On July 19th 2013, I witnessed a Presidential speech that was foreign to my ears and eyes. I witnessed a President of the United States personally identify with the wrongful death of a Black male murdered in America, when President Barack Obama said, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” In that moment he informed the world of his personal pain and connection to Trayvon- he publically stood his ground on a highly controversial, racialized hot button issue. But there was another moment of identification that was put on the table served as an alien acknowledgment; President Barack Obama made the idea/reality of, “Black pain,” a topic to be openly discussed. In that moment, Obama moved beyond his personal pain associated with the isolated killing of an unarmed teenage Black male, and spoke of the post racially taboo truth of “Black pain.” In this speech President Obama spoke as if he were (what many of the Black folks that stood in lines for hours to vote for him) speaking on behalf of Black America. Think about these Barack Obama quotes:
If Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened, and if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws.
And let’s not forget when President Obama said:
We need to spend some time in thinking about how do we bolster and reinforce our African American boys…There are a lot of kids out there that need help, that get a lot of negative reinforcement, and is there more that we can do to give them a sense that their country cares about them, and values them, and is willing to invest in them.
These were not the words of a civil rights activist, a Black Nationalist, an educator in a Black Studies Department, or Black folks in a predominantly Black neighborhood- These were the words of the 44th President of the United States of America.
On July 31st 2013, President Obama put his words into action. According to Politico.com, President Barack Obama told House Democrats that his administration was “looking at measures to help at-risk children, particularly minority youth — a move that comes in light of the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case.” Politico.com goes on to report that President Obama told Rep. Elijah Cummings that Obama told Cummings, “that it was a ‘good time’ to examine disparities in the criminal justice system, and efforts to help black, Asian, and Hispanic men and boys. The President added that officials need to look at what can be done to aid at-risk youth in general.” This made me think about the quote from his speech when he spoke about how letting the “at-risk-youth” know that “their country cares about them, and values them, and is willing to invest in them.” I began to think about America being “their” (Trayvon Martin compatible “at-risk youth”) country and what is the norm when it comes to investing in “at-risk youth” and conjointly how is “value” placed upon the Trayvon Martin’s of America. Instead of hearing President Obama say, “African-American boys…get a lot of negative reinforcement,” I began to hear “reinforcement” sound more like law enforcement. I unfortunately began to look past the words of the 44th President of the United States of America and I began to remember the reality of being a Black male in capitalist America.
With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States houses 25 percent of the world’s prison population, over 90 percent of inmates are male, and while 12 percent of the U.S. population is Black, over 40 percent of prisoners with sentences longer than one year are African American. Black Folks are incarcerated at nearly six times the rate of their white counterparts, and are sent to prison at ten times the rate of whites. Since 2002, over 4 million New Yorkers have been stopped and frisked in NYC. In 2011, 87 percent of those stop-and-frisked were Black and Latino, and nine out of ten were completely innocent, according to NYPD’s own reports. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three Black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. Sadly, many of us are somewhat familiar with these statistics about the disproportionate amount of Trayvon Martin like males in America, but are we as well versed in the amount of money being generated off of the storage of Black bodies in the penal system?
The privatization of prisons has become big business for capitalist America. The onset of private prisons began during the Regan era and continued to flourish throughout the Clinton years. Specifically, after Clinton drastically cut the federal workforce, the Justice Departments began to search for and contract private prison corporations for the incarceration of particular populations of inmates such as undocumented workers and high-security inmates (globalresearch.org). It is no secret that private prisons prosper in proportion to the number of prisoners they house, which may lead one to ask if that may be a catalyst to the mass incarceration nation that America has become. The ACLU report, Banking on Bondage: Private Prisons and Mass Incarcerations, indicated that the “rise of the for-profit prison companies that have capitalized on the nation’s addiction to incarceration (2.4-million behind bars) will achieve gigantic profits.” Alone, the two largest private prison corporations earned roughly $3 billion in revenue in 2010 (ACLU, 2011). Think about this, within the privatization of prisons in America, there has even been a push for the privatization of phone calls made by prisoners. Inmate collect calls are a “$1 billion dollar market” with prison collect-calling services charging “as much as four times the standard rate for collect calls” (CNNMoney.com). This practice is common in prisons all over the United States, for example, according to Prison Legal News, New York prisons alone generated $200 million in prison cell phone call fee kickback payments from 1996 to 2007. Prison Legal continues by stating that:
Prison phone service kickbacks average 42% nationwide among states that accept commissions, and in some cases reach 60% or more. Put into simple terms, up to 60% of what prisoners’ families pay to receive phone calls from their incarcerated loved ones has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of the phone service provided.
