Baye McNeil’s commentary on the #BlackLivesMatter movement, You Might Be Dead Already And Not Know It
“Riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. And in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
I have been asked to interpret the pain I feel, and the pain of black communities the world over, to people here in Japan. And I’m very disappointed I’m needed for this. As members of humanity, we all share the same pain, so explaining this to another human being makes me feel like I am dehumanizing them a bit, to be honest. Personally, when I encounter people who claim not to understand why other people are protesting, rioting and looting, I suspect they are either disingenuous and pretending not to understand or they’ve been spiritually neutered.
Or worse, they might be dead and not know it.
Nonetheless, I agreed to do it because I know I can do a better job than a White Supremacist, like Jared Taylor, the one TBS-TV enlisted last week. A man who believes and touts that Black intelligence doesn’t measure up to whites, which unfortunately might be interpreted by some as our lives don’t matter as much, either. And I figure I could offer some insight and nuance that a white comedian like Atsugiri Jason (who was interviewed last week on a morning news show about this) might not be engaged and subjective enough to give. Why does the media here feel more comfortable sticking microphones in the faces of white people to explain an issue that disproportionately impacts black people? Good question. Not that I think sticking a mic in the face of any random black “tarento” is optimal either. Who is to say that Ike Nwala or Bobby Ologun have something substantial to say just because they’re black? But, why wouldn’t major media outlets here make the little bit of extra effort required to find someone qualified to speak on this, capable of shedding some light and there by enlightening their viewers?
One might say, if the media here really cared, if black lives really mattered in Japan, they would.
The fact that the media has been soliciting white thought exclusively leaves me feeling that perhaps they merely want to appear to be trying to understand what’s going on as opposed to wanting to know and report the truth. Talking to my Japanese friends, acquaintances and colleagues, I know the truth is desperately needed because the image of black people is being further damaged in the media, where we’re portrayed as the overly destructive, barbarous, and incapable of being sympathized victims of a sad and unfortunate incident. (As opposed to cold blooded murder).
Because there simply is NOTHING that could justify the images of violent retaliation on their screens, let alone the rioting and looting. That it is all just some incomprehensible black craziness to some, something the primal, inherently anti-social nature of black people leads them to do periodically.
Well, that kind of thinking is just racist. If you assign ANY of the violence that you’ve seen on your TV over the past few weeks to “blackness” or some “black proclivity” then it’s very likely that you’re a carrier of a virus so lethal it makes COVID-19 laughable.
Namely, racism, the plague that persists.
However, if you’ve managed to attribute it to “American-ness” then you’re on the right path. And if you’ve turned on your TV or internet and been able to see humans shouting truth at power, if you can see an unheard, unheeded, unhealed people that have been battered, burned and looted for over 400 years, battering, burning and looting in return, then you have glimpsed the truth. Because that’s what it is.
Human beings have a line, we have rights, and once that line has been crossed, once those rights have been violated, by an entity you’ve entrusted to protect you and yours, once that contract has been broken, you’re essentially at war, an uncivil war, and anything goes! It doesn’t matter if you’re American, Japanese, Chinese, Jamaican, German, Russian, Pakistani… it doesn’t matter whether that power be federal or corporate or religious, if you’re human, you’re going to view that power as a menace to the peace and security that, as humans, we all seek.
History, even Japanese history, is chockful of evidence of this. Human beings will fight state-sanctioned oppression, tyranny, cruelty, and dehumanization. We simply always have and always will. THIS is what revolutions are all about! This is why governments fall! And any human who needs this explained to them also needs to check their pulse.
You might be dead and not know it.
When you see an American on TV throwing a Molotov cocktail at a police precinct, what you ought to be seeing is yourself, because there, but for the grace of whatever supreme being you hold dear, go you. The day your child is choked to death on Youtube by agents of the “state” you finance with your taxes, and you’re told “sorry, but he has the yellow skin and devious narrow eyes of a criminal so we thought…,” or “Sorry, shit happens,” I have every confidence that that’s the day you and every human being you know will, at least, begin to question the “state” and its policies. Now, let these types of tragedies become a pattern, something dreadfully expected, and I guarantee you’ll be making and launching your own Molotov cocktails. If not, I suggest you check your underwear, or get x-rayed.
You might have been neutered and not know it.
Once the “state” has made it crystal clear that the rules are designed to benefit one group and hinder and harm the other groups, for whatever reason, be it racial, or social, or religious, then all bets are off. Once the rules are null and void, protests are bound to ensue. Sometimes peaceful. Sometimes not. But, after centuries of protests, I am of the mind that whether a protest is peaceful or violent makes no difference to power. Power will not relinquish power or concede anything without a mandate from a greater power. In this case, as is the case in a true democracy, the greatest power is with the people. And as soon as the “state” forgets that, the people are obligated to remind them.
