Your history book probably told you about Turner’s Rebellion. Did they tell you about the hundreds of lynchings of slaves and free blacks that followed the trials, in which nearly four times as many people were killed as participated in OR were killed in the rebellion? Did your history book stress that the rebellion was in response to structural and direct violence that had been enacted upon black bodies for years? Or did the events of the rebellion get described in graphic, poignant detail - my history book talked about the “[white] women and children murdered in their beds” - one chapter after the sheer brutality of slavery was a glossed-over footnote, described in broad terms, the systematic rapes delicately sidestepped?
For that matter, how was Sherman’s March to the Sea described? My book talked about the human tragedy of it. The same book had a sidebar about free blacks who opposed abolition. This kind of coding, that asks us to sympathize with white people’s tragedies while discounting and even normalizing black people’s tragedies (while simultaneously downplaying or completely erasing their achievements), is all around us and has been for centuries. That same upswell of fury that led to the hundreds of lynchings in the wake of Turner’s Rebellion was completely unresponsive to the thousands of deaths of slaves that preceded it because those people were taught, quite simply, that black lives didn’t matter as much. Black lives were expendable, but white lives were precious.
People will wring their hands over the officer who shot Mike Brown as though hypothetical harm to him and his family is worse than the actual death of Mike Brown. People will say “Maybe the protesters shouldn’t be looting and breaking things!” as though everyone who’s mad about the unnecessary death of a kid should just chill. Like there isn’t an undeniable trend of black boys being gunned down for nothing. So whether you’re acting like protesters deserve to get tear gassed for breaking a window while the officer who shot an unarmed teenager deserves protection and blankets and hot cocoa, or you’re telling us that Rue’s death isn’t as sad in the movie because you thought she was white in the books, congratulations, you’re a part of that time-honored American tradition of devaluing black lives to reify white supremacy.
ETA to clarify: This post is in response to people who are concerned on principle about the officer, not to people who have concerns about mistaken identity.