“In many state prison systems, what on the outside would be a 10-cent call costs $9” (Elsner, Alan: 2006). Again, we are just talking about the amount of potential money that can be generated from collect calls made in prisons, this does not include the amounts of money being generated by the exploitation of prison labor by Fortune 500 companies including but not limited to IBM, Boeing, Motorola, Microsoft, AT&T Wireless, Texas Instrument, Dell, Compaq, Honeywell, Hewlett-Packard, Nortel, Lucent Technologies, 3Com, Intel, Northern Telecom, TWA, Nordstrom’s, Revlon, Macy’s, Pierre Cardin, Target Stores, and Victoria’s Secret. So when President Obama says that the Trayvon Martins’ of America need to know, “that their country cares about them, and values them, and is willing to invest in them,” sadly many of them are already aware of the fact that Capitalist America “cares about them, and values them,” as neo-slave laborers. They are aware that Capitalist America, “is willing to invest in them” as Black men in America, not as human beings experiencing “Black pain” in need of “positive reinforcement,” but as commodities, assisting in positive economic returns, under the watchful eye of law enforcement.
You should be my soul sistah…
You should be my perfect portion of my prayer to the Creator of my soul, sistah…
You should be my beautiful balance between perfection and utter chaos captured in the human case that houses your soul…Sistah
Sistah, you should be my most magnificent moment
Magic made into a medley of me and you
Of musical melodies manifesting in our destinies desire to be soul mates
A mosaic of eternities
Making divisions of become one
You should be my soul sistah.
The Death of Odin Lloyd: Why So Much Attention For This Particular Black Man Murdered In America?
On Wednesday last week, in Massachusetts, New England Patriot’s tight end Aaron Hernandez was arrested for first-degree murder. There are a number of trajectories that I can go with this story. My natural inclination is to focus on the man that was murdered- Odin Lloyd. Mr. Odin Lloyd was murdered on June 17, after he was shot multiple times in the groin, arm, side, chest and back. I could focus on his brief, yet chilling final text messages (prior to his death) to his sister that simply said, “Did you see who I was with?” said the first, at 3:07 a.m. June 17. Lloyd’s sister replied “Who?” To which Odin replied “NFL,” he then added: “Just so you know.” But I will not. I will respectfully allow his final words to stand on their own. On Saturday June 29, 2013, dressed in all white, Odin Lloyd was laid to rest. Over 300 mourners came to pay their last respects to the 27-year-old Odin.
Sadly, Odin Lloyd’s death is simultaneously common and uncommon within the Black community. It is common in the sense of Lloyd being yet another Black male dying by way of homicide. Let’s look at Chicago; the death toll by murder in Chicago over the past decade is greater than the number of American forces who have died in Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom. For the same 2003-2011 period, blacks were the victims of 75 percent of 4,265 murders. Couple that with the fact that FBI statistics show that somewhere between 35%-40% of homicides in the US go unsolved. That is where Lloyd’s death is both common and uncommon. It is statistically more probable for Black males to lose their lives by way of homicide than any other group of people in the United States, while conjointly; it is somewhat uncommon that said deceased Black males have their homicide cases closed. So why are we all familiar with the Odin Lloyd murder? We are familiar with Lloyd, not because of his death; we are familiar with the murder of Mr. Lloyd because of the individual that is in prison for his murder. We know about Odin’s death because a star from one of America’s favorite forms of entertainment – Football. But not only did the potential murderer of Mr. Odin play football, he played football for one of the most celebrated teams in NFL history (the Robert Kraft owned New England Patriots), for one of the most celebrated coaches in NFL history (Bill Belichick), while catching touchdown passes from one of the most celebrated quarterbacks in NFL history (Tom Brady). Aaron Hernandez is connected to some pretty powerful White men in high places, and he broke their trust, he threw dirt on the “Patriot Way.” But that alone doesn’t answer why we know about this sports related homicide. We are aware of the death of Odin Lloyd, because the sports writers and pundits (along with the networks that employ them) have made this murder news worthy. My question is why? What are the writers, pundits, and network’s reasons for sticking with this story? Is it for the bringing of justice for a slain Black man in America? What is the larger story that Lloyd’s death is couched in? I see that larger story being the criminalization of NFL players.
