Author Lawrence Ross predicts that black people will eventually divest from an American dream never meant for us.
I was a grad student at the UCLA film school, getting my MFA in screenwriting, when a consumer-trends company asked me to work for them. Why did they want me? Well, they advised major corporations on how to best situate their products for the African-American consumer market, and in order to do that effectively, the company needed people who understood African-American values and behavior and could turn those factors into macro trends. In essence, my job was to predict the things black people did today to hint at future behavior and, from that info, identify the strategies companies should use to reach black people.
Now, I’m not going to go into what I told various clients, but if you’re black and you enjoy your daily cup of java from a restaurant with Golden Arches because it seems to speak to you, let me just say: You’re welcome.
Although I don’t work for this company anymore, the powers of observation that I learned can’t be turned off. My brain is constantly observing the world from the perspective of African Americans, and each qualitative data point gets stored, ready to be grouped together as a macro trend or discarded as irrelevant. At some point, the observations begin to light up, a bit like how John Forbes Nash Jr.’s chalkboard lit up in A Beautiful Mind as his equations began to make sense.
Don’t believe me?
Three years ago, I observed that African-American college students at predominantly white colleges and universities were increasingly unhappy, and campus racism was running rampant. It was little bits of info here and there, a conversation there and here. Those observations were the catalyst for my new book on campus racism, Blackballed: The Black and White Politics of Race on America’s Campuses. And guess what? Over 100 campuses subsequently erupted in protests over campus racism as university officials and educational reporters watched, slack-jawed, trying to make sense of it all.
It wasn’t a coincidence.
I may not be Negrodamus, but Negrodamus is definitely my play cousin. It’s qualitative analysis over an Excel sheet full of data points. An educated gut that your mama told you to follow, writ large on a diverse demographic of 40 million black people. In other words, I know black people.
So, as Alton Sterling and Philando Castile became members of the black Twitter hashtag list that no one wants to belong to, my Spidey sense perked up. Something had changed in the African-American zeitgeist. It went beyond the usual anger to a whole new place.
If the five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, it was clear that we as black people are firmly at acceptance-level TNT. Not acceptance as in capitulation to white supremacy, but acceptance of the idea that African America has spent precious brainpower explaining, cajoling, protesting, pleading and, yes, begging for white America to recognize our humanity—and, ya know, that we just might have to stop doing that.
White America ain’t listening and, more importantly, doesn’t care about the pain of black people. In essence, as TLC once told us, it might be time for us to stop chasing waterfalls.
The way I read it, African Americans around this country recognized that we’re in an abusive-marriage dynamic with white America, a marriage in which killing the Tamir Rices, the Mike Browns, the Sandra Blands, the John Crawfords, the Eric Garners and the countless others is part of the American equation. Until proved otherwise, such as through a drastic increase in the percentage of police convictions for the deaths of black people, black people are slowly coming to the realization that the current system of justice is working as it is supposed to for white America. And that’s why we get pushback when we say, “Black lives matter.” White America says “All lives matter” as a way to tell us, “Nah, kid. They don’t, and they never will.”
And while having a black president in the White House may provide us psychological comfort, one of the earliest exhibitions of white supremacist power in the form of policing came when President Barack Obama had to host a fraudulent and humiliating “Beer Summit” between African-American Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the white cop who arrested him for breaking into his own home. Once that precedent die was cast, African America was always going to have to be subject to the idea that because police have a tough job, dead Negroes will be a justifiable exchange for letting white police officers go home safely to their families. Just the price of doing business in America.
And as though America needed to bookend that summit with something even more disingenuous, ABC and ESPN decided to host a “town hall meeting on race” with Obama. This two-hour embarrassment to serious discourse was like watching prancing horses dance onstage, with the systemic racism inherent in American policing the verboten subject.
All through the show, the president bent over backward to keep positing this notion that the police have a tough job and that black and brown communities need to understand that. He pleaded for members of Black Lives Matter to express their sorrow when the police are hurt or killed in the line of duty, but never asked the police to do the same when they kill black and brown bodies.
You see, African Americans watch black people get shot and killed on camera on the regular, and we’re supposed to suspend our intelligence and believe that it was just a bunch of “bad apple” cops who were making all the “good cops” look bad. Bad cops who’d go on paid administrative leave after killing black people. Bad cops who’d have the full support of their police unions. Bad cops who’d have the so-called good cops walk out in offense when athletes wore a T-shirt affirming the lives of dead black people. Black folks were just supposed to take it.
Nah, son. It’s a sham. And black folks know it’s a sham.
African Americans are tired of explaining. We’re tired of explaining an easy concept like #BlackLivesMatter and then having white people go, “But … but … what about Chicago and black-on-black crime?” It’s an insult to our intelligence to explain the nexus between lack of educational opportunities, economic deprivation, housing discrimination, and the flooding of drugs and guns into our communities to people who don’t give a damn about any of that.