I recently came across an article on Huffpost online that incensed me. It was entitled 10 Rules to Help Black Boys Survive and it reeked of the perceptions of an era long rendered ignorant of the world we now live in and the struggle that we are facing. The 10 rules were as follows:
1. Be polite and respectful when stopped by the police. Remember your goal is to get home safely. Your goal is to get home safely.
2. If you feel your rights have been violated, you and your parents have the right to file a formal with the local police jurisdiction.
3. Do not, under any circumstances, get into an argument with the police.
4. Always remember that anything you say or do can be used against you in court.
5. Keep your hands in plain sight. Make sure the police can see your hands at all times.
6. Avoid physical contact with police officers. Do not make any sudden movements and keep your hands out of your pockets at all times.
7. Do not, do not, do not, do not, do not, do not run – even if you are afraid.
8. Even if you believe you are innocent, do not resist arrest.
9. If you are arrested, do not make any statements about the incident until you are able to meet with a lawyer or public defender.
10. Stay calm and remain in control. Watch your words. Watch your body language. Watch your emotions.
Remember, your goal is to get home safely.
The first major problem with these rules is that to offer a published listing of”rules” for Black boys survival implies that we do not know how to survive and are in fact responsible for our deaths at the hands of the police. It says that the author believes, just as the police do, that we are stupid, hostile creatures that realize how dangerous we are and have to be given instruction on how to be in order to stop scaring America so much that they want us dead. That’s what reading the article felt like to me, a Black male.
The entire list reads as if it were plucked from the Jim Crow survival guide. This is not the Jim Crow era. Furthermore, all the things mentioned are all common knowledge to Black boys. I don’t think there is a Black boy in America born in the last 3 decades that hasn’t had some elder tell them these things. Many of these “rules” were things my mother told me when I first began to go outside of the house on my own as teenager. Many of these “rules” have rung out in my head the many times I have been stopped by a police officer. So the fact that they are presented as wisdom and some solution to dying at the hands of the police, trivializes the entire nature of what of what truly happens in these encounters.
What happens in these encounters is that an individual is immediately stripped of their civil rights and their liberty as a citizen. To ask them to alter their words, emotions and body language so as to not alarm the police as if they are rabid animals on the hunt is disgusting. What happens in these encounters is that an innocent person is immediately reduced to being a criminal. What happens in these encounters is an injustice that wounds so deeply that even getting home safely doesn’t make the individual feel anymore safe in a world where who they are and how they act are dictated by predators with a badge.
That is what we are now talking about. Which, I guess, is the other problem with the article. It assumes that the goal is to get home safely. That’s not our goal anymore. Our goal is to walk in the full exercise of our American citizenship or die trying. That’s our struggle.
Struggle and Survival
Edelman’s “rules for survival” are heartfelt and ring out as the words that so many Black mother have spoken to their children, especially their sons, behind the walls of their homes. We understand where they are coming from because maternal instinct is for the survival of her children. That’s her first priority as a mother. But none of these rules are a guarantee for survival when Black boys are engaged by the police. So many of the young lives that have been taken performed many if not all of these rules and still found their lives taken from them. And even those that do make it home safely are scarred. I can remember (and sometimes still do) having panic attacks at the sight of flashing blue lights behind my car, never knowing if that stop will cost me my life. And certainly we can adjust and live under the radar, but why should we have to? And what kind of life is that? Who wants to live in daily fear that if they’re not prideless, docile, meek, servile they could be murdered? That is much of the reason that we see such aggressive and destructive responses from the youth of this country. We have been told all their lives to swallow our feelings of degradation and humiliation and what we’re left with on the surface is rage. Because no person should live subservient to another.
The point is that we, in the Black community, especially those with a platform for public discourse must be very careful what we say. I get that everyone has an opinion and we definitely have the freedom of speech but if we are to crusaders of justice, agents of change, revolutionaries then we have to learn to step out of our feelings and look at the bigger picture. There is something more important than one person saying every thought that comes to their mind. There’s something ore important than showing how perceptive and unbiased we are because we can point out the planks in our brother’s eyes. There is too much at stake to risk changing the course of battle just to make one counterproductive expression.
Now is not the time to trivialize the struggle with encouragement towards acquiescence. Now is not the time to talk about one Black boys journey safely home. Now is the time to talk about the bigger picture of why this is happening at all and how is it going to stop because our Black boys shouldn’t have to be given a list of rules to survive meeting another person who is no better or more important and shouldn’t be more privileged than they are. This is about change. This is about revolution. Both are greater than survival.
I’d rather die on my feet, than live on my knees.
I’m not sayin; I’m just sayin,
An Angry Black Man