Language of the Unheard
As I was reading “Of Our Spiritual Strivings” & “The Sorrow Songs,” by W.E.B. DuBois, I was struck by how relevant the material still is to contemporary times. Although W.E.B. Du Bois died over 50 years ago in 1963, just as the Civil Rights movement was in its prime, a lot of the issues he pointed out still exist vibrantly in today’s society. These issues were not completely fixed during the Civil Rights Era (as this era is still continuing) and we do NOT live in a post-racial society, as some people may suggest. DuBois writes:
“In the most cultured sections and cities of the South the Negroes are a segregated servile caste, with restricted rights and privileges. Before the courts, both in law and custom, they stand on a different and peculiar basis…And the result of all this is, and in nature must have been, lawlessness and crime.”
This struck me specifically because it reminds me of the events that happened in Ferguson, Missouri last year. With the shooting of 18 year old African American Michael Brown and the acquittal of his murderer, Darren Wilson, came riots, looting, and general lawlessness. However, contrary to the media’s portrayal of this situation, this lawlessness was not unfounded. It came from the structural and historical neglect for black lives, dating back to the beginnings of America as we know it. More specifically, it came directly from the unusual process of having given a substantial evidence to a grand jury for them to decide whether or not they were even going to indict Darren Wilson for his crime, and the result of Darren Wilson never ultimately being indicted. As such, Michael Brown’s death was never given the official trial that it naturally should have been given under the law. The neglect for Michael Brown’s body and overall life (and the steadily increasing amount of other innocent black bodies who have died under the hands of racialized police brutality) shows evidence for the “restricted rights and privileges” afforded to black Americans in America today.
As much as some would like to admit that the Civil Rights Era is over, it is still very much needed and very much alive. We see it in #blacklives matter, we see it through the NAACP, and we see it through the many academic professionals who commit their lives to supporting student activism and protests on campuses across the nation. It is seen through the riots that spurred across the country post the decision to acquit Darren Wilson. As Martin Luther King Jr. claimed so eloquently in an interview with Mike Wallace:
“I contend that the cry of “black power” is, at bottom, a reaction to the reluctance of white power to make the kind of changes necessary to make justice a reality for the Negro. I think that we’ve got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.”