I’m not the most up-to-date on current events. I never really am, and the reason why has more to do with lifestyle choices than my resignation to be ignorant to what’s going on in the world.
After a 10+ hour work day, I usually head straight to the gym for a much-needed unplugging via basketball and a hard workout. I usually finish my workout sometime between 10 and 10:30, at which point I head home and cook myself a very late dinner. By the time I’ve finished eating, it’s well after midnight and I barely have time to take in 5 minutes of Sportscenter before I lay my head to sleep, all to rinse and repeat the next day. The most idle time that I have to catch up on the world at-large is during the weekends, but for some reason, I find myself preferring to binge-watch episodes of House Of Lies rather than tuning in to CNN. Friday and Saturday nights are dedicated to the unenviable pursuit of the perfect woman for right now, Sunday is more hooping and Game Of Thrones, and before I know it, it’s Monday again and I’m still behind on what’s going on in society until I utilize a couple minutes of downtime during the workday to surf the web. Combine that with my casual (at best) connection with social media, and there you have it. I somehow manage to get by, although the insecurities I feel for being an uninformed citizen tend to rush to the forefront whenever I’m around my so-called enlightened friends and coworkers. But these occasions are far and few between, and I have resigned to the fact that when it comes to public affairs and current events, I’ll get there when I get there.
Having said that, one can imagine the enormity of an event when I get wind of it in its initial onset. Epic natural disasters, presidential scandals, and as of late and unfortunately, incidents of police brutality, usually culminating with the incitement of civil unrest, fit the build for current events that are unavoidable, no matter how much you stay away from a TV or computer. In the case of the heated emotional state of Baltimore, I’ve found myself more and more in the minority when it comes to my views on these crazy acts of violence and the subsequent reactions therein.
First off, let me say that this is NOT a popular opinion among blacks as it pertains to this particular issue. Furthermore, this piece does not serve as an exposition on the historical causes of African-American civil unrest. It’s been done time and again, and plenty of work has been put into the analyzing of such by scholars and academics far more qualified than myself. A simple Google search will grant you access to most of them. The root cause(s) of this problem is undebatable at this point. Systematic and institutional systems of control, targeted social distress, and disenfranchisement, among other factors, lay at the feet of why African-Americans find themselves still trying to self-actualize. This goes without saying. Rather, I want this to serve as a lens through which we can use the knowledge of those causes for our betterment.
I won’t beleaguer the point of rehashing the details. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, a young black man in Baltimore named Freddy Gray died while in police custody due to injuries he sustained after being beaten by the officers who detained him. This led to a swift groundswell movement throughout various neighborhoods in Baltimore that resulted in rioting, looting, the destruction of local businesses, and violence between police and the local populace. It has led to increased police presence from neighboring jurisdictions, the presence of the Maryland National Guard, and an instituted curfew as officials attempt to quell the explosive atmosphere in and around Baltimore. It’s a mess to say the least, and as a cynical black man I can’t help but wonder how many people from different communities who may be ignorant to African-American culture and society as a whole may use this as a case study to place a blanket generality upon black people everywhere. They certainly do it with inconsequential, less impactful amplifiers such as rap music and reality television, so why wouldn’t I believe that they would place the same assignments to an even greater degree based on something as hard-hitting as public rioting, vandalism and looting?
As an aside, I will say that I never quite understood the motivation to burn and pillage. The anger that the residents in Baltimore are feeling and that the people in Ferguson felt is no doubt understandable, but to destroy establishments that help to keep your own community afloat, the majority of which are owned by your own people, has never computed for me. While under no circumstances would I condone the act itself, from a sensible standpoint there would be more dots connected for me where the businesses being burned to the ground owned by whites or whoever the perpetrators were perceived to be. Nevertheless, as was the case with the Los Angeles riots in 1992 and any similar incident of note, the urge to destroy and attempt to rebuild seems to always come at the expense of those that we would under normal circumstances call our neighbors and friends. It’s utterly mind boggling and senseless in my estimation. I don’t care what excuse you throw out there in an attempt to explain it. Feeling unheard and voiceless does NOT, in any way, justify the burning down of businesses in your own damn community. You can miss me with that shit.
