“How does it feel to be a problem?” noted famed historian, writer and activist W.E.B Du Bois, as the underlying question that society posed to blacks in the United States of America. In his famous book, “The Souls of Black Folk,” written more than 100 years ago during a time of severe racial unrest, he argued that the question of race was one of the most important questions of the 20th century.
This still holds true today. We do not live in a post racial society.
The question, “How does it feel to be a problem?” is asked of black Americans in different forms and actions by our society every day. But it has warped into a variety of other sentiments. Such as:
* How does it feel to know that one out of four black men in the United States will find themselves in prison, before they ever find themselves in college?
* How does it feel that there’s a rising population of black women being incarcerated for misdemeanors, at an alarming rate, becoming one of the fastest growing populations of prison inmates?
* How does it feel that every thirty-six hours a black man (or woman) is killed or brutalized by law enforcement?
Other facts of black life could be put in similar question form. Such as:
* Some sixty years after the historic Supreme Court victory of Brown v. Board of Education, which deemed segregation based on race as unconstitutional, studies have shown that the education system is segregated based on race now more than ever.
* You live under a system where it seems the laws apply differently to you, for example, a white man can walk around touting his assault rifle, while claiming the freedom to bear arms with no worries, but a young black man like John Crawford can be fatally shot in a Ohio Walmart for playing with a toy gun.
* Yet another social media hashtag, like #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, has to be used to bust the media’s victim blaming and negative images when a black person is murdered.
The constant state of worry black people face whether it is from being patted down, harassed, and possibly even arrested by the police because you are walking down the street and they deemed this simple act of you existing as suspicious enough to warrant investigation; or worry from calling 911 for help that the police may indeed arrive and arrest you instead; or to hear about New York’s Eric Garner, Missouri’s Michael Brown, Ohio’s John Crawford, California’s Oscar Grant, and now in Los Angeles, Ezell Ford, along with the countless other black lives lost due to obvious police misconduct and then be told that you should “trust in the process.”
How does it feel to wonder if you’ll end up like Michigan’s Renisha McBride, gunned down as you look for help with your car, in a different neighborhood, because some white racist didn’t like the color of your skin? How does it feel to be treated like a “problem,” to be eradicated or controlled, when the very country you’re oppressed in was built off of the backs of your ancestors’ slave labor?
How does it feel to be angry, and then told you shouldn’t be?
How does it feel to revolt and “loot”, and then be questioned on why you did so, as if this system doesn’t create angry individuals who are sick and tired of being sick and tired?
The question isn’t how does it feel to be a problem?
I’m not a problem. This system is and the institutionalized racism and oppression embedded in it.
The people oppressed shouldn’t be the ones having to answer for anything. The question that should be asked, of our so-called leaders of this country, is why is this still the state we live in?
Why are cops, who are accused of murdering or brutalizing a black man or woman, given paid leave, when working-class people can get terminated from their jobs, without pay, simply for one too many tardies or absences?
Why is there no national regulation on police enforcement, despite the growing instances of police misconduct?
All too often, black people are told to trust in the system, and told justice will prevail.
And all too often it does not.
Du Bois wrote, “It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
That holds true for black Americans today. It hasn’t changed because society refuses to. We need to ask why. And then we need to demand answers.
Photo: Names of known victims of police torture conducted by CPD and Commander Jon Burge stretch the length of the many-feet- long banner at a rally against police crimes in Chicago, Aug. 28, 2013. There are still countless others unknown. (John Bachtell/PW)