For a moment there, things were looking pretty good. A boy shot multiple times with his hands up. College bound. Poor. Innocent. And in response: helicopters and tanks. Maybe this time, we thought, they would believe us.
But that’s all been ruined.
We now have all sorts of reasons to make us doubt Brown’s humanity. He may have stolen some cigarillos. He may have been facing the officer when he was shot. He got shot in the top of the head, which might mean that he was surrendering, or might mean he was being defiant. He made amateur rap songs. Perhaps worst of all, he’s been caught grimacing at a camera making a contorted peace sign, and it turns out that he was pretty tall.
And Fox News has been trying to cast doubt on whether he was actually going to go to college in the first place.
All signs that his life was worth less than we might have hoped.
It’s like what happened with Trayvon Martin, really. Over the course of a few days, he went from an innocent boy holding a bag of Skittles to a vicious, ruthless thug. We found out that he smoked pot. We found out that he said bad words. We found out that he was wearing a hoodie. We saw a picture of him making an angry face. Zimmerman’s lawyers released his text message logs, and we found out that he didn’t speak the Queen’s English.
And with each new revelation about both of these boys — some true, some false — we let out another collective sigh. We had been let down.
Of course, we knew that our reaction was ridiculous. We know that pushing someone at a convenience store, or being a less than stellar student shouldn’t be a death sentence. And hell, if you think that throwing up a contorted peace sign, or even an actual verifiable ‘gang sign’ means that you are in a violent gang, well, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell you, and a few thousand thug white women I’d like you to call 911 about, because there’s an epidemic going on.
But still, it was disappointing.
Not because we believed that these were reasons for the boys to die. But because we knew that so many Americans were itching for a reason, any reason, to condemn the boys to death in their minds. To make it all our fault. And by being simply human, these dead spirits gave them that ammunition.
Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant. They failed us all by not being perfect.
One of the most compelling stories ever told is that of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter whether you follow his teachings, or those of his followers — the story is a wonderful one.
A man was born under magical circumstances, lived among the poor and sick, and performed miracles. He was sentenced to a brutal and unjust death, which he accepted, because it was for the good of his neighbors — even those that hated him. He was, literally, perfect.
Maybe that’s why the recent revelation that Jesus may have had a wife is so controversial. People are angry about this, but they shouldn’t be. After all, what’s the matter with having a wife? If you believe, it doesn’t change anything, at all. He still performed miracles. He still died. He still came back. He’s still God’s son. You can still pray to him.
But maybe the issue is that as a (formerly) Puritan society, we need our saviors to be spotless, to be clean. Perhaps that’s what all the fuss is about.
So maybe what all of these terrified racists need is someone that, no matter how hard they try, cannot be dehumanized. Someone beyond human. Someone Christlike.
Someone that can save them from themselves, and wash their souls of fear and hate and judgement. Someone that can bring them into the light of humanity and love and logic.
Maybe what we need is a 5'8, light-skinned, Harvard-bound, star tennis player/violinist/poet that volunteers at the local pet shelter, bakes amazing blueberry muffins, speaks with a Mid-Atlantic accent, has a white name, who has never taken a photo with anything other than a thumbs up and a smile, and just recently published a groundbreaking cure for cancer in Science.
And we need him to die. Someone needs to find this boy, and kill him in public. It’s our only hope.
I’d offer myself, honestly. I would. But I got a D in Calculus once, so I don’t think I qualify. I’m not good enough.
A good friend wrote recently about how, whenever he got pulled over, he would slip his college ID over his driver’s license and hand it to the officer. Yes, some of us deserve to be shot in the street, he was saying silently, but this ID proves that I’m not one of them. He feels guilty about this now.
I used to do something similar — I’d ‘accidentally’ hand the officer my college ID, and feign absentmindedness and chuckle over-conspicuously when he reminded me that he needed my driver’s license. It worked sometimes. I don’t feel so guilty about it.
Because thinking back, I realize that this ritual, repeated every few weeks or so, was as much for my soul as it was for my safety. Looking down at that college ID reminded me that I was a ‘good’ human. I was assuring myself that if something went wrong, at least I’d be a pretty decent martyr. I was no Jesus, but at least I could be an extreme Rosa Parks. Better than Claudette Colvin, anyway.
I think that’s also what #IfTheyGunnedMeDown was about. It wasn’t only a criticism of the media. I think somewhere in there, we were all calculating our human worth – on their terms. We were reducing our life story down to a series of numbers, achievements, and soundbites. Ones and zeros. High school graduate, but smoked a cigarette once. Army officer, but likes gold chains. Great big sister, but makes frowny faces in pictures.
Evaluating our humanity on an unfairly weighted scale. Their scale.
Because we know that it’s common knowledge that white killers get treated like little lost lambs, while black victims are immediately demonized. Hell, there are now even listicles about this sort of thing. But we also know that any small flaw, any trace of humanity, will ruin the whole thing. That people, too many people, will be positively giddy at the sight of our blood.
That some people will take the opportunity to lecture us on interacting with police, as if it was failsafe or we didn’t already know.
That is why #IfTheyGunnedMeDown, like everything else we’ve tried thus far, has ended in failure. That’s why there were so many white kids doing it. It’s not their fault that they didn’t understand.
We uploaded those pictures, but we were just fooling ourselves. We were preaching to the choir, and we knew that it wouldn’t make a difference.
None of us are good enough to die on that cross.
There’s something I’d like you to understand about black people: we’re like everyone else. We want to leave the world a better place than we found it. So the prospect of leaving unexpectedly, and having your story twisted in such a way as to actually steel the hearts of racists — is a terrifying thought.
I didn’t know Michael Brown, and I don’t know his family. I don’t know what happened on that day (only one of us does). But I do know that he couldn’t be the Christ that White America so desperately needed.
And they do need him. Perhaps more than anyone else in the world right now, they need Jesus.
But, even if we did get our Jesus — even if Michael Brown were that impossibly perfect martyr, even if we had that mythical savior black boy — it probably wouldn’t have helped.
After all, Jesus died an awful long time ago, and things didn’t quite pick up for us. Those who say they love him most do not love us, their neighbors. They reject and fear us. Somewhere, in between the Bible, the politics, and the sermons, the message has been lost.
So, friends: if praying is your thing, go for it. Keep it up. We need all the positive energy we can get. But I’m not sure it’s going to help.
Because if this is how we treat ourselves, I’m not sure if even God can save us now.
talk to me if you like: @dexdigi
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Cover photo: Amanda Wills, Mashable