It is my sincere belief that none of you live beneath rocks, and so it seems safe to assume that all of you are aware of the happenings in Ferguson, MO. Just in case you don’t, the civil unrest (not riots) currently going in this St. Louis suburb is receiving nationwide attention. Said civil unrest began in response to the killing of Michael Brown on August 9, 2014. Brown was an unarmed Black teenager with no criminal record, and while the exact circumstances of his death are in dispute, much of the Ferguson community (a community which is now almost seventy percent African American) views it as unjust homicide of a young Black man by a police officer. I’m tempted to agree.
People react to tragedies like these in many different ways, wondering how situations like these could have been avoided, asking what will finally bring peace, and often lamenting the loss of young men characterized as “good,” “college-bound,” and “upstanding.” The sentiment that the Black community cannot afford to lose another good young man is understandable, but ultimately falls prey to a dangerous respectability politics—a politics that suggests that the death of a Black person is only significant if that person was a morally upstanding community servant who fits whatever definition of “good” that white people are currently holding us to.
So, my current Web Crush is the hashtag #iftheygunnedmedown, which attempts to confront this respectability politics head-on. Perhaps you remember one of the two pictures of Trayvon Martin that circulated after his February 2012 death. However, the second image is not the Trayvon Martin who was the victim of the 2012 shooting—it’s another boy entirely. Nevertheless, the whole idea of popularizing the second image was to indict Trayvon Martin by making him appear to be someone chasing the thug or gangsta lifestyles. The notion that this makes him guilty or makes his life worth less is obscene, and probably racist.