Michael W. Twitty: #Ferguson My Thoughts on an American Flashpoint
“…It was the corroboration of their worth and their power that they wanted, and not the corpse, still less the staining blood.” James Baldwin, “To Be Baptized,” from No Name in the Street, 1972
I have been asked by many people to take a close look at the Michael Brown shooting case in Ferguson, Missouri and offer my opinion. I felt it best to take a step back and really absorb all the circulating currents of opinion and matters of fact before I made any personal pronouncements. This is my best attempt to answer that call, hopefully soberly, responsibly and with as much restraint as I can muster in the face of this deeply American tragedy. This is inherently a blog about food and food culture, but anyone who regularly reads this blog understands that it also is a blog about social and cultural justice. It is clear to anyone who knows the African American experience and tradition—to speak on it demands the celebration of the best of our cultural and historical legacy, scholarly excellence, and absolute commitment to social and cultural responsibility. This is a raw piece—it’s not meant to be perfect—far from it. It’s just how I feel. My condolences to the Brown family. There is profanity in this blog post.
I received a nasty tweet last night; a tweet with a food theme in fact. Michael Brown’s bleeding corpse with pictures of food transposed around it—fried chicken, bananas, watermelon, with Kool-Aid to wash it down. My chest hurt and then I stared into space and before I knew it, I vomited. It was not nausea—it was anger mixed with revulsion and memories from lives only my cells know.
This is evil. This is evidence that some people have no heart. We have to be better, we have to have light. We have to be the love G-d expects of us.
I want you to understand something—I’ve been on multiple plantations and urban sites dealing with slavery. I’ve felt the Ancestors in the fields. I’ve seen the auction block and the whipping post and the hanging tree. I embrace it, I own it, and I live it through food so I can say “Never Again,” with confidence. I do the work that I do to educate people about the genesis of America’s original sin—I consider myself steeled. This however, was different—this was personal; that body could have been me.
Swirling around us are accusations, whispers and rumors about a “gentle giant,” named Michael Brown. Michael Brown cannot be defined by the politics of respectability or the politics of backlash. He cannot be dismissed with smirks and allegations he was just a “thug.” Michel Brown is dead. He was on his knees, with his hands up in a gesture of surrender and he was shot six times and then left in the street, his blood merging with asphalt, his life draining out with his future, the dreams of his parents and the hope of his ancestors. That’s what surrounded him—not racialized food icons.
I cannot convey to you how debasing it is to be expected, by convention of racialized submissive behavior to offer conciliatory pardons and excuses for Michael Brown’s less savory choices and behavior (or those of disaffected youth looting in his community for that matter). What is clear is that he will not be tried by me or anyone else for alleged misdeeds prior to his death. What is further clear is that he was not worthy of death for the activities behind said allegations nor for walking in the street. The same country where some white folk are celebrating their “right,” to bear firearms in Targets and Starbucks and pointing rifles at Federal agents (a la Cliven Bundy) without reproach, dares lecture Black America about the legalized lynchings of its sons for petty theft or perceived slights against police and governmental authority. The same country where people are thrilled by movies about white collar crime on Wall Street and the theft of millions on the same, has robbed people of their savings is the same country where “stop and frisk” jukes the stats uptown while the real crooks downtown go wild and unrestrained after their rape of the American dream.
But I digress. Michael Brown is not alone—Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, so many others—all of these humans-as Rep. Steven King of Iowa unfortunately put it—“of a single continental origin,” were my brothers. In the spirit of the Torah, “my brother’s blood cries out from the earth.” I’m here to tell you what their blood is saying to me…