It’s hard to express my emotions after hearing that 18-year-old Michael Brown, a rising college freshman was gunned down by a police officer one block from his house in Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St.Louis.
But I do remember what I felt when my parents spanked my siblings for disobeying. The mix of fear, confusion, anger, and resentment intensified my helplessness, watching injustice served by my protector. My developing mind had to calm my body with lies, justifications for the hypocrisy. From this hopelessness, in order to survive, because this is the primacy of life, my mind made up stories to deal with my toxic reality.
As I grew older, I understood my parents’ behavior outside the vacuum of our household; It was their fearful and misguided attempt to prepare me for what they knew was and still is a loveless America, an America that deliberately fosters in its minority communities what Dr. Shawn Ginwright labels as “social toxins.” From rape and homicide to fraud and malnourishment, these toxins — borne out of what Ginwright calls the “urban trifecta” of disappearing jobs, a thriving crack economy, and violence — work to hinder or stunt the social development within communities of color.
And social development is what Mike Brown was robbed of last weekend, along with his Ferguson community. As black men, the most pervasive social toxin is homicide. According to the latest statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), homicide is the leading cause of death among black males 15-34. And even more sinister, according to data collected by The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement for its report, “Operation Ghetto Storm,” one black man is killed extrajudicially every 28 hours. These facts point to a whole segment of the population that’s deemed invisible, unworthy, and unlovable. Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, John Crawford, Eric Garner, Jonathan Ferrell, Sean Bell, and now Mike Brown — black men who’ve been killed by the law enforcement, a force publicly paid to protect and serve — move thru the news cycle as disrespected victims, ultimately serving as cautionary tales of what not to wear, how not to speak, and how not to behave.
Similar to the situation I found myself in as a child, I am at the mercy of my country, the Western systems of economics, imperialism, and culture. I’m dependent on my country for survival, and just as love I my parents, I love my country. But I’m also aware that the healthy response to abuse is to leave. Our health is dependent on our ability to listen, openly and honestly, to our truth. Furthermore,by denying my emotions, changing who I am or the way I dress, or blaming myself for the racism I feel everyday, I’m not only raising the deadly stress levels that new studies are suggesting may explain the health disparities between blacks and whites, I’m reinforcing the myth that love is a weak, timid response to healing.
According to Ginwright, black men may benefit from radical healing, a quadrant of practices founded on the principles of caring relationships, consciousness, community and culture. Yet, the value of Ginwright’s idea rests on love being healthy in its origin. A love that expresses gratitude and cherishes the independence and irreplaceable value of another human being. I have to assert myself, my blackness, my humanness, in order to live, in order to heal, yet from another trauma. My survival depends on my ability to face and tell the truth, my truth, in the face of an ever-changing, violent reality. If I succumb to this turbulence, I will perish, I will not heal. Rest my brother, Michael Brown.