We Are Not Free

We Are Not Free

It's been a terrible few weeks for the black body.

We've just been through a stretch of days that unambiguously demonstrate that black people in the US — and one other — can't move, think or exist as freely as their non-black counterparts. A white woman claims that she's always felt black on the inside, to the extent that she calls her own parentage into question. Black people of Haitian heritage in the Dominican Republic face mass deportation and disenfranchisement, despite the fact that many have never known life in any other circumstance than the one being ripped away from them. And nine black congregants were murdered inside a church that's hallowed ground for the African-American freedom struggle, killed by a young, racist gunman who said that blacks were taking over the world.

Black people aren't taking over any damn thing. If anything, it's felt like the existential footing essential to living our lives gets eroded in big crashing waves after events like these. We're not free to be our fullest selves. Not when the basic psychological agency needed to publically protest or grieve gets shouted down and undercut. The deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Renisha Brown and too many others at the hands of police — and the activist responses to those killings — have been followed by rabid efforts to re-frame their last moments and entire lives in the worst possible way. On paper, the freedom to air out our grief exists, sure. But it's met by responses that seek to limit it. Say what you want, black folk; the Constitution allows for that. But don't you dare invoke the insidious subtext of institutional oppression that drives you to speak in the first place.

Rachel Dolezal is free, to a wildly unfettered degree that lets her say she's black. She at least gets the courtesy of debate. She's gotten think-piece articles and televised interviews dedicated to investigating the peculiarity of her individual race problem. Even personally, I've had conversations with black friends over the last few days where we acknowledge that black identity is lived in an infinite number of ways and skin tones. And even as folks bat around the idea that race is a BS social construct invented centuries ago to stratify human beings into castes, the mechanism of that contraption still hold some people fastly in place. Not Rachel Dolezal, though. She gets to decide what she is.

The hundreds of thousands of Haitian-descended people in the Dominican Republic staring down the possibility of being deported aren't free. Many of these people were born in the country trying to throw them out — children of immigrants looking for a better life. They're in the grip of a centuries-long blood feud between two countries on the same island, one where a sugar colony threw off the yoke of slave oppression. Yet, these at-risk black people in the DR are back where their ancestors started, unable to steer their own lives and plant down roots where they find themselves.

Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Susie Jackson, Daniel L. Simmons and Depayne Middleton Doctor were not free in their last moments of life. They died like chattel, pawns in Dylann Roof's attempt to start a race war. Their freedom to assemble and worship got overridden by the same hoary old myths about white superiority that have driven public policy and private discrimination in America since its birth.

I started writing this in the air over Denver on the 150th anniversary of Juneteenth, a day observed as a holiday memorializing the Emancipation Proclamation. Concerned as it is with the presidential order that said black people weren't just property anymore, June 19th is a grassroots holiday that looks back at the bleak racial legacy of the American past. It's a date meant to celebrate the collective strength that carried black folks through slavery.

This Juneteenth didn't feel celebratory. It felt mournful. The pains of the past are reincarnated and upgraded, parading down black folks' collective psyche in military-grade police gear and proudly carrying the banners of Jim Crow and apartheid. Right now, what I live inside feels like a sort of shadow freedom. A trap of weariness, doubt, fear and anger that I need to mask or suppress to get through the day. It's a decaying simulacrum of the way I see other people living — seemingly carefree and unburdened — but hollowed out by the creeping fear of the exact moment I'll have to explain to my daughter why someone brown got killed by a cop or a racist. Lately, it's all I can think about. And that's not very free at all.

Image by Jim Cooke, photos via AP.


Comments

    So.... How awesome does the new Batman game look?

      Phew, thank you! For a moment there those words were making me think about all the people out there lacking the privileges that I take for-granted and the insidious little worm of concern about my role as a mute spectator enables the issue. Weren't for you reminding us about our trivial distractions, this parentheses of social conscience between hours and hours of idle entertainment may had extended longer than the couple minutes it took to skim the article.

        I love your passion with this and the other replies on this article but I think your execution is a little off.
        Maybe settle down a and tone down the sarcasm if you really want to make a difference. Being a sarcastic condescending ass is not the way to change the world or other peoples opinions.

    Race is indeed a social construct.

    But Rachel Dolezal isn't a black lady, she's a white lady with a really shit orange tan. Sorry hun.

      Seems like she might need some psychiatric help, not that there is anything wrong with identifying with the black community culturally. But there so many social obstacles in the way for black people.

      It reminds of something a gay guy in his late 40's I used to play WoW with said in response to the argument often put forth in which many imply that people "choose to be gay". While there has been plenty of change in his life time his simple counter point is that he could not possibly fathom why someone would choose to be gay, life is simply so much harder when you fall outside what society approves of.

