Most of us develop our personal truths through the “magic” of observation and experience. The most important truths of our lives are forged from the furnace of “living.” One of the truths that my life experiences have affirmed is that personally-held ideas and beliefs are extremely difficult to change or destroy without the willing cooperation of the individual holding them. Somewhere in the mix must be an acknowledgment that change or a revision of thinking is appropriate.
Reflecting on my personal truth, I question the ideas and beliefs held by some of the most intolerable and loathsome people who are currently presented on the national stage. Among them, I number a disgraced, twice-impeached ex-president, several sitting congresspersons and several ordinary citizens, who by their actions and statements prove, or have proved, the depth of their personal racism.
For example, I am drawn to the state of Georgia, where years ago I first heard the statement, “Shoot a nigger and get your money back.” For the uninitiated, that statement means “get your money back for the bullet(s) you use.” The added inference is that a “nigger’s” life is valueless and isn’t worth the bullets it takes to shoot him or her. This is the attitude that I see projected from Brunswick, Ga., where the trial of the murderers of Ahmaud Arbery is being conducted.
I know that modern mythology characterizes Black men as “superhuman bioweapons,” but the defense argument that Arbery attacked three white men who were attempting to execute a “citizen’s arrest” is absurd on its face. Testimony recently presented by Ahmaud’s killer confirms that at no time did he or his two accomplices advise Ahmaud that they were attempting to execute a citizen’s arrest. In a worst-case scenario, I can imagine Arbery acting in self-defense to protect life and limb or (more likely), recognizing that facing a loaded shotgun could only end one way, he decided to “go out” not being the only one hurt.
The minute-by-minute truth of this encounter will never be completely known, but we are brought to this moment by a racist attitude that is as old as the Black enslavement experience on this continent — it is the attitude that whites have the right, without question or resistance, to exercise physical control over Black people. Consistent with our history, whites claim the right to dictate where and when a Black person can occupy space. It is the belief that, in this system, African Americans are devoid of the autonomy necessary for self-determination.
Almost as egregious as his murder is the effort to manipulate trial outcomes to thwart the service of justice for Ahmaud. In Brunswick, a city with a population that is 25% Black, it is horrific that a defense attorney could “game” the jury selection process to exclude all except one Black juror. Although the judge expressed his concern and acknowledged the obvious irregularities of the jury selection, he claimed an inability to do anything about the disparate outcome.
In an obvious effort to completely “whitewash” the trial process, the defense requested that the trial judge limit support to the Arbery family by religious leaders. Specifically, a defense attorney claimed that pastors (i.e. Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton) in attendance at the trial intimidated jurors and had the potential to influence any future verdict rendered by the jury. Fortunately, the judge rejected this appeal, but it was indicative of the extent to which the white defendant’s attorney would go to secure an acquittal for his client.
I remain uneasy about this entire affair and believe it foreshadows the future status of Blacks under the law. I pray and hold hope that “real” justice will prevail.
Williams is president of the National Congress of Black Women.