black people aren’t required to give racialized situations the benefit of the doubt

May 25, 2017

“It’s not about race,” she wrote, plagiarizing some 500 years of justifications for anti-Black mistreatment. This was in response to a comment I made under a post of an article titled, “Hair appointment causes teen to be denied entrance to prom“. The student was Black, of course, and named Shatara Shorter. Shatara’s mother insisted the school had never told her about the policy prohibiting students from attending an event if they missed more than half of their classes the day of, and was enraged that the $1,000 special night was ruined for her daughter.

I had commented, “They hate Black children,” and the woman who replied–another Black person–objected within minutes. I had not even specified whom “they” were, but to her it was so outlandish, so preposterous to even fathom anyone involved in this type of situation as harboring anti-Black animus.

By Hari Ziyad*, AFROPUNK Writer

Indeed, when searching for the article in question to link for this piece, I saw many examples of white students who were banned from prom by schools adhering to strict rules. What I didn’t see under those articles, however, was an equivalent lack of compassion for the young person involved or rush to absolve the school. In the same comment thread under the post about Shatara, another user wrote, “I wish I would spend $1000 on prom. Oh well, we spend our money on what’s important to us.” Many just knew without knowing them that this family didn’t have $1,000 to spend (we can guess why this assumption was made), and thus the student deserved her night to be ruined for such poor financial decisions. Still others argued that this is what you get when you don’t follow the rules and play the game, no matter how awful the game is.

But what struck me most was that even many of those who admitted wrongdoing on the part of the school preached caution for “jumping to conclusions” about racial motivations. If you overplay the race card, the story goes, it loses its value.

But what if there is nothing beneficial to Black people that has any value recognized by whiteness anyway? (an argument supported by studies showing how Black support of legislation makes it less likely to pass.) What if trauma isn’t always something you “play” for material gain? What if your value is in truth? And the truth is that “they”–those who protect and uphold anti-Black institutions–hate Black children, and show it everyday, in so many ways. To assume this fact, proven to us over and over again, is applicable in this particular instance not only far from outlandish, but common sense.

As U.C. Berkeley professor Michael J. Dumas writes:

Beyond the systemic, intentional, and conniving efforts to deprive Black people of education, Black children, parents, and teachers have long been subject to anti-Black violence and harassment in schools. Of course, we can all recall the images from the 1950s-1970s of terrorizing white hordes in both Southern and Northern cities threatening, cursing, and spitting on Black children as they attempted to enter segregated white schools. But this kind of anti-Black sentiment takes more subtle forms now: research demonstrates that Black students are more likely to be punished than other students for the same infractions, and punished more harshly; Black students are less likely to be considered for gifted and talented programs; curricula used to teach Black children are unlikely to adequately or appropriately reflect Black history and cultural contributions. Even so, the overt forms of anti-Black violence in schools are with us still. Just last fall, a white sheriff’s deputy in a South Carolina high school threw a Black girl from her desk onto the floor and dragged her across the room in front of her classmates, after she refused to put her cell phone away.

The lynching tree of Anti-Blackness has been watered over the course of at least five centuries, its roots allowed to grow so deeply into the ground upon which all of its institutions rest that it’s impossible for them not to be affected. To argue that school systems that punish Black girls for minor infractions like Shatara’s have no relationship to school systems that have Black girls thrown across classrooms by grown men who never face justice is preposterous.

Pointing out that anti-Blackness plays a role in how a particular Black student is mis/treated is not “jumping to conclusions,” nor jumping anywhere else; it is simply sitting up–and waking up–on the land we have been placed, a land that has been cleared by genocide, a land we were brought to in chains. It is nearly impossible to blow Black subjection out of proportion when Black people make up such an outstanding proportion of those marked for prisonpunishment and police murder.

Noting that anti-Blackness is everywhere and in everything should not take away from the damning power of the accusation. Instead, it should spur an increased sense of urgency for the task at hand. The far-reaching arms of anti-Blackness do not care for an individual’s intentions or self-awareness, but are constantly clawing at Black children all the same. Black people do not “make everything about race,” that was done long ago. Rather than complaining about those who claim an experience of anti-Blackness, perhaps it’s time we invest in ensuring there is nothing left to base that claim upon.

Banner photo: “Get Out” Universal Pictures

*Hari Ziyad is a New York based storyteller and writer for AFROPUNK. They are also the editor-in-chief of RaceBaitR, deputy editor of Black Youth Project, and assistant editor of Vinyl Poetry & Prose. You can follow them on Twitter @hariziyad.