Do They or Don’t They?: On Black Lives, Fruitless Sacrifices, and What It Really Means to Be a Warrior

No.

No. No. No. No. No.

I will not.

That is all I could think when I finished reading the article on Feministing.com about Korryn Gaines.

No.

In the article, Jacqui German writes:

She loved her son enough to teach him not to be afraid, to know the truth of American anti-Black violence and stand decisively against it. She loved her children enough to model resistance as she believed and understood it.

And my mind screams “No!” in response.

Adamantly.

I don’t think that’s what she taught her son at all.

While I agree with Germain that Korryn should not be demonized for how she interacted with the police previous to her killing, or staging the standoff with police, or refusing to surrender to them, I don’t agree that she taught her son anything other than his mother was more willing to die than to do what she needed in order to remain here, in this life, with him.

We’re talking about a pre-schooler here–not a high school or college student capable of intellectualizing and contextualizing her actions as political.

Mother-child attachment lays the foundation for all other relationships a person forms throughout the rest of his or her life. It shapes the way in which people generally view relationships–as either winning or losing situations for them.

In the mother-child relationship, the mother can either function as primary caregiver and secure base from which the child can explore and to which the child can return for safety and comfort, or she can not.

When she does not, she gives the child a shaky or nonexistent psychological base for entering the world and other relationships.

You can’t tell your three-, four-, five-year-old “You let them know that they stole your mother” and make him or her unafraid.

By intimating that you can be taken from them, you do the opposite of making them unafraid; you terrify them.

Brutal truth about racism and armed resistance may be strategies that “black mothers throughout history in this country and across the globe” have utilized in their attempt to protect their children from racial violence and oppression, but, as we can see from not just Korryn Gaines’s narrative, but the current racial climate in the US, it doesn’t work.

I’m sorry, but it doesn’t work.

Respectability strategies–compliance, assimilation, aspiration, integration–don’t always work, either, in keeping us safe, but it is much more likely that Korryn would be alive today if she’d paid her traffic tickets, showed up to her court dates, and/or opted not to greet the police at her apartment door with a pistol grip shotgun.

I don’t say this to justify her killing. I say this to make a larger point.

The cops shouldn’t have killed her because she had documented developmental disabilities and brain damage that likely affected her perceptions and interactions, decision-making and planning.

White police have a traceable history of working through armed confrontations by white assailants–with or without mental issues–without killing them, and they should’ve done the same thing with Korryn.

I maintain that racism and sexism are what impelled them not to.

The fact that they were wrong doesn’t make Korryn “right,” however.

She doesn’t have to be “right” in order to deserve not to be killed.

She doesn’t have to be “right” in order for her death to be a source of outrage or cause for protest.

We don’t have to mythologize her in order to honor her.

We should honor her. She is another black person taken from us by senseless, racist violence. Her death is a tragedy.

But we shouldn’t mythologize her.

She isn’t a warrior.

She isn’t an example we should follow.

I’m sorry.

Korryn’s resistance is a slave’s resistance.

I say that because institutionalized racism was in its adolescence during slavery. It didn’t quite know what it was yet.

So the slaves couldn’t necessarily or intelligently extrapolate white people’s reactions to mass resistance efforts.

This is true, too, because slaves were kept isolated from each other, from plantation to plantation, city to city, and state to state. There was no Internet on which they could read daily news reports from all over the burgeoning US.

Masters and overseers were extremely careful about letting news of other slaves and their doings get back to their slaves, lest they be encouraged to run off or riot. Slaves often had no way of knowing what other blacks were experiencing because they weren’t largely literate, and they weren’t given access to papers or allowed to carry on correspondence.

(This is one of the reasons in slave narratives that so many of the writers were so disappointed by the so-called freedom they acquired in the North.)

Because slaves often lacked knowledge of how the lands around their farms or plantations were situated or populated, they lacked a sense of the distances between southern and northern populations, and they were overly reliant on things like the element of surprise and psychological shock factor; they were able to believe that a couple dozen or hundred slaves could effectively free a whole county.

Since mass resistance efforts were few and far between, considering how long slavery lasted, and the political background for the institution changed often, it was probably a lot easier than we think for slaves to assume that they’d chosen an opportune time to rise up.

Just about every mass slave rebellion or uprising in American history ended with blacks being executed or slaughtered by the dozens in retaliation, though.

Slave rebellion ended slavery in Haiti, but not here in America. The Civil War did that. A conflict that affected the economic structure of the white ruling class.

That said, I think slaves like Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, and Denmark Vesey and their conspirators and followers were willing to risk their lives in abortive rebellions because they were slaves.

Slavery was, to them, conceptually, worse than death, so they risked almost certain death for freedom.

We are not slaves. We are not as free as we should be or deserve to be–as we have a right to be–but we are not slaves.

I’m not diminishing the worth of their lives. Their lives were precious because they were human beings. They are precious to us because they borne our lives. I’m not measuring theirs against ours.

