Oh Say? Thoughts on American Outrage
I remember very pointedly watching reports of Kim Jong-il’s passing. The news cycled thirty-second biographies and horrified presentations on North Korea’s authoritarian dictatorship constantly. What was most impressive: the people mourning in the streets. Hundreds, thousands openly wept. Old woman fell to the ground shaking in anguish, holding pictures of their fallen leader close to their hearts. A man who had written more books than possible, who’d defended the people against the evil aggressor America. News reports were quick to establish the heartbreak as performance; tears prodded by gun barrel more than the genuine pain of loss.
America, as the land of the brave and free prides itself as the diametric opposition to North Korea. Where you can vote. You can freely express your ideas and if the president dies nobody is going to force you to weep in the streets. I watched those North Korean tears and felt that while there was certainly some pageantry involved, I was and am certain that many of those tears were real. Many had enrolled themselves in the narrative completely. I also remember feeling distinctly, “I guess we do have it pretty good. Nobody can force me to cry in the streets at least.”
Then not long after that Trayvon Martin was murdered. His murderer now signs autographs at gun shows. Mike Brown was killed. Rekia Boyd was killed. Eric Garner had his life squeezed out of him. We, as a nation, saw Walter Scott get murdered. Shots pierced his back, then a taser was thrown down on the floor as the lie that would come manifested itself before our eyes. Sandra Bland was taken from us.
A trend that has existed in America was now being documented and a new movement began to fight for Freedom and Justice and for Black Lives to be seen in equal standing with all others.
Black Lives Matter. A liberation movement that was immediately met with outrage. “ALL LIVES MATTER!” American Outrage jumped out of its couch and screamed. It seemed a strange response to me. When on a rhetorical front (although Black Lives Matter as a liberation movement works beyond the extrajudicial killing of Black people) it seemed to me that BLM was pretty clearly advocating for equality and fairness. American Outrage shifted the conversation from, “stop targeting and killing black people” to “why should Black people get special treatment?!” when that response was met with, “because Black people are being targeted and murdered,” American Outrage responded, “BLACK LIVES MATTER IS RACIST!” the conversation shifted from an examination of systematic murder to what seems like might be semantic bullshit, but is actually a telling example of an American trend.
America is Outraged when Black people try to advocate for themselves. And systematically whenever we do our efforts are undercut by the pointing out of “flaws” in the campaign for justice by people who have never before advocated for us. The notion of Black people unchaining themselves is terrifying for America. In all depictions of slave liberation a white savior is placed front and center for American Outrage to rest it’s eyes on. And suddenly it’s easy to see the harm, the inherent evil that was incorporated in the rise of this nation. “See! Look at how the guy Christopher Waltz is playing is helping Django. See!”
If a Black person advocates for his or herself they are met with a swift, “Go, back to Africa” meaning “this was never for you and never will be.”
“But there’s an American president,” American Outrage responds to Black advocacy. There’s an American president. Who had his citizenship post election questioned. Who at a viable candidate for the incoming presidency’s rallies can be called a nigger, violently and causally.
And now, Colin Kaepernick chose to leverage his celebrity to bring attention to the fact that Black Americans are often killed without repercussion. He didn’t burn a CVS. He didn’t block a highway. He sat down quietly while the national anthem played during a pre-season football game. He couldn’t have been more peaceful. American Outrage lost it’s shit. “He’s an asshole. What does he know about oppression! He makes millions! Fuck that nigger! Men and women have died for his freedom to sit like that.” Freedom is clumsily touted above his head, and when he actually uses it, he is made to be a villain. “Stand at attention when that flag plays boy, this isn’t North Korea! You have freedom.”
Some less aggressive critics have said, “I like what he’s doing, but the flag is the flag.” A non-argument that’s circularity suggests the literal ceasing of critical thought that is exactly what our nationalist, neo-liberal country’s many demand of all it’s free citizens. Especially the Black ones.
“At least you’re not slaves anymore? And wasn’t that cool when we freed you? With an army, and guns and white bodies mounted ten stories high,” says American Outrage. “That freeing part was cool right?”
It’s starting to seem like it’s not about the method, but about the practice of questioning our country and by proxy our overlord Freedom that is the problem. We’re not like North Korea. Here we don’t force you to cry in the streets. Here we strongly suggest you don’t, actually. So a few kids get murdered. Could you be quiet about it at least? We’re America. You don’t have to pledge, or stand, or hold symbols in your mind in place of actual lived liberties which they represent. But we just strongly suggest you do because, aren’t you glad this isn’t North Korea? Aren’t you glad young men and woman too young to understand the devastating sacrifices of war are actively recruited then abandoned except to shutdown political activism. American Outrage hates when Black America advocates for itself because American Outrage hates looking in the mirror. It believes it’s own hype. It is the most beautiful, the land of the free. It doesn’t understand that those activists in the street see the actual beauty that is possible. American Outrage doesn’t care about the American reality reconciling with the American promise. It cares only that the promise was made and, “You think you can get this anywhere else?”
Freedom isn’t not being some other country. Freedom isn’t constantly being told that it could be worse. Freedom is freedom and American Outrage doesn’t care to hear about it.
This very summer it was announced that an American airstrike killed 73 civilians in Syria, most women and children. Did American Outrage even blink? “Much harm no foul,” American Outrage said, “But back to that number seven. Who the hell does he think he is? He’s not even a starter anymore.