We don’t see much blood anymore. In life, most people only see blood in movies, television shows, videogames, or first aid commercials. Soldiers, police officers, first responders, crime victims, and human rights activists see too much blood. It was not always this way. Before the rise of nonviolent protest in the middle of the twentieth century, most Americans saw more blood. Too often, in developing countries, large amounts of spilled blood remain a common sight. Still, it was possible a less macabre world was expanding over the last sixty years. George Zimmerman’s acquittal this past weekend was a significant step backwards towards a civilization that should remain buried. Zimmerman successfully purchased improved social status through the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the illusion of President Barack Obama’s acceptance fuels a cultural fury against African Americans that threatens to bathe the next century in blood.
Seventeen months ago, this space emphasized the need to recognize the unintended consequences of historic actions. It briefly examined the counterintuitive effects of President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865 and the successful passage of the various Civil Rights Laws between 1964 and 1968. In the last year and a half, the political assaults (by conservative organizations, including the Supreme Court) and the physical assaults (often by law enforcement or civilians encouraged by Stand Your Ground laws) against Africans Americans have surged. The conservative wing of the Supreme Court accomplished the dreams of Republican leaders like Governor George Wallace and Senator Barry Goldwater by tearing the Voting Rights Act in half last month. They also continue to threaten the end of Affirmative Action programs – the only system of providing any semblance of equity in employment, contracting, and education – every few months. The litany of extra-legal violence against African Americans grew dramatically, especially in the context of initiatives like Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s stop-and-frisk profiling. Taken together, these agendas lay the foundation for the systemic marginalization of African Americans throughout the United States. They portend genocide.
Mass extermination is not a spectre to be invoked lightly. Yet stories of forced sterilization in California have recently surfaced, and the combined casual apathy and hostility toward the lives of millions of African Americans should not be ignored. In higher education, Historically White Colleges and Universities (HWCUs) continue campaigns to reduce or eliminate programs that take African Americans’ lives seriously from the University of Pennsylvania to the University of California at Berkeley. African Americans remain peripheral to national leadership in fields ranging from finance to medicine to journalism/entertainment production and distribution. Lengthy sentences for nonviolent offenses have disenfranchised and made unemployment permanent for increasing millions of African Americans over nearly forty years. If President Obama’s time in office is to avoid becoming an ironic footnote to the resilience of white supremacy, humanity must conscientiously choose a new path.
Outrage following the Zimmerman verdict must become engagement. People need to know their local elected officials and communicate with them regularly. These officials must, in turn, be held accountable to abandon old policies of segregation and exploitation. In towns and regions that continue to isolate African Americans in the cheapest neighborhoods and suburban ghettos, school board and council leadership must transform schools and community programs into local defense initiatives. Teaching children and their families about the new adversity they face is essential to end this massive threat. Every household should set specific goals – immediate (next 90 days), intermediate (next 360 days), and ultimate (life-long) – in terms of their physical safety, economic security, and political standing. In addition, these energized families and communities must connect with each other around the world to defend against the coalitions dedicated to racial hygiene and hierarchy.
Invisible places, like Sanford, Florida, exist around the world. Invisible people live, bleed, and die in them every day. In Mumbai, India; in Bahia, Brazil; in Norristown, Pennsylvania; in Asbury Park, New Jersey, too many people ignore the bloodshed to preserve a mirage of civil society. Meanwhile, global inequality increases steadily. Billions of people experience just how “alienable” their rights to property, liberty, and life really are.The people of the African diasporas, in particular, now face the same fate experienced by Indigenous populations in the nineteenth century. The choice is extermination or irrelevance, and neither is acceptable.
Dr. Walter Greason is the author of Suburban Erasure: How the Suburbs Ended the Civil Rights Movement in New Jersey. His work is available on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.