Published November 23, 2014
The world waits for the decision from the Grand jury in Ferguson.
Many of us will interpret the Grand jury decision as an answer to the question: Is it still okay for a white man to shoot down and kill a black man, without provocation, in cold blood?
Chief Justice Taney declared in 1856 (Dred Scott Decision) that African Heritage people “…had no rights or privileges but such as those who held power and the government might choose to grant them”. In other words, Black people had no rights that white people needed to respect. They had neither the right to life, to liberty or to the pursuit of happiness.
One hundred fifty-eight years later, 20 minutes from the steps of the courthouse where Taney delivered his fateful decision, the Missouri Governor mobilizes the National Guard, the local police organize with terrorist gear, and the world goes on stand by to wait for the verdict. Will the white man who shot unarmed Mike Brown down in the street, be held accountable? Will he be brought to trial?
The common discourse that frames this watching and waiting has many historical parallels. One historical parrallel is the narrative that Black folks lives don’t matter, and can be taken by a white man at will. Another historical parrallel is that Black men are monsters and must be treated as such.
The media is consumed at the moment with accusations of rape leveled toward Bill Cosby. I question what this particular manipulation of public opinion, consciously or unconsciously, aims to accomplish. How does this manipulation of public opinion coincide with and support the historic view that Black lives don’t matter, and that Black men are monsters and must be treated as such?
Can it be that this media obsession is not, as some have suggested, “about the media … trying to assassinate another Black man [‘s] character”? Might it be that the project in this case is larger and more far-reaching? Might this be part of the centuries old project of manipulating the public mind to create an image of Black men in general as “depraved, animalistic, and to be feared”? The Bill Cosby mess has apparently been 16 to 20 years or more in the making. Why did it explode just days before the Grand Jury is expected to deliver a verdict in Ferguson?
Might it be that if the dominant discourse serves to reinforce a fearful image of Black men in the eyes and minds of white people, then the killing of Mike Brown, and other young Black men, can be perceived as completely justifiable? The media might not consciously aim to destroy Bill Cosby. It doesn’t have to. Cosby might be collateral damage in a larger matter. The media is doing what it has always done, orchestrating public opinion. If the lesson is learned that any Black man, even jello-eating Father Huxtable, is to be feared (who wouldn’t fear a serial rapist?), and should be destroyed, then wouldn’t it be the case that white men (the shooters have mostly been men), especially those who wear badges, have a right – even an obligation – to shoot Black men when they get them in their line of sight? Why should a policeman in Ferguson be brought to task for doing what any scared white person would do? Why should that policeman in Ferguson be punished for doing what common discourse requires of him?
Cosby participated in fostering the narrative that the lives of young Black men are without value, that they should be blamed for the difficulties that they show, and that they need to be brought to heel. The current discourse might establish whether or not Cosby is a rapist. Certainly any rapist should be exposed and punished. Whether Bill Cosby is a rapist or not deserves to be investigated. Might it be, however, that Bill Cosby is being brought to heel at this particular moment (he escaped this level of scrutiny for 16 plus years) to serve the larger purpose of bolstering a public image of Black men as fearful, King Kong like, and deserving to be struck down.
If this image of Black men is sufficiently established in the minds of the white public, and others who have internalized the narrative that black men are to be feared and their lives don’t matter, then they can properly believe that the killing of Mike Brown was justified. Might this media frenzy be about preparing the public for a possible failure to indict?
Meanwhile, the world waits for the verdict from Ferguson.