A clip of CNN reporter Victor Blackwell breaking down in tears live on air while talking about last weekend’s horrific massacre of 10 Black people in a Buffalo supermarket is going viral. They were murdered by an 18-year-old white man who plastered racist slurs on his weapons and boasted about being a white supremacist in a terrifying manifesto. In the video, Blackwell, a Black man, is recounting how many mass shootings he has reported on before he starts struggling to get his words out. He says he’s covered 15 (at least). And then, as his voice shakes, Blackwell says a few things I haven’t stopped thinking about all week. “We keep having the conversation… Democrats will say guns, Republicans will say mental health and nothing will change. And I’ll probably do another one this year,” he said on Monday, just two days after the senseless massacre. “Is this the way we’re supposed to live? Are we destined to just keep doing this city after city? Have we just resigned that this is what we are going to be?”
The answer to those heart-wrenching questions is clearly a resounding yes. America has resigned that “this,” being a nation where Black people aren’t safe anywhere — at church, in their homes, at school, going for a jog, buying groceries, anywhere — is who it's going to be. But it’s also who America has always been. Watching and reading the news this week has just further solidified that we are absolutely, as Blackwell says, “destined to just keep doing this city after city,” because the media, and many (mostly white) people in the U.S. refuse to name the root of the problem. The insidious rot festering in the bowels of the very fabric of this nation is white supremacy. It is the foundation on which the gunman’s meticulous plans were built. It’s what lies beneath every decision to strip more people of their rights, it’s behind the actions to suppress voters, and the attempts to rewrite history taught in schools (or to teach a sanitized version of it where racism doesn’t exist). Democrats spend the time after a racist terrorist attack talking only about gun control, and Republicans use that time to peddle points about mental illness so they don’t have to say the two words that prop up both parties and their government.
America has resigned that “this,” being a nation where Black people aren’t safe anywhere — at church, in their homes, at school, going for a jog, buying groceries, anywhere — is who it's going to be. But it’s also who America has always been.
White Supremacy won’t be dismantled if we don’t talk about it, if we don’t say the words “white supremacy.” It’s not Voldemort. I don’t know if I used that Harry Potter reference correctly because I grew up going to Christian and Catholic schools that had the series banned. Their logic was that if we didn’t read about wizards and sorcery, we wouldn’t know that they exist — and therefore, we wouldn’t be indoctrinated with the books’ devilish ideologies. Except I lived in the 2000s where the lore surrounding that now-transphobic author and her work were inescapable. I knew Harry Potter existed. I can even tell you all about its characters and major plot points without having read a single word or watched one movie in the series. It’s kind of like how a white man can murder a bunch of Black people who were just simply trying to go grocery shopping because he lives in a white supremacist world and was indoctrinated with ideologies that aren’t just *gestures wildly* everywhere, they are also embedded into the framework of America, of its government, its education system, its workforce and healthcare, etc.
I don’t mean to make a flippant pop culture comparison. But the “debate” over critical race theory in America is as absurd as banning a book about wizards. The fact that the theory politicians are fighting to outlaw is the one that teaches how racism is embedded in U.S. laws instead of “the great replacement theory,” the racist conspiracy that people of color, or minorities, are suddenly becoming the majority and that white people are being replaced, would almost be laughable if it wasn’t the cause of devastating Black death. Imagine thinking teaching kids not to be racist is more dangerous than demonizing entire races of people. Smells anti-Black to me — purposefully and explicitly anti-Black. It’s easier to laugh at the ludicrousness than to continue to cry over and over again at the reality that Black life doesn’t matter to the state, and not only that: the systems of this country are actively set up to ensure that they never will.
In the aftermath of the Buffalo mass shooting, the cycle of white supremacy has continued like clockwork. Headlines have infantilized the shooter by calling him a “teenager” when actual Black children who are victims of police violence are routinely referred to as adults. The stories have trickled in about how he was a “‘lonely,’ ‘nerdy’ teenager” humanizing him when we know that Black victims are rarely treated as human. Algorithms and thirsty social media users were quick to make the video of 10 people being slaughtered go viral (the shooter livestreamed his heinous crimes in hopes of going viral) like it was a game, not the brutal killing of Katherine Massey, 72, Deacon Heyward Patterson, 67, Celestine Chaney, 65 · Roberta A. Drury, 32, Margus D. Morrison, 52, Andre Mackneil, 53, Pearl Young, 77, Ruth Whitfield, 86, Aaron Salter, 55, and Geraldine Talley, 62. Those are 10 people with families, friends, and full lives that they deserve to still be living. How many victims will it take before we stop recycling the same insensitive rhetoric after every hate crime? How many mothers, fathers, and grandmothers have to die before we start really dismantling the systems that stole them from us?
We do this song and dance every time. Every time another white supremacist decides to go on a rampage, Black scholars, writers and activists scream into the void about what needs to change. Blame is thrown in every direction except the right ones. Right now, people are blaming Fox News, or Trump, or Reddit, or 4chan. And all of those are problems in America that are aiding the radicalization of bigots, but they are also just a symptom of the larger issue. “Fox News … [has] the largest viewership of any cable news network in the country by a lot. People can say what they want about the Republican Party, but they're still winning elections. So this isn't about a news channel or a political party.” Ricky L. Jones, a professor and chair of the University of Louisville's Department of Pan-African Studies, said in an interview with the CBC. “It's really about America It's about the country. It's about this white supremacist ethos that's been running through the country since its founding: this belief that whites and only whites have the right to think, know and decide. And when they feel that they're being pushed out — a good percentage of them anyway — then you get this type of pushback… It's not new.”
How many victims will it take before we stop recycling the same insensitive rhetoric after every hate crime? How many mothers, fathers, and grandmothers have to die before we start really dismantling the systems that stole them from us?
It’s so old in fact that it took a literal century for the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act to become a reality. It was signed by President Joe Biden just a couple of months ago. The Act didn’t save those 10 people in Buffalo. It took Biden a full day to condemn “poison” of white supremacy and actually say the words. The acknowledgment is a start, but it’s sobering when you remember that “Biden signed the Emmett Till Anti-Lynching Act at a time when states are making it illegal to teach about Emmett Till,” Derecka Purnell writes for The Guardian. “If the federal government wants to stop or at least slow down a new generation of potential white supremacists, it must make vigorous, affirmative efforts to openly and financially support schools and community organizations doing this work.” In Purnell’s piece, she outlines the efforts of abolitionist activists to uproot the systems that lead to the Buffalo shooter’s atrocities. “As we continue to build an abolitionist society, let us never forget that the same state that has passed this anti-lynching legislation is at the root of what conditioned the Buffalo shooter to target Black people,” Purnell writes.
It’s exhausting to have to say this shit over and over. It’s infuriating to be bombarded with timelines full of Black death and defenders of racist ideologies. It’s unfair that we have to continue on with our jobs, our day-to-day responsibilities, and contribute to the very systems that kill us in order to survive while we wait for the next massacre to come. Because it will come. It’s demoralizing to have to keep on keeping on when Black rallying cries for action continue to be silenced. Is this the way we’re supposed to live? Have we just resigned that this is what we are going to be?” As we continue to ask these questions, we are tired of watching Black folks shed tears on national TV in hopes that something, anything, will change.