According to a database kept by the San Diego Union-Tribune there have been 27 arrests of NFL players this year (4 of the 27 charges have been either dismissed or dropped), ranging from disorderly conduct and DUI to domestic violence and assault. In 2012 Dan Hope of The BleacherReport.com reported “The FBI’s Crime in the U.S. report from 2010 (the 2011 report has not yet been published), states that an estimated 4.2576 percent of the U.S. population was arrested over the course of that calendar year.”
Hope goes on to say that, “Even when the NFL’s 2012 off-season arrested-player rate is adjusted to account for those 26 players’ being arrested over only a five-and-a-half-month span, the percentage still comes out to roughly only 3.345 percent, almost one percentage point lower than that of the full U.S. population.” Though these numbers are from 2012, the fact that in 2102 a grand total of 26 players were arrested and in 2013 (thus far) 27 players have been arrested, I felt that standing the two years side by side one can come to a similar conclusion- the NFL arrest rate is indicative of the arrest rate throughout the United States. NFL players are being criminalized, even though there are 32 NFL teams, and with 53-man rosters, that makes 1,696 players, if you do the math 27 out of 1,696 players makes roughly one percent of the players that have been caught up in criminal activity in 2013, thus 99 percent of the NFL players are law abiding citizens. So why are so many sports writers, pundits and networks invested in the criminalization of NFL players? Another important question to ask is who are these people in the profession of painting professional football players as criminals?
According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, whites account for 94 percent of sports editors, 89 percent of assistant sports editors, 88 percent of columnists, 87 percent of reporters and 89 percent of copy editors. While according to the Associated Press Sports Editors, African Americans make up just 10.6 percent of all sports positions at mainstream newspapers. As a result, the vast majority of what we digest about professional sports—which are dominated by black athletes—is written, edited and reported by white journalists. The NBA’s players are 80 percent black. In the NFL, African Americans are 68 percent of players, and they are only 8.8 percent in Major League Baseball. Speaking of baseball, here is an interesting statistic to consider, “According to an infographic on sports crime rates in 2010, Major League Baseball players were arrested 16 times for major crimes like drug offenses and violent crimes. 34 pro football players were arrested for those offenses, which puts football and baseball at a similar rate of arrest (there are twice as many NFL players than MLB players)” (Jason DeRusha: 2011). So my question is, why are we not seeing a criminalization of America’s Pastime baseball? Could it be that baseball with its “similar” rates of arrest is not catching the criminal stigma by the most exclusively white male sports writers fraternity because of the fact that in doing so you would in a sense be criminalizing a sport that is dominated by white male athletes and managers (according to Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, 61.2% of the players and 83.3% of the managers were white males). I know it’s taboo to point out racial disparities and racialized discriminations in this post racial America, but I’m just allowing the research to speak for itself.
Now, I am back at my original question, why are we hearing so much about the death of this Black man in America? Is this Odin Lloyd case about bringing this industry of predominantly white males attempting to bring needed attention to the amount of Black men that are victims of homicides or is the daily coverage of this murder centered on an NFL player potentially committing a crime, thus allowing journalist, pundits and networks to criminalize (predominately Black) NFL players? Well, I will say this, read the stories surrounding this case in the newspaper and on the internet, listen to how the case is talked about on sports-talk radio, and while your at it, watch your favorite sports station (that is probably owned by the Disney Corporation) and let me know what you think.
The Purge: Post Racial Classicidal Cathartic Release
This weekend I went to the movies to watch the horror film The Purge. I see that I wasn’t the only person that went to see this film as The Purge is estimated to have raked in $34.6 million dollars over the weekend, knocking Fast and Furious 6 ($19.1 million in its third week of release) out of the number one box office position, and destroying the Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn comedy The Internship ($18.1 million). The question is why? How did this micro-budget film (the movie only cost $3 million dollars to make) become this first week phenomenon at the movie theatres? What made this the film to go and see? What did the paying moviegoer expect and also, what did they potentially take away from this experience? Now, remember that these are my views, connections and interpretations. You don’t have to agree, but as always I hope that you enjoy a brief journey into how I see shit, and why I see said shit the way that I see it.
