Back to IndieWire

I Am Not a Black Body – #SpringValleyHigh

I Am Not a Black Body - #SpringValleyHigh

I am a fully realized human being. The same can be said for my loved ones. Somehow, referring to Black people as “Black bodies” has become the flavor du jour. Pardon, I am not one who is into Blacksplainin’. I write for Shadow and Act because I get to write without having to twist myself into a pretzel to make my words “acceptable” for a “broader” audience (read White audience).

Is it news to anyone that Black people are suffering? Seriously, is it? Is there anyone in this country who doesn’t understand, by now, that there is a disproportionate amount of violence metered out to Black people? Anyone? Anyone? If so, those people are not well. To spend time carefully crafting words to reach the hearts and minds of those people is a futile effort.

Black people need to write their truth and let others catch up to it. Otherwise, we’re participating in a game. A game that positions Black people as aggrieved human beings who surface, once in awhile, to disrupt American life with tales of horror. Horror that we, somehow, brought on ourselves. After Trayvon Martin’s death, I thought the country could not sink any lower. Well, since his death and the acquittal of his murderer, we have seen a consistent scroll of violence done to Black people. Consistent. Like, it never lets up. The narrative of Black suffering has become inextricably linked to American capitalism.

Our value, in the culture, has to do with suffering; in film, on social media feeds, on news programs. It has economic value. It is rare that we see a delightful story about Black folks traveling, inventing something, being a foodie, etc. When is the last time you heard a national news story about a Black person engaged in folly, doing something other than dying or being assaulted?

Yes, we want the horrors to reach the Evening News. But, don’t we also want our triumphs, victories, discoveries, to be seen as well? If I have to read one more story about how Black children are not safe, my head will implode. Black children are not safe in America. We know this. We have the evidence. Not in body, mind or spirit. Let’s put an end to formulating that as a question. We have read more than enough detailed, horrific, stories about Black people who are humiliated by a White person. We can all agree that this is a problem.

It is commonplace, now. Black person is murdered or harmed in some egregious way, the New York Times or The Atlantic will then explain to their readers why this is so. And, within this context, we are referred to as “Black bodies”. The goal, to explain why Black people are angry. Really?! Thanks to social media, most of us are seeing the same scroll of violence. How many times, how many ways, can you explain to White people that there is a problem? Like, this has been happening since television became a thing. I could understand if a five year old wasn’t up to speed. But, we’re talking grown ups who read, go to the theater, watch television, read books. Black suffering is not news to anyone. However, it is expected, it plays a role in the American narrative.

Certainly, the detailing of the suffering by Ta-Nehisi Coates in his piece: The Case For Reparations (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2014/06/the-case-for-reparations/361631/), is critical. It allows us to look at the issue in a different way. Mr. Coates asked us to look at the impact of the violence done to Black human beings, outside of physical attacks on our bodies. He delineates the enactment of and the impact of the trauma. The impact is far reaching. When someone was lynched or is murdered, or is economically violated, or is assaulted in a classroom (a classroom where children are to remain safe), it is an assault on our humanity. The violence impacts the mind, heart, body, our families, our livelihoods, our psychology. The violence is holistic, it is not simply done to the body.

This term, “Black body” should be reserved for Art/for the canvas. A canvas is a flat surface. A child sitting in a chair is not. Somehow, this term has made its way into our conversation about Black lives. #BlackLivesMatter disrupts the idea that violence is simply done to our bodies. Yet, I see Writers continue to use the term “Black bodies”. Why? What purpose does that serve? Why do we detach the body from the person? No one attacks, solely, a Black body.

Officer Ben Fields was attacking a Black child. Yes, in all of her wonder and awe. He was attacking her personhood because he devalued it. He devalues Black life. As we heard, he is quite comfortable with his girlfriend’s Black body. I imagine, he expects that her Black body will twist and quiver in his presence. However, when a Black person, a child, who behaved like human beings do, in a way that is complicated or sorrowful or stuck or courageous or afraid, he met the vulnerability of that human being with violence because he expects the Black child to acquiesce to him. Not the body, the person.

The child at Spring Valley High is not a Black body. She is a Black person. A Black person who was assaulted within the framework of violence that is metered out to Black people in America’s narrative. Black people are victimized and, somehow, we brought it on ourselves.The same narrative of Black suffering over and over. Notice anything? Rarely, if ever, does the culture get indicted. It’s as if these acts are random and disconnected from a legacy. We hear repetitive tales of horrors done to Black people without context. We can indict one Officer or one shooter (i.e. Dylan Roof- who is treated to Burger King after murdering nine people). The culture, the very construction of it, holds a very special place for Black suffering. Our lives become valuable when we reach the Evening News, after we are dead or demeaned. At that point, we become spectacle. American theater. Dinner time theater, even.

How do we rid ourselves of this social contract? One way is to stop referring to ourselves and our assaulted and murdered as “Black bodies”. The fullness of their lives, of their thoughts, desires, feelings, moods, must be mined and shared along with the videos that are paraded before us. Who was the girl in the chair? I don’t need to know her identity. But, I want to know the totality of her life before that moment. And, I want to know the life of Officer Ben Fields. Who was he? How did he come to be a grown man who could assault a child? What did he see in that moment? Did he see himself, the mediocrity that his life had become? She, at 15, has the world before her. He, on the other hand, had realized his life, pretty much. That was all that he gets to be. And, in that moment, I hope, he cemented his fate.

The little girl, on the other hand, still has a chance to live. To create a life beyond that moment in the chair. She will be haunted by it but, hopefully, she can turn her scars into something that will shift her American narrative. She is a fully realized human being. She has joys, pains, dreams, hopes. She was never, solely, “a Black body”. Not in that moment and not in her future moments. She does not deserve to be labeled as such. She is a Black person whose Black body will heal. Healing the rest of her, the rest of us, that’s the true challenge.

***

Follow Tanya Steele on Twitter at @digtanya. Or on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SteeleInk. Or visit digtanya.com.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged