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This is who we are, a Chronicle of Racism in America, a podcast by Ben and Jerry's and produced by Vox Creator. I'm Carveout Wallace. To be black in America is to carry a very specific fear as police brutality stalks our communities, as the police stalk us, the lingering question is always when will that viral video, that hashtag show up at my door?
The day in which.
We all learned about George Floyds murder was a day in which, you know, I already had somebody paying, that's Myskina there, the director of the Black Vision's collective, a Minneapolis based queer and trans centering organization working towards black liberation.
I woke up to like a flurry of messages from comrades and people locally and across the country who are like, what do you need? Are you OK? We're here for you.
And then to. Hear that or read that and to see, you know, a video going viral all over social media from my neighborhood, from the corner store where I often get candy.
I yeah, it was it was a very surreal moment of like I've been here before. This is not the first time our city has murdered a black person in the street.
But it was the first time in a century that this had happened during a global pandemic. People had been separated from each other for months.
But in times of collective grief, our instinct is to come together. How do you maintain social distancing at a time when you're aching for connection?
That first day there is like a rally called at the memorial site where he was murdered and so ended up there and was trying to socially distance, you know, like went around the block so we could hear.
But just trying to trying a social distance and then just seeing that that wasn't a real thing.
I remember the moment in which, like, I saw like hundreds, thousands of people just like back to front, shoulder to shoulder, marching down the street like we weren't in a pandemic. And it just like really clearly, like, landed on my body what people were willing to risk in this moment.
Racism and coronavirus have been called the twin pandemics, but the urgency of that protest echoes a long history in America.
Black people's bodies have always been on the line from the auction block to the streets. And then, as now, the country's violent attempts to impose law and order were meted out by the long arm of the law.
In this episode, we'll look at the resistance of state violence, the way policing of black bodies was written into the Constitution and the ways throughout history that black folks have resisted.
A lot of my students come to me and they have these ideas about the long freedom struggle or the civil rights movement that is very much like this sort of Kumbaya moment where people came together, they locked arm in arm.
They were there was so much solidarity. King was so beloved.
You know, we think that he's like, I don't know, like Jesus, his little brother or something like the way that he's sort of like honored and remembered.
And none of that could be further from the truth.
Dr. Kelly Carter Jackson is an assistant professor of history at Wellesley College. Her book, Force and Freedom, posits that black resistance protest is the only way to liberation in America.
You know, when we think of protests now, we typically think that protest looks like people standing in the streets with some placards and some sayings on it that are Instagram able. But you actually in your work, you cite slave enslaved people running away as one of the earliest forms of protest. Why do you frame it that way? Say more. Say more about that.
So, yeah. So I think that, again, when it comes to the abolitionist movement, we have these very romantic stories that we tell ourselves about the Underground Railroad and people sort of running away as though running away was very easy to do or as though running away did not require violence or force, that when people stole themselves away because black people were considered property, it was a dangerous endeavor and that people arm themselves and they did everything that they could to flee.
And when we think about Harriet Tubman, you know, oftentimes we don't talk about the fact that she strapped you know, she's armed for every single trip.
You know, she has a pistol or some sort of firearm or dark knife on her to protect herself, to protect the people that she's bringing out of slavery. And so this was a very violent endeavor.
It is both flight and fight. I think both are required that oftentimes fleeing, required fighting.
And so when we think of the the ultimate protest of of how do we undermine the institution of slavery? Well, I steal your property. I steal your ability to declare me as your property and I run away from you.
You know, it's it does violence to the system of slavery itself. But also it's a violent act in that a lot of slave catchers lost their lives, you know, catching slaves.
That was the deadliest catch is is trying to retrieve slaves because they knew what they were going back to. And so it was literally give me liberty or give me death.
The tension between black people's desire for liberty and the country's desire for our subjugation goes back a long way.
It's built into the Constitution and we'll get to that in a second. But as deputy legal director of the ACLU, Jeffrey Robinson reminded me, it's also built into something you might have sung as a child with your hand over your heart over and over again. I remember being a very young kid and my cousin went to a school called Francis Scott Key Elementary and like being eight, I was like, who's who is this Francis Scott Key?
And then I was told the story that he was this like wonderful person who fought for freedom. And then one beautiful day he looked out and he saw that the bombs bursting in air and he was so inspired. What's a beautiful poem? And that's what our story is about.
And not knowing any better, I internalized that.
So imagine my surprise when I learned that there were more verses to this thing than just like I saw some beautiful stuff outside and it made me emotional about freedom.
So what when was that poem written and what do we leave out of that poem when we talk about it today?
Well, I can just say that I had much the same reaction to what I was taught as a youngster about, you know, it says it in the first verse, bombs bursting in the air and the flag still being there.
And so. You are so right that the stories that we tell about ourselves define who we are as a nation.
Francis Scott Key wrote the national anthem after sitting in Baltimore Harbor and watching essentially a 25 hour bombardment of Fort McHenry by the British. And this is during the War of 1812. And after 25 hours of bombardment and that flag still waving, he was overcome with patriotism. And he wrote the poem that became our national anthem. People know the first verse, but they don't know about the second, third and fourth verses, and the third verse in particular tells a very different story, because what I found out in doing my research is that three weeks, about three weeks before Francis Scott Key was in Baltimore Harbor, he was in Washington, D.C. and he was watching a group of of British troops, supplemented by a group called the Colonial Marines, drive Americans back into Washington, D.C. and set the White House on fire.
Now, who were the colonial Marines? I had no idea until I did this research. They were escaped enslaved black men who fought with the British during the War of 1812. And I thought to myself, why would they have fought with the British? And of course, the answer was very simple, because the British said if we win, you get your freedom and they were vicious. When you're fighting a war in a foreign country, if you have troops that know the trails and know the rivers and nowhere, you can cross and know how you can approach a town and not being seen.
So the colonial Marines were incredibly valuable. And the third verse of the national anthem literally ends by saying no refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave and The Star-Spangled Banner in triumph don't wave or the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Francis Scott Key was saying, If you fight against America for your freedom, we will hunt you down because no refuge is going to save you and we will put you in the dirt because we will bury you for fighting against us. That is our national anthem. And the fact that we don't sing the third verse doesn't mean that it's not their. The police, which are just the enforcement arm of white supremacy, Ray, and it really are rooted in both slave catching and union busting, and it's important for us to understand both of those things because that goes to show how the police are here to protect property and profit over people.
That's making sure there is privilege in being the enforcement arm of white supremacy. Right.
There is privilege in being the ones to enforce law and order on the behalf of rich corporations.
Right. There is there is benefit to exploitation.
And so there aren't a neutral party. And I think that's a part of what our work has been trying to show really clearly.
I think there is definitely the culture being impacted by this Minnesota nice, right, that are Midwest nice even because I know it's not just in Minnesota, but this idea. I feel like the police and white folks here have really internalized that they are the progressive whites, you know, and there isn't really this acknowledgement or this owning of how folks participate in and perpetuate violence against black folks. The police department here in Minneapolis is a poster child for reform. And still that reform, has it made it possible for them to stop killing us in the streets?
There are so many names I wish I didn't know. Brianna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Falardeau Castillo, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, I wish I'd never heard of them because they continued to live quietly.
Remarkable lives that never came to international attention, that never made the evening news. Sometimes I dream of black anonymity, I dream that we don't become hashtags, that we don't become chants at marches, that no one has to say our name but those who love us as we move through our communities, carefree and whole and alive. And I'm not the first person to wish for this and I won't be the last. But how can you reform an institution that is working exactly the way it was designed to work?
When you go deeper into the history, you find out that slave patrols existed in the South, the one of the best examples is in South Carolina, and they existed because when an enslaved person would escape, they had to be hunted down and brought back.
And so when the colonial America became the constitutional America, we had a choice to make. Are we going to continue to enslave people? And if we are, how are we going to enforce that? And in the Constitution article for what you see is every enslaved person who escapes must be returned. And what that means is federal law enforcement is involved. So the Constitution of the United States, literally the document that formed our country, gave law enforcement the obligation to suppress control and eliminate any attempts by black people to be free.
That is the legacy of how policing black bodies in America started and the slave patrols in the South morphed into local police departments in the South, and when you just think about it, bringing it up to the present, people talk about, oh, my God, there were those horrible times where there were black codes and Jim Crow laws. Who do you think enforced those laws? It was the police who enforced those laws. The concept of the badge and the gun has always had a different meaning in black America than it has in white America.
And while it's easy to see that as a uniquely Southern origin story, that would be a historical too, says Dr. Carter.
Jackson even think about the history of the police in the north. The police in the north are direct response to black migration and black southerners moving out of the south into cities like Chicago and Detroit and Boston and New York. And all these white northerners are like, what are we going to do with all these black people? Send in the cops. We've got to protect our homes. We have to protect our our our job opportunities. We have to protect our capital from black people.
So all of that is related.
And I think we're really sort of being naive if we don't think that the police are there to enforce those ideals in 20, 20. And nowhere is this historical use of police to deny black freedom so poetically echoed that in one charge. One of the things I always trip up on is this notion of resisting arrest, the fact that that in and of itself is a crime, and that strikes me as part of a very long legacy of finding ways to criminalize black folks for being human beings.