That is what you’re seeing, Japan, when you watch footage of protests and unrest in the US. You are witnessing the power of the people! A bloody, fiery reminder to the government that they have to be accountable to us, the people, or suffer the consequences, which may include obliteration.
Black Americans have been in a state of protest and revolt for over 400 years. There has been no justice, so there has been no peace. And, unfortunately, once again, there’s a bonafide card-carrying racist in the White House, elected there by a mostly racist constituency, people supportive of the status quo, and fearful of its demise. We can no longer afford to participate in theoretical discussions of white supremacy and systematic racism. The former literally has its knee embedded in our necks and the latter keeps the perpetrators on the streets and us in jails and coffins!
We don’t have the luxury of peaceful protests or sitting around praying for a peaceful world populated by the colorblind. That’s fantasy. WE ARE BEING KILLED!
And we shouldn’t have to explain something so glaring and obvious to anyone with their humanity still intact. Japanese people, who have been the target of white supremacy in one of its most horrific forms, namely atomic destruction, should know better. I should not have to explain any of this to you. You’ve had a helluva helping of the dish white supremacy has been serving black people since they first acquired us from Africa. Please don’t tell me you’ve forgotten the taste, because if you have then that’s truly unfortunate.
You might be living in a Post-Atomic White Supremacy plagued nightmare yourself, and not even know it.
I think the key question many Japanese need to answer for themselves is this: Will you tacitly support white supremacy and blatant systematic racism around the world because you disapprove of some of the violence and looting committed by the protesters (who are otherwise totally supportable)?
That’s it, right? You find something repugnant about looting. I get that. But here’s the thing, and please bear with me:
Black Americans are the only Americans who truly know the real America. The red in the American flag is the blood we shed. Much of what you hear from the American media is propaganda, misinformation and lies. What you get from us is the real. When you hear us what you are hearing is the true story of America. You can hear our story in gospel, in Jazz, in blues, in rock, in Hiphop…but can you distinguish our joy from our cries, and our anguish, which is also embedded in our sound? No? Well, here’s what it says. Are you listening?
There is no American dream. America is a nightmare that has dream-like potential. But it will never even approach that potential until it makes every effort to atone for its crimes against black humanity and repair the damage it has done to every aspect of blackness.
As for looting, the country was built on the free labor of black people. Following emancipation, the status quo was maintained through racist policies either outright or tacitly supported by the government, like Jim Crow laws, peonage, and redlining. So, the US government and all the corporations that profited from these policies ARE responsible for the looting of black people since the country’s inception. The LOOTING of blackness is the spoils that America was built on, and it continues to thrive on the inequality, injustice, and the legacy of those ill-gotten gains.
This is America!
Focusing the attention on black people looting is a mechanism designed purposely to distract you from the real issues I’ve described above. It is now your choice whether you want to allow yourself to continue to be distracted by them or realize what they truly are: a desperate attempt of a racist government to avoid accountability for what happens to a people when they’re subjected to systematic racism for over four centuries.
So where are we now:
A white police officer can suffocate to death an innocent unarmed and shackled man, on video, and not even be charged with a crime (until the police station is burned to the ground). That is an egregious abuse of power. And when the checks and balances sought in the courts continuously result in injustice, then there is no justice except street justice. (And street justice ain’t never been pretty, I’ll grant you that.)
The people hold in contempt the police who harm us with impunity, with the assurance that even the good cops in their midst won’t take a wrecking ball to the blue wall of silence.
The people hold in contempt the government which tacitly encourages this abuse by not condemning it by not putting the full weight of the government behind eradicating it.
The people hold in contempt the businesses that profiteer without a care, take our money but fail to support us when our children, our spouses, our family and friends, ourselves, lay slain in the streets. They sit on the sidelines, wait for the smoke to clear, then resume business as usual.
The people hold in contempt white people, whether they are aware of their privileges or not. We don’t care if you have a black friend, or donated to the NAACP, or bought a BLM button. If you’re not as disgusted, as grief-stricken and infuriated as any human should be, at the crimes against black humanity that take place constantly, then you’re contemptible, too. And if that disgust, that grief, that fury doesn’t inspire to take action in support of your fellow human beings, you might as well embed your knee in our necks, too.
There really is no more fence to sit on, no matter where you may be in the world. You’re either with the oppressed or with the oppressors.
What you’re seeing on your news is that people are ready to literally burn a white supremacist society to the ground. Even many white people, many of whom benefit from that system, are fed up with their privilege if that privilege is maintained by literally keeping the black man under knee, choked out on the streets.
What you’re seeing is America’s karma, its way overdue comeuppance. And if you can’t see this, if you can’t feel the righteousness of this in your heart, Japan, then you better get your heart checked out.
You might be dead already and not even know it.
Baye McNeil is originally from Brooklyn, New York, Baye McNeil is a Japan-based professional writer, author, columnist, and lecturer. His website has a selection of his articles and books worth reading representing the insights and experiences of black people living, working and studying in Japan.