But I am saying that if and when we choose to live rather than die like Korryn, we’re making a much different choice than those slaves that remained in bondage, refusing to escape or rebel.

And I’m not even saying that we shouldn’t fight for that freedom to which we are entitled.

I am saying, though, that American is in the full-grown adulthood of institutionalized racism.

The police have gelled as the paramilitary arm of the capitalist government that keeps the POC and poor from essentially fucking up the infrastructure and money. Nothing more.

If each of us chooses to hole up in our houses with our unpaid tickets and unanswered court summonses, and our shotguns, they will choose to kick in each of our doors and shoot each of us and any of our children that get in the way.

It’s simply not a problem for them or their bosses. That’s what they’re all paid to do. Keep us under control.

So we can’t consider this sort of resistance as viable.

It won’t work.

And, honestly, at this point in our evolution as a people, we should value ourselves more than to put our lives on the line for little or nothing.

I just told my fiancé the other day: “I don’t want a white person to kill me. I don’t want them to have that. I want to die as much on my own terms as I possibly can.”

That’s freedom.

This is my life. I want every gasping, black-ass breath of it. I don’t want white people taking it, especially for something as trivial as unpaid tickets and court fees.

Korryn Gaines is gone. Her son is shot. Both her son and her daughter must grow up without their mother. They are five and one in the inimical grip of the American welfare system.

Has Baltimore changed the way it serves warrants because of that? Has Baltimore changed the way its police deal with those with developmental disabilities? Has Baltimore hatched a plan to change the way it trains its cops? Has Baltimore changed its policies on deploying its SWAT officers?

No, no, no, and no.

So it isn’t cruel or inaccurate to say she died for nothing.

She was, as we like to say, everything. Black. Beautiful. Strong. Passionate.

But she died for nothing.

Claude McKay wrote this poem back in the days of the Harlem Renaissance:

If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain . . .

I stop it there because even McKay had some remnants of martyrdom in his psyche, which is perfectly understandable for a man born in 1889.

But none of us was born in Reconstruction.

We are newer negroes than McKay and his cohort could’ve imagined.

Or are we?

We say black lives matter. But do they matter? If we trade them in for hashtags and Internet encomiums and nothing else?

Korryn Gaines antagonized the cops.

That’s not an accusation; that’s a fact.

She put a gun to the face of repressive authority and dared it to do something that she knew it could and would do.

For better or for worse.

It was her Second Amendment right to own the gun, but history, instinct, and common sense should’ve kept her from leveling it at those cops and risking her life and the life of her son.

Dying isn’t an accomplishment if it’s done in vain.

I don’t believe that acts of resistance like Korryn Gaines’s will ultimately yield us anything more than yet another wave of grief-stricken and morally outraged social media and Internet responses.

I don’t think that canonizing Korryn Gaines will galvanize us in a way that truly creates change.

And isn’t that the point of all of this?

Change?

If we’re supposedly fighting racism and oppression to end their hold on American culture and government, then why are we continuing to do it this way when it doesn’t work?

No. It. Doesn’t. Work.

To make symbolic points that have already been made?

To work up people’s emotions in order to do nothing appreciable with them ultimately?

To commit elaborate suicide in what we perceive as the face of inevitable loss?

What?

We like that word–“warrior.”

We use “warrior” to create a linguistic link to African history and culture.

But I think that we tend to blindly valorize African history and the continent’s various cultures in the same way we valorize violence and death.

When we call someone a warrior, we are signifying that his or her violent deeds are more important and purposeful, in our opinion, than someone else’s.

We want to be race warriors. We call those that we respect and wish to honor “warriors.”

But warriors don’t fight to become mere symbols of toughness. They don’t seek to become tragic drops in a historical ocean of blood.

I cannot and will not say what Korryn Gaines should’ve done when the police kicked down her door on Monday morning and trooped into her house with their guns and seemingly boundless authority.

But I will say that a warrior–if we’re going by the actual, historical definition–might’ve been more and better prepared than she was with just her shotgun and chest full of righteous rage.

Warriors aren’t fatalists or nihilists.

If we as black people seek to be warriors, we need to understand what it truly means to be warriors, so we know what we really need to do to fight the enemy, which is institutional whiteness (imperialism, racism, patriarchy, hegemony) and not necessarily white people.

Warriors specialize in combat and warfare.

That means they concentrate on becoming experts in combat and warfare.

This requires study, instruction, and training.

This requires more than purchasing a gun and putting it in someone’s face.

This requires more than strapping on fiery rhetoric and outmoded ideology.

G’s lash out. They shoot everything they can before they get shot. They go out in a chaotic splash of meaningless violence and over-inflated subjectivity.

Warriors specialize in combat and warfare.

Warriors exist in tribes or clans.

They move as a unit.

They use strategy, and they have each other’s backs.

One woman or man with one gun is not a tribe.

Tribes fight in formation.