Because if someone rose up on me and tries to restrain me, my urge is going to be to fight, especially if it's this force that I know probably doesn't have my personal safety or best interests at heart.
And let's be clear, it's not fight. It's someone grabs your arm and you jerk your arm away saying, hey, what are you doing? Right. You've just resisted arrest. You've just assaulted a police officer. Right.
And in that very simple act, I've now committed a crime crime. Even if I didn't have even if I hadn't committed a crime before. Now I've committed a crime because someone grabbed my arm and I jerked it away instinctively after I didn't commit a crime. And now I'm just like suddenly thrown into this thing.
I can't I can't tell you how many times as a criminal defense lawyer, I represented people who were charged with obstructing a police officer and resisting arrest. As soon as you see those two charges, the first thing that came into my head is attitude ticket. Somebody didn't say yes, sir, no, sir. And somebody said, don't put your hands on me. And this is what happened. Wasn't there a law also on the books that said if a slave encountered some kind of harm or death as a result of resisting?
Tell us a little bit about this Virginia law.
From sixteen sixty nine, Virginia passed a law that said if an enslaved person is killed while resisting a master, the master has not committed a felony.
Now, if you step back for a minute, you would say, well, there aren't any enslaved people anymore and there aren't any masters. And so that law is a vestige of a time long gone in America. But when you think about what racism and white supremacy has meant in America, that law isn't on the book in any state in America. But I'll tell you this, go back 10 years and get the name of every black person in America, every unarmed black person in America that was killed by police and then compared that number to the number of police officers who were prosecuted for that killing.
And then compare that number to the number of police officers who were convicted of anything.
The law may not be on the books, but the concept is alive and well.
The bitter irony is that as this country has fought so hard against us, we have fought equally hard for the soul of the country. Our struggle for our own freedom and determination is also a struggle for this country to live up to its actual ideals. It strikes me, too, that the fact that it's necessary for us to put our bodies in the line in order to protect democracy as a whole, which in a large sense is what, you know, I think of like the 16 19 project.
Kind of the main thesis of that of that essay is the idea that like black people and our struggle and death has been not only to protect our communities and ourselves, but also to protect the actual or create or engender the democracy that is spoken of. But to that end, we have always been on the line in America, we've always been the front, the first people, I think of Crispus Attucks being the first person killed, you know.
Yeah. You know, like someone is a casualty of the American Revolution.
She said that's just like the for the black person being the first person killed in a horror movie. Yeah, but.
Yeah, but yeah. How does that shape the way this country views black resistance? There's no form of resistance.
There's no form of protest that white supremacy is going to approve of or accept. So we've run the gamut. We have done the peaceful protest, we've done the taking of the knee and, you know, like the the raising of the black power fist, but also much more aggressive stances as well and everything in between.
And none of it is going to be sanctioned by white supremacy.
Like, I feel like if you are ever at a demonstration and white supremacists, like, you know what, I'm OK with that, then you're not really doing it.
You are not pushing the dial, you know what I mean? So we have. But I think that's what's so beautiful about our history, is that we have engaged in every single form of resistance possible to prove and assert our humanity and our entitlement to our beings.
And that's so that's so important to me. I just feel like I want I want my students and my children and those around me to know that no one has ever taken this brutality lying down.
Now we find ourselves at a singular moment, it is not just black bodies on the line anymore, singular, but not unique. Like everything good and bad, it is rooted in this country's past. Even when I think about John Brown, who's a white radical abolitionist who takes up arms against the state to sort of end the institution of slavery and how people called John Brown crazy, oh, my God, he's a fanatic.
He's all of these different things. And I'm like, the reason why we we look at him as is crazy to me was always problematic because I was like, what he's doing seems rational to me.
Slavery starts and violence, it's sustained by violence.
It should probably only be overthrown by things like, you know, like I think what people saw was crazy is how is a white person, would he want to forfeit his privilege?
But I'm encouraged because today I feel like I'm seeing a lot more white people putting their bodies on the line. And in ways that I have not seen before, in ways that a lot of us have not seen before, and that's really encouraging to me. That's the one thing that I think is is different throughout history, is that if we think of continuity, that's the difference. I have not seen white people enacting violence on other white people who find themselves in solidarity with black people.
Where does protest fall short? Hmm? Well, one, when it's performative.
And I think for a lot of people, it has been that, like, you know, people want to show up, take a selfie posted and then bounce, you know, like and I'm just like, what?
What did you do? What what did you do?
