Being raised as a Black boy in America, I always compared my life to the boys who lost their innocent lives within the past decade to senseless acts of violence like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Tamir Rice. Those names hold weight because of how important and crucial their deaths were within the Black power movement as well as in the grand scheme of understanding race and its current state in America.
These deaths caused Black teens to live in fear, thinking about the type of altercations that could possibly occur because of their skin. Waking up and wondering what types of trials you could go through on that day simply because of your skin color is certainly not an ideal scenario.
This type of fear caused parents to take a different route in their parenting in order to prepare their teens for the type of situations that could possibly occur. Over the years, the talks Black parents have with their children have dramatically changed from the generic talk about the “birds and bees” to the sad reality of watching out for police, carrying identification, and raising your hands and asking “don’t shoot” when having a run-in with the police.
Run-ins with the police have always caused Black people to fear for their lives. After extremely controversial events like the police beating of Rodney King in the early 90s, Black people have lived in fear of the police and the power they held over the Black community. This fear, among other problems, has caused Black people to stay put in their own neighborhoods filled with crime and poverty.
In America, being raised in a Black neighborhood can be a setback to success and the power you will be able to attain in your lifetime unless something is changed by an outside factor or a person is extraordinary. Coming from a neighborhood with poverty and crime and not having the ability of an amazingly talented athlete or artist is a sentence to death for many. The dream scenario for many Black kids growing up in areas with crime is to become one of the best football players, basketball players, or musicians this world has ever seen.
This is not always a possible path. If you are not the next Lebron James, Tom Brady, or Tupac Shakur, people will overlook you and the accomplishments you have achieved. The media-created narrative about celebrity being the only path out causes young adults to aspire to be similar to those who made it in such visible ways instead of striving to become doctors or lawyers.
Early in a young boy’s life, without being given opportunities and resources needed to be great, he may turn to more available paths for getting money, even if that means slinging dope, joining a gang, or turning to crime. These are the options available for today’s youth living in these types of neighborhoods, which in turn reinforces the cycle of death in the Black community.
Many athletes and artists have experienced this type of struggle and have recently spoken out about and against this reality. The common underlying theme in stories told by successful people coming from the same backgrounds as their unsuccessful Black counterparts is one of opportunity and acknowledgement of the crime-ridden communities they came from.
Robert Rahmeek Williams, more commonly referred to as Meek Mill, had this to say on his most recent album, Championships:
How could you blame me? When I’m tryna stay alive and just survive and beat them odds when n***s die by twenty-five. When I stop fearin’ for my life, when I decide to change my mind and stop totin’–They closin’ all the schools and all the prisons gettin’ open.
Williams directly addresses the larger issues, ridiculing how America has given up on trying to make change for young Black teens, instead deciding to place them in jails for longer sentences over minor crimes as compared to their white counterparts who commit crimes of the same degree. This quote by Williams is only one example in a large array of media-based consciousness about race and its current state in America. It lays out the racist ideologies that are central to American societal norms concerning Black people and the carceral system in our country.
Many of the underlying ideologies about Black people and the jail system have been made more obvious due to the fact that our current president and his views about race foreground hate speech and embolden its perpetrators in our country. In 2016, a presidential election occurred that shocked not only many Americans but people around the world. The campaign of our current president, Donald Trump, was one that drew power from openly ridiculing immigrants of color coming to our country to pursue the American Dream in order to gain votes.
Many racist ideas and hate speech flourished after he was elected. This reality is supported by a string of hate-based attacks like those in Charlottesville, the Charleston Church shooting, and the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. This type of hate seems more common now.
The United States went from having a Black president to one who openly ridicules Black people and routinely calls his Black critics “stupid.” The world has been opened to the hate spread through those ideas. He claimed immigrants from Haiti “all have AIDS” while praising White supremacists as “very fine people” in the summer of 2017 following the Charlottesville protests (Kendi 8). These statement speak volumes, and Trump’s open display and support of hatred led to society running rampant with hate-filled and racist talk. This type of speech has also fueled connections of racist visions of ghettos, projects, and jail cells to the Black community at large.
In order to move past these ideologies of hate and terror, the way this country is run needs to change. A Black boy should not have to worry about his family members falling victim to crime, whether it be at the hands of the police or through gun or gang violence. This country is in dire need of change, and making that change all starts with electing leaders who openly criticize racism and the justice system that is disproportionately putting our Black youth in jail.
Copyright Isaiah Webster 2020