A day after the Thanksgiving holiday, 17-year-old Jordan Russell Davis was shot by a 45-year-old assailant, Michael David Dunn. Dunn claims that he unloaded his gun into a vehicle full of teens in “self-defense” after stopping the youths to order them to turn their music down. Davis was Black. Dunn is White.
Lest the public too quickly and correctly assume that this tragic shooting had anything to do with race (and gender for that matter), we should hearken to the assurances hastily offered by Robin Lemonidis, Dunn’s attorney, who was quick to remark that “there are no comparisons to the Trayvon Martin situation” and that her client “is devastated and horrified by the death of the teen.” No comparisons, save for the fact that the blood of another Black boy has been spilled in central Florida at the hands of another gun-toting White male who stood his ground on the basis of fear and suspicion?
This case, like so many others, heartbreakingly evidences what happens when some White men encounter Black boys and, undoubtedly, Black people. Indeed, the violent and unsettling scenes now captured in our minds—that of Black boys dying in friends’ arms or on cold cement walkways from bullet wounds—are precipitated by some other scenes in the minds of many White people: mental pictures of the suspicious and presumed violent young or old Black male, who is imagined as the embodiment of terror and brute strength. In the minds of some, our very being provokes mistrust: just ask President Barack Hussein Obama.
But we are not the problem.
No, the problem is actually the deep commitment to the racial fears that we allow to shape our responses to others. University of Pennsylvania professor John L. Jackson rightly names this type of obsession “racial paranoia.” Thus, the problem is the racism that fixes negative images of Black folk in the minds of others before we encounter each other in the physical world. The real problem is the reality that such race-based paranoia may easily precipitate death.
The bullets of prejudice and bias and structural racism that are aimed at Black boys and men way before metal bullets are shot from a White man’s gun should be the focus of our concern. And, yet, Black males are still understood to be the incarnation of the adverse. That is why New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has shared some of his own money to leverage a $130 million initiative designed “to help Black and Latino men get ahead.” According to WNYC News Blog, “The Bloomberg Administration calls it the nation’s boldest and most comprehensive effort to reduce racial disparities.” What Bloomberg fails to realize, like so many others, is the daunting fact that Black and Latino men will never get ahead if we must contend with structural issues, like, for example, the prejudicial NYC “stop and frisk” policy that he supports, which impede our progress.
It is time to invest dollars to support changes in institutions that impede the forward movement of Black males. Raise money to ensure that Black boys are not traveling on a path that leads them from schools to the criminal justice system. Reverse the growth of our ever-increasing prison industry and support preventative health and human services so that we can bring to zero the number of Black males who are ushered into prisons, impacted by HIV/AIDS, and/or without adequate housing and health care.
If Black males are to achieve, funds should be raised to bring awareness to anti-racism advocacy at the individual and institutional level. Instead of funding programs that are designed “to help” Black men, what about funding programs that are designed to help White men shake their racial fears and fantasies that might precipitate the shooting of the supposed Black threat that they might encounter as they drive through gated neighborhoods or wait for their girlfriends in gas stations?
If Black males are to achieve, to live—indeed, to survive—then we have to begin to name the structural conditions that have too long constrained us and the racial paranoia that has resulted in the murders of far too many.
—Darnell L. Moore