The Purge is set in the United States in the year 2022. Thanks to the “new Founding Fathers”, America is experiencing a state of economic prosperity and universal bliss, in what seems to be a virtual utopia, well, that’s not if you count the twelve-hour period per year from 7:00 pm to 7:00 am where emergency services are suspended, hospitals are closed down, and all crime (including murder) is not only legal, but seen as a baptism by way of this neo-American soul cleansing experience. The Purge is then to be seen as a day of catharsis. With that said, we have to ask ourselves, “what in the hell is catharsis, and what does it really have to do with this film?”
Plainly put, catharsis is an emotional release. According to psychoanalytic theory, this emotional release is linked to a need to release unconscious conflicts, tensions and emotions. Sigmund Freud famously taught that psychotherapy helped the patient achieve catharsis, or purging of the emotions. Freud hypothesized that “psychic energy” was tied up in keeping down or repressing pent up traumatic memories. Freud viewed catharsis as a way of releasing that energy so the patient could regain normal strength and energy. In other words Freud thought, because he imagined that our emotions exist in a closed hydraulic system, like a steam engine and that we need to relieve the pressure from time to time to remain in a healthy mental state. The film is peppered with pseudo-scientific proof/testimonials that the purging of one’s individual natural humanistic desire (connected to the hunting hypothesis) to murder is the road to individual salvation and a more harmonious society. The question then becomes, who is worthy of being the sacrificial lambs, who occupy the dubious distinction as being the human sacrifices to be offered up to the “New Fore Fathers” (that serve as quasi deities) as the Haves “purify their souls” at the expense of the Have-Not’s during the patriotic ritual slaughter/ holiday known as The Purge?
Who are the Have-Not’s in the film The Purge? The Have-Not’s are the designated domestic deviants in this 2022 America. In other words (as always) the stigmatized within the society are the living organisms worthy of being murdered. By definition, “we believe the person with a stigma is not quite human” (Goffman, 1963). According to Erving Goffman three grossly different types of stigma should be taken into consideration:
First there are abominations of the body- the various physical deformities. Next there are blemishes of individual character perceived as weak will, domineering or unnatural passions, treacherous and rigid beliefs, and dishonesty, these being inferred from a known record of for example, mental disorder, imprisonment, addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality, unemployment, suicidal attempts, and radical political behavior. Finally there are the tribal stigma of race, nation and religion, these being stigma that can be transmitted through lineages and equally contaminate all members of a family.
So, an obvious “not quite human” stigmatized group to “hunt” during The Purge are the homeless. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there was a point in 2012 where 633,782 people were experiencing homelessness in America. Another not so obvious “not quite human” stigmatypical group to “hunt” are war veterans. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that some 1.5 million veterans are at risk of homelessness due to poverty, lack of support networks and dismal, overcrowded living conditions. Veterans are much more likely than the population at large to suffer from homelessness, comprising 23 percent of the homeless population even though only 8 percent of the population at large can claim veteran status. The war Vet is not only stigmatizable due to their alarming rates of homelessness, they would also be a part of the purgeable population of “not quite humans” due to their association with the perceived blemishes of individual and collective character due to the mental disorder PTSD. Military leaders and veterans’ advocates worry about hidden hiring discrimination against Iraq and Afghanistan war vets by employers who see the veterans perhaps as emotionally damaged. A key fear is how this could be contributing to stubbornly higher joblessness (which contributes to homelessness) among the generation that serves in the military post what is commonly known as 9/11. Because employers are barred by law from asking job applicants about mental health conditions, many assume that any veteran can be afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “There is a need to be concerned about this issue and this stigma,” says Kevin Schmiegel, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel and executive director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring our Heroes program. Also, let us not forget that there are a significant amount of war vets with combat induced limb amputations, which would qualify them as having “physical deformities.” This makes the war veteran a victim of what I call stacked stigmatization. Now this brings us to the finale in the ménage a trois, the un-holy trinity within the triad of stigmatization- “the tribal stigma of race.”
