As I start to type this blog, just a twenty minute drive North from where I sit is the most dangerous place to be black in America. Omaha Nebraska has a black homicide rate of 34.4 per 100,000 people, double the national average of black victimization according to ‘The Violence Policy Center’ (VPC), a research based advocacy group that promotes gun control out of Washington DC. This year alone more than twenty homicides have already been reported, the majority concentrated on the Northern and Northeastern parts of the city. To add insult to injury according to a recent report from Pew Research Center, the wealth gap between blacks and whites is the widest it has ever been since 1989 and sadly Nebraska again sits at the bottom joining Minnesota and Rhode Island as the states with the widest racial financial gaps. I, like many other people of all races and backgrounds was outraged by the recent deaths of young black men at the hands of law enforcement, the death of Mike Brown and Tamir Rice broke my heart to the core because my son will grow up to look like these young men. Everyday I shouted at the rooftops how much #BlackLivesMatter, people of all backgrounds staged protests right here in Omaha as was happening all over the country, everybody was sick and tired of black lives not mattering. Then on January 23rd in one day alone three black people were shot and killed by other black people at a party in North Omaha in what was suspected to be gang violence, there was no outrage from the community at large, a prayer walk was organized which ended with shoving and pushing among the few that attended. This happens in every predominantly black inner city neighborhood in America. Black people die at the hands of other black people, and it has become so normal that there is no outrage, no protests, no marches. I hope this synopsis gives you an idea of why I am personally waiting for #BlackLivesToMatter to black people.
Anytime I bring up statistics such as this, black people are up in arms, ‘but it is because of #WhitePrivilege they protest, even as an immigrant to this country I am well aware of the effects of systemic discrimination against people of color in this country, I am well aware of how the school to prison pipeline works, I am informed on how much the justice system fails people of color and the poor, but even with all of that knowledge I also know this. I know that black people have a right in this country to move and live in any neighborhood they choose, I know that black people can go to college if they choose, I know black people can get any job they want as long as they have the qualifications for the job. How do I know this? I know because every single African immigrant I know, myself included, has come to this country and put themselves through school and almost always lives in a good neighborhood and almost always has a good paying job. I am aware that #AfricanPrivilege exists, I know that as an African I do carry some privilege over African Americans, I know that my accent gives me away as a foreigner therefore making me less suspicious in my everyday interactions with the world at large, but even knowing all of that there’s no way Africans who come here with nothing would be so successful in their own right if #WhitePrivilege was so suffocating for the progress of black people in this country. Africans are not off the hook by any means, I will get to African issues in African countries before the end of this blog. I am simply saying the success of Africans in America shows that race is not necessarily a prerequisite for failure in this country and yet so many of our African American communities are doing just that, failing. The CDC has just released its latest report on HIV deaths and African Americans are dying from HIV at a higher rate than Whites and Latinos combined, and can we blame white people for this? African Americans have the highest infant mortality rates in this country, is this because of white people?
Black lives have to start mattering to black people, African Americans cannot continue to score the lowest on national average test scores and then expect the numbers of incarcerated people of color to go down, research shows that the kids who are failing as early as 4th grade are the same kids who will likely be imprisoned at some point in their lifetime. So even if we changed the entire justice system and made it as fair as possible, if boys of color are still scoring the lowest then men of color will likely continue to be the majority of those incarcerated. It is time for black people to literally change the way they think and the way they live. Why are African Americans still concentrating on physical ability? Singing, dancing, and playing sports are all fine, but where are the academic black people in America? Not every black boy who dreams of playing in the NBA will make it, the NBA like any other sport only has a few allotted spots. So can someone explain to me why the only videos of black kids you ever see go viral are those in which they’re dancing or doing something that does not require intellect? When will people of color start raising their kids to want to be doctors, lawyers, neurosurgeons, engineers, etc? When will black lives really start mattering to black people? When will people of color stop investing in clothing and shoes for their children and start investing in books? How about getting little man a little book shelf before he turns one instead of his first pair of Jordans? I can guarantee that a bookshelf in which a parent takes the time to read a bedtime story to their child will go so much further than a pair of Jordans a kid will outgrow in a few months. I only know this because I have two kids myself who are both advanced in mathematics and reading for their grades but neither has ever owned a pair of Jordans or an X-Box or a Playstation but have always had books since before birth, and yes I will argue that books at such an early age has everything to do with their academic progress now. Are you aware that the number of books in a child’s home is directly correlated to how well a child does in school? So without an exposure to books we may be failing our kids of color even before they get to kindergarten and is this necessary, when we have free libraries in America? If at this point what I am saying angers you, I invite you to think of how many people of color you know read bedtime stories to their kids, or take them to the library. How many did you come up with?
But it is not just about African Americans, it is really black people the world over. I come from Zimbabwe, Africa, a predominantly black continent. As I watched the movie ‘The Imitation Game’ just yesterday it dawned on me that while Alan Turing was able to design a decoding machine to crack the Nazi code way back in the early 1940’s, millions of Africans in 2015 are still using the most basic of man-made tools like fire for cooking and using the outdoors as lavatories, using leaves to wipe off. Millions of Africans still live in very basic of human made structures like huts plastered with cow dung and roofs made of straw. Yes, I am aware of colonialism and slavery and the entire history of those two major setbacks for black people, but it still makes little sense to me that with access to technology and information in the modern world Africa is still that far behind, many living in worse conditions than 17th century westerners. Is it really still white people’s fault? Africa as a continent has 15 of the 20 worst countries in the world as far as women’s rights go due to child marriages and very little rights for the girl child, the highest rates of HIV infection in the world are found in Sub-Saharan Africa with the rest of the continent not doing much better, I could write 5 pages of such statistics but I will stop here. Go to any country in the world, any continent and you will find that black people have the worst statistics and why is that? What really is holding us back from catching up? Which brings me to God, black people everywhere have to have someone or something else to blame, if not white people, then God, and if not God, then witchcraft, and if not witchcraft, then something else. I don’t know when it happened or why but we have become a people that have to pass the blame to someone else and when we are faced with reality our first instinct is to become defensive, we will bring up how everything happens in other communities of other races and so forth, but I don’t think that we are actually ever paying attention to the data and statistics because if we were, we would realize that we have to do something to hold ourselves accountable for what is happening to us regardless of how we got here and why. I want black lives to start mattering to black people because as a black lesbian woman living in this world my life is more endangered amongst people who look like me, whether it be in the homophobic, misogynistic patriarchal confines of African culture where I could have never become a queer author and an activist or right here in Omaha Nebraska, my current backyard, where black people die at the hands of other black people so often! I want #BlackLivesToMatter to black people. I will continue to speak and point out our failures and keep talking about the numbers we keep ignoring while I wait for black lives to really matter to us!