The History of Black Humanity in America

by Sierra Witcher

In 2015, America attempts to emulate an image of “post-racism” by proudly displaying their Black president (President Barack Obama) and forward thinking and integrated youth. If America is “post-racial” why is the call #BlackLivesMatter so necessary? How could something like the “Charleston 9” be seen on every news and social media outlet if America is “post- racial”? How could a “forward-thinking” White 21 year old man sit in Bible study and pray with nine Black people then brutally kill them in cold blood?

Upon hearing about the terrorist attack in Charleston, I felt the fear of a five-year-old girl hiding underneath a dead body to survive. I felt the tears of loved ones who are experiencing that loss. Simply because they now know that pain, and because it could've been my mother or me that never made it home. Why have so many news outlets been quick to label the group “The Charleston 9” but never mention any of their names?

In the Black community, it is a tradition to speak the names of the deceased while pouring libation of some kind. We speak their names because they have power, most importantly so their lives and humanity can be known and remembered. Cynthia Hurd, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. DePaynes Middleton-Doctor, Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Myra Thompson, and Susie Jackson are the names of the “Charleston 9”. How can we talk about the atrocity that occurred but never speak on whom it happened to? McKinney, TX. Eric Garner. Mike Brown. Ayiana Jones. Addie Mae Collins. Cynthia Wesley. Carole Robertson. Denise McNair. Emmett Till. Trayvon Martin. Terrence Kellom. Freddie Gray. Did these people have humanity in their deaths? We speak those names and give power to those families because no person should be stripped of their humanity.

The fascination and commitment to the brutalization of Black bodies is as American as apple pie. From public whippings and picnic lynchings to viral videos of girls being beaten at pool parties. This horrific competition could not exist without the fundamental understanding that Black people do not have humanity.

Ask yourself, could any of the following atrocities be committed upon any person; knowing they, too, are a human being? Some examples of American brutalization of Black people include: chattel slavery, breeding camps, Mandingo Fights, J. Marion Simms and the Development of modern Gynecology, Emmett Till’s murder, lynchings and the history of “picnics”, the history of American policing, The Tuskegee Experiment, and Human Zoos. The aforementioned terms and events are unfamiliar to some and unforgettable to others. Whether consciously or unconsciously aware, many Americans have been taught to understand that Black people do not have humanity because the sole purpose of Black people’s role in this country has been to exist without humanity. When the Declaration of Independence was written, black people were enslaved. The Constitution of the United States of America had to be amended to say that Black people were three-fifths of human beings in order to compromise for the Southern states that had larger voting power in Congress than the North -- due to their large (mostly slave) populations. If legality is the highest verification of freedom and humanity how long, if ever, have Black people been free human beings in America?

When recalling the deaths and brutalization of Black bodies in America, history and the mainstream media have a propensity to engage in ‘tragedy porn’. The unabashed showing of beaten and mutilated Black Bodies as some show of sport is commonplace within every aspect of American society; be it social media or otherwise. News stations and social media news outlets seem to be in a constant battle to see who can one up the other by showing the most horrific and gruesome photos or, even better, capture the terrorism on video. Where does this inane satisfaction with the brutalization of Black bodies come from? Who would want to watch a 14-year-old girl be beaten by a man three times her size? Who would want to see pictures of a 14-year-old boy’s body after he has been beaten to death and dumped in a river? Why is the site of six men strangling a defenseless man to death so eye-catching, no one seems to turn away?

What changes need to be made in order for Black humanity to be understood, respected, and protected? Is this a task for the future or a problem of the present? It is quite possibly the most revolutionary question of this generation of Americans; can Black humanity exist in America?