant Epidemic

My earliest memory of racial tensions between police and the black community in America was back in 1991 at the release of John Singleton's debut film Boyz N The Hood. The film premiered in July of that year. I was in high school in Toronto, young, naive, and whose world was still tightly wrapped in a bubble of teenage fun. I lived in the suburbs on a nice street and walking to school was a lovely jaunt through a pretty ravine that opened out to an even nicer tree-lined street with bigger houses. My school was nestled safely in the middle of it. A very different experience of what Angela Bassett (who also starred in the film) described as her experiences growing up saying, “It was important as a young actor to me that this (film) feel real, because I knew what it was like go home from school and hear gunshots at night.”  The film, which was about friendships, family, brotherhood, love, geography, and race, became the unwitting lit match thrown into the tinderbox that was race relations in America. Tensions that were always under the surface erupted into riots, a releasing of anger felt for always being seen and treated as "other". While the film was about John Singleton's experiences growing up in South Central L.A it was also about racial profiling and how the black experience in America came down to perception of who they were, a perception that would see them as second class citizens purely because of the colour of their skin. A perception that would allow some to feel it their right to abuse, accuse, and even kill a person of colour. 400 years would pass since the first enslaved Africans were brought to America and nothing had changed. Nothing has changed.  Nearly three decades after Boyz N' The Hood was released, America is still in a crisis, an epidemic, with the murder rate for black men at four times the national average. And a study released last year found that African Americans were 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white people even going so far as saying "police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States." It's as John Singleton, the film's director, said, when asked if relations between African Americans and the police had changed 25 years after the release of his film, "Yeah, that's never changed. That was going on before the movie and it continues today." What the numbers indicate isn't the rising levels of racism in America. The numbers lay bare what has always been true, that the struggle that people of colour, especially black people face, has never changed no matter how "enlightened" we think we are as a species. And it's not for the the black community to educate the rest of the world on how to be treated. Ibram X. Kendi explains it in his book How To Be An Antiracist: "What's the problem with being 'not racist'? It is a claim that signifies neutrality: 'I am not a racist, but neither am I aggressively against racism.' But there is no neutrality in the racism struggle. One either allows racial inequities to persevere, as a racist, or confronts racial inequities, as an anti racist. There is no in-between safe space of 'not racist.' The claim of 'not racist' neutrality is a mask for racism."  This morning, I watched a CNN journalist get arrested on live tv while he was reporting from protests in Minneapolis, the city where George Floyd, an unarmed man was was killed by a police officer who suffocated him to death. That happened this week. The journalist, Oscar Jimenez is a black latino. The state police handcuffed him and his crew for doing their job. Another CNN reporter, Josh Campbell, who was also nearby describes the differences in how they were treated: "I'm sitting here talking to the National Guard, talking to the police. They're asking politely to move here and there. A couple times I've moved closer than they would like. They asked politely to move back. They didn't pull out the handcuffs. Lot different here than what Omar experienced." The same day of George Floyd's death we saw a white woman call the cops on a black man in Central Park, New York. In the video we see the woman calling 911 claiming her life was being threatened by the man, a Harvard graduate and an avid bird watcher, simply telling her to put her dog on a leash as required by law. Adrienne Cooper explains it brilliantly in her piece for The Cut. She says, The severity of the instances varies (the spectrum of entitlement isn’t limited to calling to cops), but they’re connected to the same playbook. Play the victim whenever they feel a person of color is intruding in “their” space — in a park, in a neighborhood, in the spotlight — cocky and certain that things will work out for them by privilege and design. I can't even begin to know what it must be like to be a black person living in America. But I do know what it is like to be a mother. A mother of a boy who is brown and white. Do I worry about what the future will be like for him? Yes. Do I worry about his safety when I think about the time he will be going out on his own with his friends? Yes. I know all mothers worry about their kids but I think mothers of kids of colour will feel an added concern for our children being targeted, treated unfairly, or god forbid, killed, because of the colour of their skin.  Just like in 1968 with the Chicago rights after the assassination of Martin Luther King, then in 1991, 1992 with the Rodney King case, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of 18 year old Michael Brown killed by a police officer, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland after the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody), we are now seeing riots today in Minneapolis, Minnesota. And understandably so. My heart breaks for the mothers who lost their sons. Their deaths make no sense. But then racism doesn't make sense. What has changed since 1991 is our constant visual exposure to injustice thanks to smartphones in every hand. Will Smith said it perfectly earlier this week: "Racism is not getting worse. It's getting filmed." Maybe now the world can't turn a blind eye from what is in plain site. And always has been.

Monita xo

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