Dear RZA: Racism doesn't pass over black men dressed in tuxedos
According to the Washington Post, 986 people were shot to death by the police in 2015.
Although black men only comprise 6 percent of the United States population, black men accounted for 40 percent of all people murdered by police while unarmed.
Simply put, the numbers are alarming.
While some folks lean towards activism and protesting as a solution, there are also a considerable number of people who believe that African-Americans can control their own destiny by acting “more proper” and becoming “less threatening.”
The concept of outperforming and outbehaving racism, more commonly referred to as respectability politics, is an idea that is as old as Booker T. Washington’s “Atlanta Compromise” in 1895 and as memorable as Bill Cosby’s “Pound Cake” speech from 2004.
And then there’s RZA.
Bloomberg Politics asked the Wu-Tang producer/rapper about the Black Lives Matter movement and police brutality. His comments were disappointing as hell.
RZA trotted out the ‘All Lives Matter’ line, which continues to make black activists everywhere scratch their collective heads.
But then RZA gave us this:
When you think about some of the brothers who are being brutalized by the police, you also got to have them take a look, and us take a look, in the mirror, at the image we portray. If I’m a cop and every time I see a young Black youth, whether I watch them on TV, movies, or just see them hanging out, and they’re not looking properly dressed, properly refined, you know, carrying himself, conducting himself proper hours of the day—things that a man does, you’re going to have a certain fear and stereotype of them.
Although I’ve been a fan of the RZA’s music since I first heard Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers back in 1993, it pains me to say that he doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about on this issue.
I want to stress this point and make sure that it’s 100 percent clear: At no point, in the entire history of America, have black people ever received relief from being killed, assaulted and brutalized based on how properly we dressed or behaved.
I’m not sure who came up with the idea that dressing in suits and properly conjugating our verbs would dismantle the dehumanizing effects of institutional racism. Whoever said that must have been viewing America through an ahistorical lens.
When RZA talks about the “old days,” I wonder which era he’s actually talking about.
As a man born in 1969 in Brownsville, Brooklyn, when exactly was the golden age of positive police interactions with communities of color? It was 1965, only four years before he was born, that Bloody Sunday occurred on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma where black men and women literally had their skulls cracked open by police batons simply for marching.
Throughout the 70s and the 80s, especially in New York, crime and police corruption simultaneously reached all-time highs, leading to the formation of the Knapp Commission and the Mollen Commission to catch bad cops and repair community relationships with law enforcement. The deaths of Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and so many others have kept that trust from ever being repaired. This is a point which I’m sad to see RZA overlook.
The fact that he so easily victim-blamed black folks is disturbing. When we see brothers being brutalized by the police, no one has to take a look at anything other than the fact that the police are using excessive force to handle a situation they are trained to deal with less violently.
When we see brutality, we should see the unrelenting inhumanity of the aggressors — not ask ourselves what brand of tuxedo would’ve prevented the victim from incurring harm.
Black folks in America have been hung from trees and lynched in three piece suits. Black girls in America have been blown to pieces while adorned in their Sunday best. Black women in America have been raped by police officers while still in their work uniforms.
And black teens have been beaten bloody by the police, no matter how well they were dressed.
This is what "pull your pants up and talk with some sense and they won't mess with you" looks like… pic.twitter.com/MYNwtNwmEn
— J. Lee (@freshleejr) July 23, 2015