From Emmet Till to Michael Brown

A very personal memoir

As dead black bodies continue to pile and mount up across this nation-state after being murdered at state- and societally-sanctioned hands, it does an old Baby Boomer’s body and soul good to see that yes, finally, a new generation has blown the whistle, and picked up the mantle that my own generation dropped not so long ago. (For the record and for the curious, I’m 65, and have been on the racial battlefield my entire adult life. That means that I’m what we used to call back in the day a “race man” when it comes to black folks – not a “racist,” but a race man. That means that I do not hate anybody, but that I love my own people just as much as, presumably, you love yours, okay?) Thus, be advised that whatever your response to this piece might be, I’ve probably “been there…done that.”

Let me break it down for you: I do not hate white people. But, sorry, as a black man, as an African American, nee Negro, negro, Colored, colored man, I cannot help but hate what white people have done – and continue to do – to “my people.” That is, as assorted ministers and preachers of most religious stripes admonish us, “hate the sin but not the sinner.”

And so, it comes as a refreshing surprise that a significant number of St. Louis Rams football players demonstrated their support and solidarity for the Ferguson protesters against the unconscionable, abominable – but wholly unexpected or surprising non-indictment of so-called Officer Darren’s Wilson’s murder of 18-year-old, unarmed – yes, unarmed and black, Michael Brown. image image

The players, Stedman Bailey, Tavon Austin, Jared Cook, Chris Givens, and Kenny Britt came out of the “dugout” with their hands up, before being joined by the rest of the team to start the game against this Sunday. They walked onto the field and “assumed the position” so familiar to so many black people, particularly young black men. At least 16 witnesses to the murder of Michael Brown by killer-cop Darren Wilson have said in various media formats, but apparently disbelieved by the Grand Jury which took their sworn testimony, that Brown raised his hands in the universally recognized gesture of surrender just before and as he was shot to death by Wilson at point-blank range: “Hands up, don’t shoot,” indeed.

Of course, these athletes’ laudable gesture is not unprecedented. It is, however, one of the few times in recent memory that high profile African-American athletes have taken a stand against all too obvious state-sanctioned white supremacist policy and practice.

We could discuss Muhammad Ali’s personal protest against the Vietnam War and refusal to be drafted into the Army (which cost him his boxing license for three years before the Supreme Court finally decided that he had a right to declare that, “Ain’t no Viet Cong ever called me nigger”).

Or, John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s raised fist protest at the 1968 Olympics against America’s police state and continued dehumanization of black folk.

Or, even the most recent protest by a number of NBA players who posed in “hoodies” as they protested the murder of Trayvon Martin.

But, I will not go there… because this latest protest signals a real sea change in the black community’s continued faith in the so-called criminal justice system, as led and directed by President Barack Obama and outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder.

And that’s the difference this time. The weak-kneed response of both Obama and Holder has finally removed the scales from at least the black youth of this nation-state. “Government” – whether headed by putatively “black” obsequious white supremacist apologizers or outright white racists like George W. Bush, will never honestly address the just demands of black Americans.

And the kids know it. And they are not falling for the okay-doke this time around.

Including some, not all by any means, of course, athletes.

The question is: Are we witnessing a rejuvenation, a return, a redux of the black protest movement – not the Civil Rights Movement – but the Black Power Movement of the 1960s and 1970s?

Will Michael Brown’s murder finally serve as the touchstone of a renewed revolution in black folks thinking about white people and their ultimate intentions toward us – in the same way that Emmet Till’s utterly and inhumanly brutal lynching did in 1955?

You see, I could have been Emmett. I do not have enough space to explain what I mean by that here; but go here to see what precisely, exactly what I am talking about.

Finally, the point is that the murders of Emmett Till in ’55 and all those like him before and since, for violating either the written and/or unwritten mores of a white supremacist ethic didn’t start with Emmett Till. These killings are deeply rooted in 400 years of oppression. Michael Brown now joins that sordid legacy.

To the athletes, entertainers, preachers and so-called leaders of the black community, the “hands up” symbolism is important, necessary, and, yes, means something. Thank you.

But boycotting games and entertainment venues – or raising money in these now black “mega churches” to support the ongoing protesters in Ferguson and beyond would mean and accomplish a lot more.

Might even get some real attention – beyond voyeurism– and force these folks to stop imprisoning us for jaywalking or smoking a joint…or from killing us.

Herbert Dyer, Jr. is a Chicago-based freelance writer. Herb may be reached at: Read other articles by Herb.