The Saddest Story On Repeat
One of the powerful gifts of the arts is that at times it can help us express what we cannot find the words for. I lost my words for the seemingly endless American police killings of black people the summer of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. I ran out of emotional tools to express the sheer madness and absurdity of how extinguishable Black lives are in America. I ran out of words knowing that given enough time there would be another black life taken. And in just the two years since that summer of 2014 there have countless more. One just has to Google for the statistics. I couldn’t store up enough words in this lifetime. That summer, I also ran out of patience for living in America, and for several reasons, packed my life up and moved to Nigeria. But I still follow the thread of every new name, of every new fallen black body. And it has happened again. On Tuesday I read about another name, another life. Terence Crutcher. The latest black person (or so I thought) in America shot and killed unnecessarily by police on Friday, September 16. This time it was in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The consistency in which armed men and women of authority, policemen and policewomen are killing people of color in the United States reminds me of Ronald Reagan’s sanctioned campaign from the 80s, The War on Drugs (the revitalized version of Nixon’s original 1970s drug war,) when it seemed like black boys and men were systematically and unjustly being targeted for minor drug offenses and then incarcerated with unjustifiably long sentences. For many, their entire lives were stolen from them. Except now, police seem to need no excuse to claim black lives. It’s unofficial but still simple and clear. It’s a War on Blackness. And the crime is being black. I read the news reports fairly quickly about what was so far known to have transpired between Terence Crutcher and the police. I couldn’t watch the video, hear another gunshot from a blue clothes officer, and watch another unarmed black body go limb with lifelessness. But I read at one point, a cop from a helicopter watching it all said, “That looks like a bad dude.” From so far up in the sky looking down on a black (unarmed) man with his hands in the air that was what the officer could surmise. The War on Blackness. The crime is being black.
I have nothing to say on social media about it. No tweets. No Instagram images. No Facebook reposts. No new words.
But yesterday morning, I found some new art around the topic of police violence against black bodies that has made me catch my breath and that has helped me find even these few words to write this article, if only because I know there are others who may find their words when they see this art. It is a visual series of 12 pieces called “The Saddest Story on Repeat,” created by The Super Poor Kids, a US based art collective. They have been releasing each of the pieces on their Instagram page @thesuperpoorkids since the beginning of September. In their words, the series “combines the happy whimsical world of Dr. Seuss with the harsh realities of violence, racism and hate that have plagued the black community.”
It is art that seems to capture that sheer absurdity I spoke of, inviting viewers to both see and feel the surreal madness of what is occurring right now to black people in America who are just trying to go about the not so simple business of living while being black. Red, yellow, black or white there are very few people unfamiliar with the works of Dr. Seuss. We associate his books with the innocence and silly joy of childhood. But what is happening in America right now is everything but that. Yet what other world in which to place the horrific reality of what can never make sense than in the nonsensical, unbelievable and upside down world that Dr. Seuss created. A world that has felt safe and playful and full of possible impossibilities to some can be the same world that feels, and is, dangerous and threatening and absolutely stark raving mad to others. The kind of world wherein before I can even finish writing this article, news comes in from Charlotte, North Carolina that one more black man, named Keith Lamont Scott, has been killed since Crutcher, by a police officer while sitting in his car. Apparently Scott was mistaken for another black man being hunted by the cops. The story is still unfolding. The saddest story on repeat.