Okay, I have read a slew of reviews about The Purge. They all talk about the premise of the film being everything from “interesting” to “foolishly unrealistic,” to how it is a “thriller film for the Occupy Era that fails to deliver.” But none of these people that call themselves critiquing and reviewing the film mention the melanin-enhanced elephant in the room- the runaway slave – I mean Black man, that the socially awkward kid (Charlie Sandin) saved from being lynched – I mean purged, by the white supremacist – I mean patriotic, Purge Day supporting “real Americans.” As mentioned earlier, Purge Day (which is only practiced in America) is about providing “people a release for all of the hatred and violence that they (have pent up?) keep up inside of them,” why would we not assume that some of that bottled up hatred was racism? An underlying theme in this film, particularly in regard to the nameless bloody Black stranger (who happened to be both homeless and a military vet- when you watch the film look around his neck, he’s wearing military dog tags) is the psychopathic group of preppy, well educated, affluent, young white Americans being denied their right to manifest their destiny and mutilate and murder the “not quite human” Black man, quenching their need to release some pent up racist steam in a “post-racial America. Now, this is where I will totally deviate from my analysis of what was taking place within the film and expound upon what was taking place within the movie theatre. I could absolutely continue on this path of talking about the film and post-racial racism in America, but the craziest shit was taking place literally one seat away from me.
Sitting right next to me in the movie theatre was a Brotha that many would consider to be the embodiment of the stereotypical Nigga. He had a mouth full of gold teeth, he was hella loud in the movie theatre, yelling at the screen sporadic profane sentences, and giving a damn about the other folks that paid to view the film. This (for me) was an, “it is what it is” type of thing. His Niggaisms didn’t bother me at all. What did bother me was what the Brotha was yelling at the screen, what scenes/moments in the film sparked his emotions, and finally, when he was as quiet as a Black man hiding in a white family’s closet to save his life on Purge Day. The first moment that I noticed a rise out of the nameless Brotha one seat away was when the nameless bloody Black stranger was rescued from the Purge Mob of Haves. When the nameless bloody Black stranger made it under the steel security door of the home (which served as the primary setting of the film), the nameless Brotha one seat away, lets the crowd know his displeasure with a loud, “hell naw, I wouldn’t have let that nigga in my house!” I’m thinking to myself, “Damn nameless Brotha one seat away, you wanted the Black dude to get murdered out there?” Then once the bloody Black stranger was in the house, one of the first things nameless Brotha one seat away snarled out was urgent instructions for Ethan Hawke to, “kill that nigga!” and when Ethan in fact did not “kill that nigga” he seemed dejected, muttering, “I would have blew that nigga’s head off.” I’m now thinking, “damn, nameless Brotha one seat away from me, you really don’t want the bloody Black stranger to have a chance to live.” He had a special amount of venom for the socially awkward kid in the film that saved the bloody Black stranger. When it seemed like the kid was about to be murdered Brotha one seat away from me said, “That’s what the fuck he gets for letting that nigga in the house!” So, not only did he want the “nigga” dead, but he also wanted the “nigga” loving child dead as well. And when the white father finally found the bloody Black stranger and he shot, and stabbed him in the open wound repeatedly with a letter opener, and duct taped him so that the nameless bloody Black stranger could be murdered by the Purge Mob- the Brotha one seat away from me seemed to be satisfied. Hell, the one moment of sadness (based on his running dialog with the movie screen) for Brotha one seat away from me was when the white father was dying due to being stabbed in the stomach. Here is the cold part, the one moment that the Brotha one seat away from me was dead ass silent, was when the bloody Black stranger came through and saved the day in the film. As soon as that happened, my assumption was confirmed, Brotha one seat away from me was suffering from a case of internalized racism. Internalized racism is the personal conscious or subconscious acceptance of the dominant society’s racist views, stereotypes and biases of one’s ethnic group. It gives rise to patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving that result in discriminating, minimizing, criticizing, finding fault, invalidating, and hating oneself while simultaneously valuing the dominant culture. Internalized racism is a mental disease, and Brotha one seat away from me was infected. But then I looked around the theatre, and I began to think, Brotha one seat away from me could not have been the only one that felt like that “Nigga” deserved to die. He was just the only one that opened his mouth and voiced his disdain for the nameless bloody Black stranger. In a sense, Brotha one seat away from me was the only person publically willing to acknowledge the fact that The Purge was not only a film dealing with classicidal cathartic release, or put another way, an annual extermination of a consolidation of Have-Not’s that are stigmatized as being economic/ “not quite human” shit stains on the Have’s purge preserved promise land, but it was also a film about a theoretically post-racial white family dealing with having a strange Black man in their house, and how scary that must have been (I know that was a long ass sentence, but it’s my blog so yeah, long sentence it is).
This concludes yet another lecture at the University of LEFT.
Peace and Respect