As we embark on the 53rd celebration of Black History month – first proposed in 1969 and first celebrated in 1970 – passed by the US Congress in 1986, we are met with the harsh reality that anti-blackness still permeates the soul and culture of America. The recent brutal beating and murder of Tyre Nichols -a black man- on January 10, 2023, by five black police officers in Memphis, TN, underscore the fact that the pathology of anti-blackness is alive and well in the hearts and minds of some white folk as well as some black folk in America. Anti-blackness is a byproduct of the false ideology of white supremacy and black inferiority woven within the fabric of America, so much so that even the victims of this deadly ideology – some black people- have internalized it.
James Baldwin said, “The reason people think its important to be white is that they think it’s important not to be black.”
Anti-black hate is as old as America and is as American as apple pie and baseball. You don’t need to go back to far in our history to see evidence of this pernicious reality. In 2015, Dylan Roof – a 21-year-old white man- walked into a church in Charleston, SC, and murdered 9 black people in cold blood. It was reported that the police officers who captured Roof treated him to fast food before escorting him to the police station. In May 2022, a gunman, Payton Gendron -an 18-year-old white man- murdered 10 black people in a Buffalo, NY, supermarket targeting black people. There are other cases of anti-black violence, but I will stop here. In both notable cases, anti-black hate was their motive which fueled their terror.
Eddie S, Glaude JR., in his book, Democracy in Black; How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul, Wrote, “a host of assumptions about who black people are and what they are capable of shape everything about how we live in this country.”
After viewing the horrific recording of the beating of Tyre, I heard news reporters and commentators – primarily white- question whether the murder of Tyre was a racial issue, pointing out the race of the officers who were black. These questions reveal either a sincere ignorance or a willful indifference to racism in America. I submit that being black does not preclude a black person from subscribing to anti-blackness and supporting racist ideologies.
For example, Candace Owens, a black conservative and anti-black activist, said in a 2021 Fox News interview with Tucker Carlson, ‘Black Americans are the most murderous group in America.’ There is no evidence to support her assertion. However, this is what she -a black woman- and other black people believe about black people. Do not be deceived. Anti-black hatred held by black people does not negate the reality of racism. Race is a social construct, but racism is real and is facilitated by global white supremacy. Black lives still matter even when black lives are taken by black people.
I believe the five black police officers who murdered Tyre Nichols were acting per the societal norm of racism and anti-black hate. In the Myth of Race, The Reality of Racism Critical Essays, Dr. Mahmoud El-Kati eloquently said, “custom is more powerful than the force of written law. Habits and social conventions influence individual attitudes. A collective outlook, a collective myth, produces collective behaviour patterns.” It doesn’t make a difference how many anti-racism laws are passed or how much “racial sensitivity” training a person is forced to undergo to keep their job or even how many black people are elected to office, lead an organization or corporation; anti-black sentiment is pervasive in American culture.
The black officers freely and readily beat Tyre Nichols. They knew they were being recorded because of the body cameras they wore. They did it knowingly and without shame or fear of any consequence. They treated Tyre as if his life didn’t matter and as if he was expendable. They wrongly believed they could do what white officers have done and still do to many black men, women, and children with impunity for far too long. They saw Tyre the same way, so many Americans -white and black- see black people – As an interloper in a society built by the forced labor of our enslaved ancestors. Anti-blackness still prevailed.
In his book, The Racial Contract, Charles Mills writes, “we live in a world which has been foundationally shaped for the past five hundred years by the realities of European domination and the gradual consolidation of global white supremacy.”
Let’s be clear, the pathology of white supremacy, which produced anti-black hate, murdered Tyre Nichols. I am not saying the five black police officers are not responsible for his death. On the contrary, they are 100% accountable and should be punished to the law’s limit. They deserve whatever punishment they receive and probably more. What I am saying is that anti-black hate was the driving force and underlining cause of Tyres’ murder, as was the murders of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Harris, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Stephone Clark, Botham Jean, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Daunte Write, Patrick Lyoya, Nina Adams, LaShanda Anderson, Deresha Armstrong, Kisha Arrone, Crystalline Barns, India Beaty, Dereshia Blackwell, Jonie Block, Alexia Christian, Decynthia Clements, Monique Jenee Deckard, Cynthia Fields, Janisha Fonville, Korryn Gaines, Francine Graham, and the list goes on.
Until anti-blackness is killed, there will be more Tyre Nichols.
Public Policy Project