(I couldn’t resist the reference. It’s the bad black feminist in me.)

Warriors fight to protect their people, lands, and culture. Not ideas or ideals or imagery or their own egos.

Warriors also have strict behavioral and ethical codes under which they live and fight.

I won’t claim to know anything about Korryn Gaines’s value system. I won’t defame her by saying she didn’t have a code of ethics or rules for how she behaved, but I do question the ethos of that code.

I remain deeply troubled by her seeming willingness to risk her son’s life in that standoff, and I wonder what exactly she wished to accomplish by having him there, in the way of such tremendous potential harm.

The Bushido Code, followed by Japanese samurai, is typified by eight virtues:

  • Righteousness
  • Courage
  • Benevolence
  • Respect
  • Sincerity
  • Honor
  • Loyalty
  • Self-Control

Other virtues that were highly regarded within samurai culture were wisdom, fraternal respect, and filial piety or deep respect for family.

In a book titled Honour in African History–for those that want or need a diasporic reference–author John Iliffe explains that aristocratic and pastoral African warriors adhered to codes that stressed manners, self-control, reserve, and courage, among other things.

Muslim warriors in Africa, according to Iliffe, displaced the hero and “egotistical pursuit of personal reputation” in order to serve the Prophet. Christian Ethiopian warriors emphasized hand-to-hand fighting. However these codes differed, though, region to region, people to people, or religion to religion, honor was their universal objective.

Iliffe writes about the concept of “household” honor in addition to personal honor, which relates to defending and protecting family and community through conciliation and negotiation.

Yes, according to historical records, African warriors did negotiate with their “enemies” and make peace when it was possible and peace did not subjugate their people or their needs.

And what will we as black warriors do?

That’s what I want to know.

In order for it to matter, we must do more than die with our guns gripped in our hands like flaccid dicks.

Freedom in the “hereafter,” again, is the victory of the slave.

We are only slaves if we remain bound to useless ideas about what will get us free.

“What else is left to try? What else can we teach ourselves and our children? What can we tell our kin to keep them safe?” Jacqui Germain asks.

I don’t know, but we know what doesn’t work. Nothing that our forebears did in the past has worked.

So we honor their efforts, of course, but we do something else. Something we’ve never done before.

And that ain’t dying.

I want to be clear.

I am not one of those complacent middle class black people that thinks we should just wait patiently for conditions in this country to change.

I don’t think we can “buy” change in exchange for respectable behavior.

I do think that there should be a revolution of American culture.

I think the federal government should mandate that every state and local government enact the six perennially suggested reforms to their police departments (community policing, de-escalation training and re-training, mock scenario and role-playing exercises, more racially diverse police departments, more open communication with media, more rigorous psychological screening of recruits) and cut off their grants if they refuse to comply.

I think there should be state-assembled tribunals to adjudicate on cases in which police officers are accused of using wrongful and/or excessive force or committing other crimes against the people.

I think these tribunals should be comprised of psychologists, criminologists, law enforcement experts and analysts, military experts and analysts, former and current police officers, local government officials, and community leaders.

I think that officers found guilty of murder or manslaughter should be barred from working in law enforcement and sentenced like civilians found guilty of these same crimes.

And I understand that the government will never “gift” the black community with reforms of this scale.

I understand that if we want them, we will have to fight for them.

We will have to war against this power structure that is so deeply invested in maintaining the capitalist, racist status quo.

War is not defined, though, as violent conflict.

It’s defined as “armed” conflict.

We have guns, but they have more guns. They have tanks. They have drones. They have bombs.

So what else do we have?

What else can we do besides rage?

Jacqui Germain gets that right in the end.

“The cycles of dashcam, body cam, and cell phone footage keep coming, relentlessly. The names of the deceased keep flooding in no matter what we do.”

So what so we do, other than hand our lives over?

What, new, can we do?

Armed resistance is seemingly futile.

Going out like G’s is still going out.

We can’t die our way to freedom. It’s clear.

We need our lives in order to enjoy it.

We need our children secure and sane, not scarred, if they are going to outlive our devastating history.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. We are going to die anyway and the fact that a lot of people are overlooking the fact that she was murdered and the fact that people are neglecting to say the police shoot unarmed people for nothing anyway. She didn’t die for nothing it’s just that black people who are talking about her death and it’s not many don’t want to get behind the fact she didn’t pay some illegimate parking tickets and fines. The tickets and fines are illegitimate. Did you ever think about that. People are getting thrown in jail for unpaid fines. I find the attitude of a lot of “intellectuals” to this woman’s death deeply troubling. Maybe we should take a leaf out of her book and STOP paying illegitimate like taxes and bogus fines and debt of black countries. The police MURDERED her it doesn’t matter what she stood for she was murdered. The police didn’t have to murder her but they did. Her murder shows me just how deep racism goes that even black people will uphold certain murders depending on the rebelliousness of the person murdered.

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