At the 1787 United States Constitutional Convention, it was decided that a slave was worth 3/5ths of what a free person was worth.
With regard to legislative representation and taxation, it was determined that whatever makes a person a person, Black folks could be worth 3/5ths of that. 60% humanity. Sub-human. Property. Pets.
This ideology continues through the “end” of slavery, becoming an integral part of this country, and a part of the very fabric of our flag. It continues post-slavery, informing segregation practices– exclusion from housing markets, sharecropping systems, access to resources, the murder and lynching of Black people in general. It continues through the civil rights movement, into the crack epidemic, into the demonization of Black culture, into the exposure of police brutality. It was the reason white doctors and researchers were developing gynecological practices through experimentation on slaves, and the reason poor Blacks were infected with syphilis. We have never been human here, much less, American.
It continues with the strong Black woman trope, and with the idea that Black men are sex-crazed savages. It continues with the fetishization of Black bodies and projections of aggression and violence.
The idea that Black people do not deserve humanity fuels the strong Black woman trope that says that we are big and Black and aggressive and can withstand anything. It continues with the fetishization of Black bodies and projections of hostility and violence. Because we are not human, we don’t get the customary compassion and sympathy most grieving folks receive. It is the reason that the mothers of victims of police brutality are asked how they feel about attacks on police just days after losing their children. It is the reason that brave Black women are criticized for how they respond to their partners being shot to death in front of them.
“And notice that they didn’t show the cops bodies. You notice that? I didn’t see any footage. I didn’t see a meme. I didn’t see a gif. I didn’t see a picture circulating.
It’s like the white body is so sacred that you can’t show a body that’s bleeding out or dying out or shot. Like you can’t. But with us, it’s circulated like nothing. And that is so problematic to me. Like, you have to be so mindful of how media treats us.
You know, we get the mugshots. Even if it has nothing to do with the crime, our mugshot will go up. These men were killed, but you’re posting their mugshots? But the cops get their cop pictures with the the American flag behind them and the Golden Retriever, but the victim gets the mugshot.” — Francheska, The Friend Zone
It is evident when dead Black bodies are wantonly plastered all over mainstream and social media with no tact or class. This ideology is why the murders of so many Black folks are auto-played without warning, until we become either numb to it or further scarred for life. It is why these videos are not enough to grant even a semblance of justice to victims’ families and why any retaliation by the oppressed is seen as savage chaos. It is the reason the police force, as an institution and occupation, is held at a higher value than Black and Brown lives and why we question what Black or Brown people do to make officers shoot them 4, 6, 41 times.
The idea that Black people are not human is the reason protests and nonviolent demonstrations are met with military grade weaponry, armored cars and police in head-to-toe body armor. It is why “keep the peace” really means “keep control,” and why we jump to show sympathy for European tragedies but need to mull over the facts of tragedy caused by the hands of our own police.
The idea of Black inferiority is evident when money that could be used to fund neighborhood schools and community healthcare initiatives is used to “provide more resources” for an already over funded police system. It’s why Black people who are well within their rights to carry and use guns are arrested and/or killed anyway, and why we are convicted of smaller crimes at higher rates
The idea of Black grief as entertainment is palatable because Black people are not seen as people. We are not given the tenderness of flesh nor emotion that comes with White personhood. So, forgive me, if I don’t grin from ear to ear watching videos of police officers doing the wobble at cookouts or hugging Black people go viral. I don’t care for the videos of cops being nice to Black people/ passing out snacks and ice cream that go viral and desensitize folks to the real tragedy that comes from being Black in America. Ice cream and cops at neighborhood cookouts won’t bring back Korryn or Sandra or Rekia. It won’t bring back Alton or Mike or Oscar. I want to be seen as 100% human and I want the police as an institution to recognize Black people as humans worthy of this life we are already living. Keep the feel-good stories. I want police to stop killing us.