Nevertheless, this is where we find ourselves. As someone who prides himself on being solution-oriented, I instinctively try to uncover the root of what’s going on, in addition to understanding how obtaining that knowledge can change things for the better. Having said that, Freddy Gray and Michael Brown, and the events that unfolded therein are all the result of our own undoing. These situations are the fault of nobody but us. Civil unrest in the African-American community, in my estimation, is no longer about the societal after-effects of slavery. I’m afraid the statute of limitations on slavery have run out, and the same sentiment will be appropriate if said within the context of Jim Crow in the near future as well. Detractors of this viewpoint will undoubtedly protest that the institution of slavery and its ramifications, which are still visible in certain facets to this day, can never be underscored in terms of understanding how we may be able to uplift ourselves from downtrodden circumstances.
While I wholeheartedly understand this and would never attempt to downplay the effect that slavery has had on African-American society from a socioeconomic standpoint, this reasoning holds less and less weight for me by the day because generationally, the jackasses that are front-and-center putting up a united front in the name of the pursuit of justice aren’t thinking about slavery and the historical contexts around why we’re a bit behind the 8-ball. These aren’t our mothers, fathers, grandfathers and forefathers – people more qualified than this generation to use slavery and other systems of control as a rationale to explain this behavior because they know better – rioting in the streets. No, this isn’t the M.O. of our so-called champions who are dominating airtime on Anderson Cooper 360. They’re merely committing acts of violence and vandalism in a bid to garner attention and a bully pulpit with which to voice their frustrations. It’s not about our history for them, no matter what they tell you. Rather, it’s about them feeling the need to resort to these measures in order to feel empowered. This is my primary problem with our decision to react in the fashion that we did in Baltimore and why I think the ire of our frustration is woefully misguided.
By no means does me penning this piece serve as a justification for acts of brutality, especially those that are committed under the guise of upholding the tenets of a badge or a shield. George Zimmerman, Darren Wilson, and the others of the lot who are responsible for reckless and senseless acts of brutality against all people of color – not just blacks – deserve a special place in damnation for what they’ve done. Whether the foremost leader in adult psychology can prove it or not, I will always believe that a pre-existing rationale that paints black people in a less-than-civilized light will always be the catalyst behind one’s decision to kill an unarmed black man, perceived threat or not. What I wish to see is for us to take hold of our own destiny and truly uplift ourselves the way that we are capable of doing so, so that we can no longer put ourselves in position to be victimized by a system that has indirectly demonstrated that our welfare and civil rights aren’t of the utmost priority. To do that, we have to rid ourselves of the pension to cry victim. We have to relinquish our victim mentality.
If you are unfamiliar with the term, victim mentality refers to a personality trait in which a person regards himself or herself as a victim of the negative actions of others. More importantly, they think and act as if it were the case, even when there is a clear absence of victimization taking place. I believe that understanding our collective pension for maintaining a victim mentality lies at the root of why we are continually victimized by institutional systems of control, and how we can use that understanding to prevent situations like Ferguson and Baltimore from happening.
Victim mentality is a character flaw that is primarily learned through environmental conditioning and upbringing, and tends to plant seeds for habitual complacency and ill-placed feelings of entitlement. Black communities across America are producing generations of younger people who have listened to their elders pontificate over the ramifications of long-ceased establishments such as Jim Crow and slavery as a way to explain why we remain in the rather desperate socioeconomic state that we find ourselves in today. Years upon years of exposure to this rhetoric has reverberated to the youth, my generation included, resulting in the harboring of the ideology that we are doomed to be perpetual victims of the powers-that-be. Because we believe to be doomed beyond our own ability to change our fate, we unfortunately tend to resign to the fact that a good education and an upholding of basic decency is not the way to succeed in today’s America. Couple this with the disintegration of the black nuclear family and the resulting influence of sensationalist content, and we find ourselves always behind the 8-ball, crying victim whenever an injustice occurs and demanding changes to the system instead of realizing that only we can affect change by changing ourselves.
The American justice system is what it is. In the way that it operates, it has an uncanny ability to seek out and penalize those who are most susceptible to not abiding by its rules. It doesn’t look to punish breakers of the law. It looks to punish those who fit the profile of a breaker of the law. Black and brown people are disproportionately affected by this infrastructure because we exist at the lowest end of the socioeconomic ladder. Therefore, we are disproportionately thrown in jail. We are disproportionately subjected to poverty. We are disproportionately beaten by the police; and at the tail end of these incidents, we scream injustice and demand justice – and we typically make enough noise and get the country’s attention. In the most recent cases, swift action has been taken and the offenders have been reprimanded and subjected to judgement in a court of law. But alas, it’s only a matter of time before the next injustice occurs, only for us to cry victim once again and start the process of protest and the quest for change through an exercising of our civil liberties. The key is that we must no longer fret at being preyed upon due to our status as occupiers of low socioeconomic standing, but to understand why we occupy that space so that we can get out of it.
