On Dec. 14, 2012, when a shooter entered a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and fatally shot 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7, for many white people, there was a realization that no one was safe. It happened again Thursday after a gunman opened fire in Dallas. But it’s not going to last.
ere was a moment when white Americans felt the dread black Americans live with daily. It happened Dec. 14, 2012, when a shooter entered a Newtown, Conn., elementary school and fatally shot 20 children between the ages of 6 and 7.
The notion of safety was shown to be a fraud. The unfairness and vulnerability were palpable. There was a realization that no one was safe. I heard often, “That could have been my son, my daughter … that could have been me.” Finally, I thought, you understand. Finally you get it. They got a taste, an amuse-bouche, of what it was like to be black in America. They had been niggerized.
Cornel West describes niggerization as “neither simply the dishonoring and devaluing of black people nor solely the economic exploitation and political disenfranchisement of them. It is also the wholesale attempt to … turn potential citizens into intimidated, fearful and helpless subjects.”
Put another way, niggerization is when citizens unaccustomed to living in the state of fear and vulnerability known to black folks have this existential state thrust upon them. It happened after 9/11; it happened after Sandy Hook in Newtown, and it has now happened in the wake of the Dallas shootings. This niggerization is a temporary state because white folks are able to return to their insulated state of privilege shortly after the tragedy has ended.
The country entered an unjust war after 9/11. We prosecute to the fullest extent of the law after mass shootings. A bomb attached to a police robot killed Micah Xavier Johnson, the man authorities say was the lone shooter in Dallas. Those in power get justice. We do not.
To be fully niggerized is to be vulnerable with no expectation of justice; to see black life taken unjustly and wait for the acquittal, the apology, and for life to move on. I’m tired of white tears being shed when black life is taken, only for them to dry up as CNN moves on to the next news story.
It happens over and over again. It happened with Trayvon Martin. Then with Eric Garner. It’s now happening with Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. In response to Dallas, many who were deafeningly silent in the wake of black death are now vocal in their calls for peace and understanding. They had nothing to say when black folks were dying, but suddenly they are social activists concerned about justice. Stop it. You’re no ally. You’re no accomplice. You’re no lover of justice. You’re a spectator to black suffering. We are little more than a tragic movie that brings up emotion but fades from mind once you’ve left the theater. While you may empathize with our struggle, make no mistake: You aren’t a part of it. You aren’t mistreated, threatened, accosted, embarrassed, beaten and held against your will because of your skin.
Maybe it’s the church in us, but after tragedies, we are expected to forgive. In fact, many of us feel compelled to forgive. I do not. Not any more. This criminal-justice system is not for us. It has never been. We are foolish to expect justice. If we are lucky, there may be a slap on the wrist, and possibly a public apology. There will definitely be a press conference, and an empathic appeal for peace.
Forgiving a person does no good if the system remains the same. We need policy, not a spectacle of black suffering that ends with a proclamation of forgiveness that absolves the system of responsibility. I’m not one for house nigger and field nigger analogies, but the constant appeals for calm and forgiveness sound mighty house-ish. I am able to condemn the killings of black men at the hands of those who wield state power without praising the targeting of police in Dallas. The same institutional racism that resulted in the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile could have led to the death of Mark Hughes if black Twitter had not worked diligently to fact-check the irresponsible targeting of a man lawfully exercising his Second Amendment rights.
White folks got a taste of the black experience in December 2012. It happened again Thursday night. Indeed, we all mourn these tragedies, but white people still do not have a full understanding of the precarious nature of black life in America. In order to be fully niggerized, they would have to take those days and multiply them by 400 years.
Lawrence Ware is an Oklahoma State University Division of Institutional Diversity fellow. He teaches in OSU’s philosophy department and is the diversity coordinator for its Ethics Center. A frequent contributor to Counterpunch and Dissent magazine, he is also a contributing editor of NewBlackMan (in Exile) and the Democratic Left. He has been a commentator on race and politics for HuffPost Live, NPR’sTalk of the Nation and PRI’s Flashpoint. Ware’s book on the life and thought of C.L.R. James will be published by Verso Books in the fall of 2017.