      Last edited 23/06/15 11:10 pm

        As a few people have put it, 'There's nothing wrong with identifying with someone culturally, but what she's done is akin to donning blackface'. As many others have put it, there's many people who work with the NAACP in high positions who *are* white and still help communities. The fact of the matter is what she's done is dishonest, and she did lie to people and attained a position through dishonesty. There should be legitimate ramifications for that, unfortunately there doesn't seem to be much coming her way. But I do agree, there's definitely some sort of help needed.

          Can body dismorphia extend to skin and hair?

        you can be trans gender, but not trans race?

        so you can be born in the wrong body, but not the wrong skin colour?

          Thats a really interesting way of thinking

          Race is a social construct, not defined by your biological presets, gender is a biological construct not within your control. Two entirely different things. Race is not even remotely similair.

            Race is hardily a social construct and falls entirely into biology. The belief otherwise isa fallacy, segregation due to everyone being a subclass of a single species in a modern world isa social construct but the biology still exists.

              You need to do your research a bit more. There's a whole scientific community out there who disagrees with you. Race is most definitely a social construct. By defining race as a biological entity, you endorse the idea that superiority enters the fray due to genetic factors. Social Darwinism enters the mix and that was discounted over 150 years ago.

              You are confusing the idea of Race and Culture. Race is ascribed and Culture is learned.

              The human genome project even determined that 'race' is a myth, you really need to look into this sort of thing properly. Race does not exist however, culture does.

              Today the vast majority of those involved in research on human variation would agree that biological races do not exist among humans. Among those who study the subject, who use and accept modern scientific techniques and logic, this scientific fact is as valid and true as the fact that the earth is round and revolves around the sun.

              http://www.newsweek.com/there-no-such-thing-race-283123 is one source for this.

              Or there's this:

              There are many reasons that there has been, for about a half-century, a consensus among specialists--biological anthropologists and evolutionary biologists--that biological races do not exist in the human species. The scientific consensus stems from overwhelming and convergent evidence from genetics and archaeology documenting the actual history of the human species.

              https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/looking-in-the-cultural-mirror/201109/the-main-reason-races-don-t-exist

              Race does not exist. It is merely a social construct. That's a fact. It's been proven down to a genetic level, despite what the ignorant seem to want to think. But what you're confusing it with, is culture, a very, very different thing altogether. At least, I'm thinking you're confusing it, to be honest, your comment is kind of contradictory and doesn't make a lot of sense...

              Last edited 23/06/15 11:50 pm

                Suggesting race is solely a social construct is like suggesting red hair is solely a social construct. Race (as a lay term for a set of genetic traits) does exist, what doesn't exist are taxonomic races within the human species. Race as a reference to a set of common clinal data does exist and isn't social in construction, what scientists are arguing is that those traits aren't sufficient to meet the definition of a race in the taxonomic sense. In fact, race as a set of common genetic traits rather than a taxonomic definition is quite useful in medicine, anthropology and forensics, for identifying health risks, migration patterns and the extent of various historical diasporas.

                There are a lot of people that still consider race to be taxonomic in humans and use that to justify their prejudices, and scientists do work hard to break through to those people that race does not exist at that level by arguing that race is primarily social, but suggesting race is purely social is overly simplistic. Race in the lay sense today is what scientists would more accurately refer to with clines.

                You could argue that it's a misuse of the term 'race' (and you'd be right) but clinal commonality isn't something I'd expect your typical Average Joe to understand enough to be part of their standard vocabulary.

                Last edited 24/06/15 8:01 am

                  Again, primarily the reason race does not exist and is not accepted by the scientific community is that it then enters into pseudoscience such as phrenology and social darwinism, both discounted as ludicrous and pseudoscience fuelled by ignorance. Race allows beliefs such as subspecies of humans, that one strand, or 'race' of humans is superior to another, which is pure rot. The human genome project alone dispelled this idea when it found that there is less than point one percent genetic different between all cultures worldwide on a purely genetic level.

                  We learned from the Human Genome Project that we are all genetically 99.9 percent alike. However, given that each person’s genome contains 6 billion bases of DNA, a 0.1 percent difference represents 6 million locations that differ between two individuals’ DNA (International HapMap Consortium 2003). The vast majority of these differences in sequence are “neutral,” they do not change gene function.

                  and

                  Race is a relatively recent concept in human history (Smedley 2007). This modern phenomena of classifying people was initially attached to a biological basis. People assumed that race was fixed or “rooted in nature” and physical appearances provided clues to qualities within individuals (Omi and Winant 2003). Conceptualizations of race often conflate biology and culture to place social meaning on ascribed physical characteristics (Holt 2000). Current social scientists and race theorists consider racial formation to be a “process by which social, economic and political forces determine the content and importance of racial categories.” (Omi and Winant 2003)

                  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2600806/

                  Again, you can argue all you want, but what you're arguiing is trivial and really doesn't mean anything. Race *is* a social construct. Animals don't have race, rocks don't have race, only humans have race. There's a reason for that, we constructed it ourselves.

