Z e t e o
Reading, Looking, Listening, . . . Questioning

Ferguson, Through the Lens of History

Categories: Drew Whitcup, ZiR

imagesWeeks ago, I read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ missive on the need for reparations for the African-American community. In that piece, Coates tackled the seamless history of oppression that black Americans have faced since slavery was abolished. On Monday, Coates wrote another piece for The Atlantic; this one is narrower in scope, but no less scathing in its indictment of our nation’s racist history and its effect on the present circumstances of black people.

Regarding the recent deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown at the hands of police, Coates writes:

Among the many relevant facts for any African-American negotiating their relationship with the police, the following stands out: The police departments of America are endowed by the state with dominion over your body. This summer in Ferguson and Staten Island we have seen that dominion employed to the maximum ends—destruction of the body. This is neither new nor extraordinary. It does not matter if the destruction of your body was an overreaction... [t]he destroyers of your body will rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions. 

These incidents, Coates tells us, are couched in a long and bloody history of American race relations. To consider the deaths of these black men in a vacuum would be to ignore the relevance of that history:

Some 600,000 Americans—2.5 percent of the American population—died in the Civil War. What came before this was a long bloody war—enslavement—against black families, black communities and black bodies. What came after was a terrorist regime which ruled an entire swath of this country by fire and rope. That regime was not overthrown until an era well within the living memory of many Americans…The police are but the tip of the sword wielded by American society itself. Something bigger than Stand Your Ground, the drug war, mass incarceration or any other policy is haunting us. And as long we cower from it, the events of this week are as certain as math. The question is not ‘if,’ but ‘when.’

Often, deaths like Michael Brown’s are referred to as “senseless.” In tackling this tragedy from a historical perspective, Coates is telling his readers how to make sense of it, in the hope that insight breeds progress.

–Drew Whitcup, Zeteo Contributing Writer

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