We have to stop thinking of ourselves as victims. Victim mentality is a plague within the collective psyche of the African-American people and nothing will change until we apply an adequate antidote. What is the antidote? It sounds altruistic, but we must fundamentally stop thinking of ourselves as victims of the system and start thinking of ourselves as champions of our perseverance. We have certainly made strides in this department (entertainers and athletes notwithstanding), but as a whole, too many of us remain poor, uneducated, and in some cases destitute for true, widespread change to take place. Change is not occurring at the rate that is should in 2015. We remain in poor neighborhoods, raise kids in broken homes out of wedlock, opt for the quick and easy moneymaking route via the seedy underbellies of society, and generally act a fool, all the while reconciling these realities with the notion that we have no choice and no voice because we are still dealing with the effects of slavery/segregation and are victims of the system (Furthermore, we consent to this reconciliation by feeling entitled to handouts and welfare, which only exacerbates our tendencies for complacence, complaining, and quite frankly, laziness.).
This might very well be true, and I’m inclined to agree, but in the end, it will never change. Slavery happened. Jim Crow happened. Overt racism was a part of American society, and as bitter as want to be about it, the fact that it happened is not going to change. No one is going to invent a time machine so that we can go back and eradicate it from the space-time continuum. It’s a stain that can’t be washed away. Therefore, we can’t eternally use it as a built-in excuse for our behavior. We’re better than that. In the end, we fulfill our own prophecy by choosing to subvert the system because we feel we have no choice, thus resulting in our downfall because subversion can only get you so far until your run is ended.
I’m not advocating ultimate compliance. I too believe that the systems of America, be they justice, economic, or education, are deeply flawed and exploitative of those with less access to resources and finances. What I am advocating is an overhaul in our mindset. We have to break out of the mental prison that we’ve put ourselves in by always crying victim. We need to get OUT OF THE WAY of the American Justice System. Out of the way of the nasty, corrupt cops. If we are no longer physically in these poor neighborhoods, we are no longer subject to the racist, Wild Wild West mentality of some of these officials who clearly do not value the life of a black man or woman the same way that they value the life of someone with a similar pigmentation to their own. At the very least, we are significantly less likely to be at the mercy of said “justice.” Once we have truly galvanized ourselves behind this effort, we will be a force to be reckoned with – a unified front so strong, people in positions of power will have no choice but to acquiesce to our demands for real change.
It’s a matter of self-worth. We are worth more than relegating ourselves to constant victimization. We are worth more than the defeatist mentality that education isn’t a way out of abject poverty. And we are certainly worth far, far more than a lost life at the hands of a cavalier police officer who felt “threatened” by an unarmed black or brown citizen. We are not victims anymore. We are responsible for our own actions. The sooner we take hold of this mantle, the sooner we will no longer feel the need to riot and loot our own communities in a desperate bid for acknowledgement. That is, unless we’re cool with the status quo and all we really want is not true change, but simply the right to demand it.
Granted, this is a touchy subject, especially given the heightened times we find ourselves in currently. With that said, let’s get the debate started on some solutions as opposed to constantly lamenting on the problem. What road should we be walking down if we are to put an end to police violence? Is it strictly about putting an end to police corruption or should we hold ourselves accountable for our contribution to the dynamic, as I do? Voice yourselves in the comments section and continue taking the Conscious Approach.
Javis Ogden is a Miami native turned current Tallahassee transplant and the founder and chief contributor to Conscious Approach. He has worked as a creative content specialist since completing his graduate degree in Integrated Marketing at Florida State University, and he aspires to be a cultural critic, screenplay writer, ½ of the ESPN First Take debate panel, author, or whatever his short attention span will allow him to be inspired by at any given moment. When he isn’t pursuing freedom, you may be able to find him on an indoor basketball court. He is always in search of his muse. You can help him find it by following him on Twitter @JavisOgden, Instagram @JVWins, Facebook /JavisOgden, and snapchat JavisOgden.