Ironically, this morning I awoke to find my inbox empty. Surprisingly, no one wrote me and asked what I thought of the 89 accounts of arson reported in Ohio after the Buckeyes won the national title. No one accused my work of inflaming a spirit of rebellion that contributed to the lawlessness of the Buckeye community. In fact, by the way in which the events were reported by the mainstream media, you would think that nothing more than a feverish Boy Scout rally had taken place. Sure, the riot police tear gassed a couple of overzealous celebrators, but there was no reason for the community to be alarmed, right? I mean, everyone knows that a little confetti and a shiny trophy would compel anyone to overturn a car and set the streets ablaze! Though some were arrested, all will be present when classes resume next week. The moral of this story is clear, America; all riots are not created equal.
While it is true that no one asked my opinion of the Buckeye riot, it comes as no surprise to anyone that following the uprising in Ferguson, my non-black associates immediately christened me the local PR spokesperson for the black community, demanding that I give an account of the actions of all black people everywhere. “Surely, James, you don’t approve of this sort of behavior”, the messages usually began. “This type of action solves nothing. It’s counterproductive. What type of people would destroy their own communities?” I am all but certain that I am far from the only individual who has received such messages. What I find interesting is that rarely, if ever, do these conversations emanate from a spirit of true inquiry. Rarely do any of these exchanges end with both parties leaving mutually edified. Without a doubt, they all expected me to categorically denounce the uprisings. They fully relied on me to nullify the grievances of the community in the name of respectability. Needless to say, many of them left the conversation sorely disappointed.
As for my community, those of us who are frustrated by the seemingly hypocritical nature regarding the coverage of white riots should not be surprised whatsoever. In many ways, those who are distraught over the imbalance in coverage ought to realize that what we are witnessing today is merely a microcosm of one of this country’s most formidable terrors – fear of a black uprising. From the moment the first slave ships docked upon the shores of the North America, the dominant culture has been imprisoned within a paradigm of perpetual guilt. In order to remain sequestered from their collective culpability, the will of the black masses had to be eviscerated and the spirit of self-determination had to be domesticated by any means necessary. Though their assault upon the black psyche was merciless and systematic, it was never wholly successful. From the Stono Rebellion of 1739 to this very hour, history has kept meticulous records of the palpable discontent that pervades many within the black community.
By desiring mainstream media to cover all riots equally, we are ignoring the fact that one of America’s greatest natural resources is fear of dark people rising up and demanding dignity in the public square. To be clear, the outcry over the Ferguson uprisings has nothing to do with broken windows and burned Quick Trips (the Buckeye riot proves that) and has everything to do with an age-old narrative the power structure desires to erase from our national conscience. This is why our children will never read about Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, and Gabriel Prosser. Any leader of color who did not immediate coddle to the ethos of the dominant culture was immediately quarantined from the imagination of the body politic. The same holds true for today. This is why those who cry out the name of Tamir Race are labeled race-baiters. This is why those who cry out in the streets for our sisters and brothers who are no more will never be viewed the same as those who burn buildings in the name of confetti. Though they may look similar from afar, our embers are not made of the same substance. Ours flames are followed by funerals. Theirs is followed by a parade.
The two should never be viewed as one and the same.