So I think the moment, you know, you see the cops take a knee and then stand up and start pushing back the crowd, you're like, well, wait, what is this like?
You know, to me, protest is a start, but it's it's not how you end it. So the best example I can think of is the Montgomery bus boycott, in which it's more than just a protest, like they literally boycott using the buses.
And so much to the point that they created a new lifestyle for themselves. Like if you go and a lot of them did went for over a year without taking the bus, you either relied on a friend, you walked, you know, you had somebody pick you up, you carpooled, whatever it was.
But the time that people could start writing the buses again, they had such fatigue from the boycott that it was almost kind of like, OK, well, I guess I can get back on the bus, but I really appreciate this carpool that I had with such and such, or I really appreciated the the benefit that I got from walking or whatever. Like you've created a whole new lifestyle for yourself. And so I feel like we have to be able to think about the long term effects of of boycotts, of protests, of how long it will take, of what will be sacrificed, of what will be required.
Like there's so many things that go into that. Yeah.
It also strikes me, too. I mean, that thing about someone showing up and taking a selfie and then leaving, which is a thing I've literally seen happen on Instagram and on Ticktock, like a video of someone hopping out of a car, taking a picture that hopping in the car, driving away. That strikes me as in some ways a perfect visual metaphor for how we currently think of protest, which is a thing that you do and then announce that you're doing and then you go back to your regularly scheduled life and everything changes as a result.
But what I hear you talking about is that to resist via protest means a change in your way of life.
So it absolutely has to be a lifestyle.
It absolutely has to be a not a daily, but a moment by moment renewing of your mind to reorient yourself away from a racist framework into something that is anti-racist. This is why, you know, Ebrahim Kindie says, listen, you can't be Switzerland. You can't say like, yeah, my name's Bennett.
I'm not an idiot.
You have to actively at daily, like, make that choice. We're talking about things that are, for some people, scary and tense, very depressing, sad, this country's history of violence against you and me and our families and our people and how we seek to resist that. And yet, in this conversation, you have smiled and made jokes and laughed. And I said why?
I and I went out and I I want to ask you about your own personal process of keeping joy and love and sort of like lightness, if that's the right word. And maybe it's not much as you spend your actual working life working through these issues.
How do you do that?
I want my son and my daughters to understand that we are not the history of, you know, oppression by white people.
Like whether there is so much about being black. That is a wonderful and beautiful and, you know, our music and the food we consume and dance and how we think and how we, you know, create and invent.
And there's so much richness there.
And so and that's a form of resistance to, you know, teaching teaching children to have joy as a form of resistance as well.
Like Dr. Carter Jackson, like most black parents in America, I am trying to shepherd my own growing children through a time in which they are learning just how insidious, continuous and repetitive the violence toward us, towards them is.
And also, like Dr. Carter Jackson, I'm trying to keep myself and my family afloat by connecting all of us to the joy and beauty and power of our blackness. It is a one day at a time proposition, we laugh and dance and crack jokes on one another one minute, and we consider the violent deaths of our brothers and sisters the next. That's how I grew up, that's how my parents grew up. And it's how my children are growing up.
Fighting for our humanity and holding on to our joy, even when everything seems to be stacked against it, even when the goalposts for joy are moved, because as most deaf, a.k.a. Yasiin Bey once said, we start keeping pace.
They start changing up the tempo.
So even if you're a black doctor versus a white doctor, the wealth gap is massive and it gets higher. Actually, the gap between white and black at the higher you go in income. So there isn't it's not a matter of personal responsibility and personal savings.
Wealth is it's a generational phenomenon.
Next episode, we'll look into just how this country has moved the goalposts on us and how the wealth gap between black and white families is not an accident and has absolutely nothing to do with hard work. I'm Cavo Wallace and this is who we are. And when I. Voting is for that the. Confusion. Oh, and come to.
Stobbs Bouchon, oh, refuge could save the hireling Muslims from the 10. A fly by the. Spangled Banner. And child star plays for the last. And the whole. But, Bill. For more information on the topics and ideas explored in this episode, go to our show notes and our show page. The production team at Kozmic Standard is our senior editor Share Vincent, our senior producer, Ijima Brimpaen. Our managing producer is Elise Bergerson, our associate producer and researcher is Nageeb Amany.
Our technical director is Jacob Winnik. Our showrunner is Eliza Smith. Our theme music is by Marcus Hunt. And the third verse of The Star-Spangled Banner was performed by Sandra Lashonda from the Who We Are project. We have executive producer Geoffrey Robinson. And from Vox Creative, we have director of Creative Strategy, Amber Davis, senior creative producer, a new Subrahmanyam. I'm Cavo Wallace and this is who we are.