By Timilehin Ogunyemi
ALL LIVES MATTER
It’s incredibly sad what the world has turned into, apparently the value on life has dropped, average life expectancy keeps falling, more natural disasters occurring, accidents happening, attacks in Nigeria, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Paris, Belgium, etc, new diseases surfacing as if the ones we already have are not enough. Amidst all this, the most heartbreaking are humans taking another human’s life. I was thinking we were supposed to unite and fight a common enemy, not be a threat to ourselves.
Now the ones who are meant to protect lives are the ones taking life, or should I say, they are to protect the lives of those that matter.
And who decides whose life matters? Or are we going to wait until African-Americans get threatened by extinction before someone does something about the killings, because I know that is one area the U.S. government is good at, making laws to save endangered species. Anyone who kills an endangered species in the U.S. faces serious charges.
But what happens to the police who kill?
Who do you call when the police sworn to protect you could likely harm you?
What happens when the police murders, just serve as media outrage and nothing more?
Unfortunately, I don’t know the answers to these questions but as an African male and a Nigerian similar in skin tone to those most affected by the brash use of unnecessary force by public servants hired to protect, I worry for my safety. In Nigeria it is not too often one threatens the military or state police, they act with impunity, this can be seen with the many reports from non-governmental organizations like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. President Buhari’s federal government has been called out for a slew of human rights violations that have gone unaddressed.
As controversial as it may be, as an amalgamation of a people now called Nigerians and since gaining our independence in 1961 fortunately or unfortunately, we look to the West specifically to the United States as a benchmark of a governmental and societal system we would like to emulate. In fact our federal government is modeled in the same way as the United States.
But what do we do when the model is crumbling, when we have to face some unfortunate facts that cannot be seen as arbitrary.
Unarmed black people were killed at five times the rate of unarmed whites in America in 2015 (Mapping Police Violence). Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults then white children for the same crime (APA). Black children make up about 60% of the juvenile prison population (APA). If a black adult kills a white adult they are twice as likely to receive the death penalty, compared to if a white adult kills a black adult, equating to blacks being executed at higher rates (APA).
BLACKS AS SUPERHUMAN
Examining the myth of whites seeing blacks as “superhuman” has been studied by social psychologists for decades. It was in 2011 that social psychology researcher Kelly Hoffman began researching white perceptions of black physicality as “superhuman”. In an interview in 2014 with NPR’s Eric Westervelt she had this to say:
“There’s a long history of the super-humanization of blacks…going all the way back to slavery.”
“And then with – physicians, you know, in the late 1800s, early 1900s characterized blacks as having these magical bodies that were able to withstand pain and surgical procedures. And then today in contemporary times, blacks are portrayed as superhuman in a lot of the media.”
To Hoffman it’s easy for whites to feel indifferent or even good about this kind of super-humanization of blacks. You know, because in a racist kind of way, it celebrates strength and resilience, but it also denies humanity as well. To the extent that people super-humanize blacks, they also perceive blacks to feel less pain than whites.
This might add to what was going through the minds of police officers who shot Philando Castile in the Falcon Heights area of Minnesota, after a routine traffic stop for a broken tail light on Wednesday evening, or why police officers shot Alton Sterling from point-blank range in front of a convenience store early Tuesday morning in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Castile was 32 years old and senior cafeteria staff at a Montessori School in the area, he was said to have no criminal record. Sterling was 37 years old and according to an interview with the Triple S Food Mart store owner on NBC news, Sterling had apparently sold CDs outside the store for years with no qualms. Both died of complications from multiple gunshot wounds. This is just the most recent in a mêlée of questionable police actions that have gotten world attention since Trayvon Martin at 17-year-old, was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, in Sanford, Florida in 2012.
Four years later and we are still here.
So here is my conclusion ALL LIVES MATTER. But we are focused on the black ones right now because it is very apparent that the American judicial system doesn’t recognize them and if you can’t see why we are exclaiming #BlackLivesMatter, collectively, whether black, brown, or white, then, unfortunately, you are a part of the problem.