In the wake of yet another spectacle of mass violence at this year's Boston Marathon, we are left with more questions than answers. Of course it’s still early on in the investigative process and we look forward to those responsible for this heinous act being brought to justice, but until then we’re left to dissect the possibilities and reflect on what this means for the collective American conscious and spirit. In private settings however, Black and Brown communities throughout the United States respond to the horror of Boston with obvious disdain, concern, and empathy, but lacking the outrage offered by much of the majority of America. Understandably, as many in them are plagued by daily violence and loss of life with numbers so staggering they dwarf wartime casualties abroad.
As an African American Muslim who grew up in a community, which even back in the early 80’s had its share of murder, I find that my perspective on violence and death is probably not what some mental health professionals would consider healthy. Yes, I did experience the social angst and frustration of 9-11, but my experience was as a Black man and a Muslim, in that order. My response to the violence perpetrated in Boston is that of an African American first. If there is any dialogue I am eager to see take shape and influence the American sentiment, and public policy, it’s the dialogue about the lack of importance given to an American landscape that witnesses thousands of its African American citizens murdered each year, with little, or no national uproar.
As I listened to a broadcast on public radio about the bombing in Boston, one of the callers commented on our perceived ignorance as Americans regarding our awareness of possible contributing factors that lead to violence against U.S. citizens like, foreign policy, military occupation, government intervention, cultural demonization, economic sanctions, and preemptive strikes. In the United States, many affluent whites are often ignorant to the contributing causes of violence taking place within urban centers. Many of these communities are fighting uphill battles, struggling with a lack of economic opportunity, an educational system which is content to see a national high school graduation rate for Black males at an abysmal 52% (2010 nces.ed.gov), mass incarceration, substance abuse, teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, domestic violence and media demonization. Point blank, violence and homicide—against this backdrop—is an expected, accepted, and even a celebrated outcome by some.
It’s genuinely difficult to sustain caring about someone without getting to know about them, but that’s a part of the quandary facing the collective conscious of United States. To quote the DePaul University newspaper (The Depaulia, April 2012) which addressed a major metropolitan area home to many black and brown urban spaces, “ Chicago is the most racially segregated city in the United States of America, according to recent Census data reports.” Chicago, IL saw 4 homicides and 22 gunshot victims between Friday April 12th and Sunday April 14th. Those homicides took place in predominantly black and brown communities. The racial separation of Chicagoans leaves each community to fend for itself, and those most often coping with the sudden tragic loss of life are the lower strata of black and brown. Politicians stand up, private interest pledge resources and support when those lives are deemed worthy of saving; when the faces of the dead don’t resemble the poorest among us, the loss is unexpected and intolerable.
Poor communities of color have been overwhelmingly plagued with high homicide rates. In these neighborhoods the sudden and violent loss of life is a bitter reality; it is a sour odor wafting into school classrooms, offices, churches and masjids. It is a low rising fog covering playground surfaces and basketball courts; it is the agony of mothers wailing as they crouch over their fallen sons and daughters; it is the empty blood stained bed where an 8 year old black boy caught in gang crossfire once laid as he read himself to sleep; it is the eulogy of a high school honor student whose bright future was darkened with the flash of a gun barrel; it is the stain ingrained into the exterior walls of buildings, embedded in park benches, driveways, and alleyways. It is a gray overcast obstructing the brilliance of the sun, and interrupting its warmth. Killing is reported so routinely that there is no uproar, save that of those who fight back—attempting to shed light on the disparity of media coverage and lack of concern by the rest of America—to save their communities and those in them. Those who continue to soldier on know full well that violence in these communities is not a random event. They plug away, addressing a bevy of underlying issues. Certainly organizations like Ceasefire Illinois, Little Black Pearl, and United For a Cause, to name a few, have assisted in eradicating violence in their communities for their people. However, in the midst of these “hood” killings our US flag flies at full mast. We do not mourn these deaths as a nation, because we do not value these lives as a nation.
Some might call it cynical to turn attention to the violence and loss of life taking place in the urban centers of America, in the face of our latest tragedy. I’m sure there are some who might even feel it insensitive to suggest that American media, intellectuals, politicians, etc. are playing favorites when it comes to the reporting and response to violence in America, based on where it takes place and whom it affects. To those persons suffering offense, I ask that you not look at the terrible loss of life in Boston as an isolated incident. I ask that you not look at the despicable murders of New Town as a random horror. As the nation grieves for the loss of those lives, it turns a blind eye to the violence being committed every day in communities of color. It is all but printed in the newspapers, streamed across teleprompters and read aloud by news anchors, that the lives of those who live in these conditions are not worth grieving over. These lives are not worth allocating resources to; these communities are not worth investing in, its youth are not worth educating, and certainly its victims of violence are not worthy of discussion; I vehemently disagree.
The outpouring of support and concern for the victims of the cowardly marathon bombing is a human response, we should be outraged. However, we should also understand how that outrage stands in stark contrast to the social apathy which is currently, and historically, demonstrated when that loss of life is Black. So, in the same breath that we pray for the victims of this tragedy and await the execution of justice for those responsible for it, we continue to poke and prod at a dormant American conscience. I call the United States to attention; I pray for it to demonstrate that it values the lives of all of its sons and daughters.