Race, Racism and Resilience

In his April 4, 1967 speech entitled, “Beyond Vietnam,” Marin Luther King declared, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” (The full speech can be accessed here: http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/doc_beyond_vietnam/

Since I will not betray myself, the memory of my ancestors or the grace and resilience of black people, I cannot and will not be silent about my very deep sadness and outrage over the recent tragic shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile by police officers in what Maya Angelou called “these yet to be United States.”

Philando Castile’s mother, in a CNN interview earlier today, explained that she always told her son to comply with the police should he ever find himself pulled over, stopped or questioned by police officers. In response to her own memory of such exchanges with her son, she asked, “What’s the point in complying if you get killed anyway?” I find her question both disconcerting and telling.

The adversity that black people in America experience, and more specifically, the trauma that Diamond Reynolds, Philando Castile’s fiance, endured while witnessing the murder of her loved one as her four year old daughter sat in the car’s back seat while exposed to the brutal violence and obscene language of the offending police officers confirms the dreadful fact that most of the stress for many black people today comes not only from mental processes–from worrying about possible racist assaults, relationships, children, mortgages, finances, Donald Trump, and more–but also from actual physical violence and emotional danger.

That a four year old girl sat in the backseat and witnessed the brutal murder of her mother’s fiance, even declaring, “Mommy, I’m scared,” makes me wonder how one’s being strong in the face of calamity has cultural value and why resilience for black people, specifically, has its roots in dehumanization. Yes, it takes determination, inner strength and resolve to survive the experience of sitting inches from a loved one who suddenly and unexpectedly becomes the victim of racist, vicious police brutality, but to what end? At what cost? Why, for black people in 2016 America, is resilience still tied to overcoming the brutality of daily, racial microaggressions and overt racism?

About the Minnesota shooting of Philando Castile, @johnnyterris tweeted, “Lavish Reynolds calm demeanor (esp in front of daughter) is something I wouldn’t been able to do if it were me. That lady is PURE STRENGTH.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/07/07/the-incredible-calm-of-diamond-lavish-reynolds/

For purposes of my present research and pedagogical planning, I am interested in examining closely and assigning to students readings of various stories of (extra)ordinary black men, women and children (both during slavery and in the wake of the Black Lives Matter Movement) who have had to contend with repeated trauma with the goal of helping students make several cogent observations regarding the raw material of resilience and its evolution when blackness meets racism.


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