                  Last edited 24/06/15 8:59 am

                  @weresmurf I'm not sure where your hostility is coming from. I don't disagree with you that race is primarily social in construct or that group genetic traits are not an indication of superiority or inferiority in modern humans. I'm just pointing out that the actual scientific stance on the subject doesn't concur with your much stricter interpretation.

                  Science does not state that what we commonly refer to as race doesn't exist, it states that the biological term 'race' (which is informal in the first place) doesn't exist in the human species. It doesn't state that race is purely social in construct, the current scientific consensus is that collective physical differentiation does exist, but that it is classified scientifically as clinal, not racial. The biological differences within each cline gradient represent a real genetic difference between individuals, and those differences are contributing factors in the non-cultural component of the modern use of the term 'race'.

                  Have you done any reading on the clinal model of human variation?

                  Last edited 24/06/15 9:47 am

      The best reaction I saw about her is that a joke saying she's pushing for a position with Netflix advertising Orange Is The New Black

    I make a concious decision to avoid the news. Please dont bring it here, this is such a nice place.

      Yep. How dare you contaminate our delightful ignorance with news of the real misery other human beings suffer and that is enabled by our very own inaction. Who cares that others suffer and die as long as we are being entertained?

        Pretty much agree exactly with your statement, Ignorance is bliss and I work hard to maintain a high level of it. Ive been a far happier human ever since I disengaged from the daily horror/moral outrage show.

          Indeed, your own contentedness is much more important than the well being of other human beings. As long as you are not inconvenienced, the rest of the world may very well go to hell.

          Someday it may be your turn to suffer and scream in agony and wonder how come that no one cares or helps because damn, that new Batman game is full of bugs, amirite?

            Hows that soapbox working out for you?

            Reading these stories doesnt contribute to making the world a better place.

            If you personaly are doing something meaningfull to improve the situation, then more power to you.

            Otherwise you are just making noise.

    I made it half way through the first paragraph. Was there anything actually game related in there?

      No, you did well stopping right there. Otherwise, you may have accidentally read about the horrors other humans suffer da- *Final Fantasy 7 remake!!!!! (videogame plug to keep your attention on this paragraph)* -y to day, shattering the feeble construct of wellness that yo- *Shenmue 3!!!!*- ur distractions overlay onto an otherwise bleak real- *Nintendo sucks amirite!?* -ity.

        I mean... I get your point. I'm well aware of, and deeply concerned about, many social issues that exist in the world. I'm not saying that they should be ignored. And if they somehow relate to gaming, I'm all for discussing them here.

        If they're not related to gaming, well, I have other sites bookmarked for reading up on that sort of thing.

    Sorry folks, Kotaku's social justice warfare setting was accidentally flipped from 'subvert' to 'overt'. They have admins working on the problem and will be returning to regularly scheduled viewing shortly.

      OBJECTION, evan was writing from the heart as a writer of a race that was severely discriminated in the past, this column was written to teach kotaku's readers about the heartbreaking past week that the african race has endured in 2 countries, now please, get some education about respect ok

    I liked the part where you talked about technology.

    This kind of thing, while interesting and depressing, belongs on somebody's (tumblr) blog, not a games website.

      This is a blog, ran by human beings capable of stopping their fascination with interactive entertainment to feel indignation for the atrocities occurring to other people at their doorstep and talking about it on the free public platforms they have created.

      Sadly, as the comments prove, entitlement, aggressive apathy and self-enforced social blindness is all that is to be found among "gamers".

        Call it apathy if you like. I dont care.

          I call it something much worse than apathy. Apathy is not giving a crap about anything. What you do? Downvoting every single comment of the person that dares call out people on their selfish stance? That's aggressive callousness; the egotistical conceit of someone who values his own bubble of ignorance and the desperately feeble pretence of happiness it enables more than the lives and rights of other people.

          Last edited 26/06/15 12:09 am

            The other reason these articles should not be here: it atracts commentators like pylgrym. Enjoy your social justice crusade!

    Interesting article... why is it on a gaming site?
    I'm not trying to diminish the topic or anything, but this does not seem the place for this type of article.

      It's human interest. These kids getting killed for absolutely nothing - they probably read Kotaku as well. They probably had incredibly similar interests to the rest of us reading this now, but social strata saw them in the wrong place at the wrong time, unfortunately at the same time as some of the worst examples of humanity.

      My heart breaks for these black lives, and I think it's admirable that Evan and Kotaku are acknowledging these shitty things are happening, if only to make the rest of us more grateful for the privileges we may have.

      This article is totally relevant to Kotaku. It. contributes to the discussion of the greatest game of all time. The game of Life

        I dunno:
        http://armedgamer.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/reality_worst_game.jpg

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