Race has never been a thing that black people can just ignore. But in the past few months the topic of race has been one that has become impossible to ignore for non-black people too. But through all of this, the killings of black people still continue to occur and to go unresolved. However, I want to focus on the depoliticisation of police brutality through the over-contextualisation of cases specifically, as I think it is a harmful thing that both the mainstream media and the public do all too often.
In short, we love to defend victims by painting them as “good”.
Now that in itself is not wrong: I myself have just spent three weeks praising black environmentalists. When Elijah McClain’s story surfaced, the public were quick to dig into his personal life to gain some context to the situation; whilst they found that he wore the ski mask for his anaemia, they also found out that he plays the violin to kittens awaiting adoption, which is a truthful and kind testament to the type of person that he was. However, the problem lies in the implications of running off of his relative “goodness” in such way:
By defending victims with their good deeds, we have constructed the narrative that black people have to be “good” to be deserving of life.
So we then see people trying to justify scenarios such as the George Floyd killing by speaking of his past. But in actuality, our moral compass should have no bearing on whether our lives should be taken from us or not. I think the most painful thing to see is American Christians adopting this stance on racially charged police brutality because it doesn’t actually align with a Christian worldview. Christians believe that nobody is good (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 3:23), so by that logic they deem even the police worthy of death for lying, gossiping, cheating, and the list goes on. If we applied the same logic that we applied to George Floyd, Derek Chauvin would too be dead. To an extent, it’s actually true that none of us are really deserving of life, but that is in the eyes of God and only God has that right to decide who lives or dies. However, even He in all of His loving-kindness causes the sun to rise on both the “evil” and “good” (Matthew 5:45) and extends life to all of us. So when I see the police playing God with black lives (and worse yet, Christians in support of this) I feel sick in the pit of my stomach because it doesn’t reflect the Father at all.
I’m somewhat troubled by this “good” black person line of defence because I feel that it pushes black people to have to over-compensate for the false narratives that have been forced upon them already. I’m gonna be controversial, but let’s just say it: “Black Excellence” is black performativity. It is an unhelpful and even a harmful concept in some senses and people who fall into into it are always walking on thin ice; they don’t want to look like a “thug” so they have to go out of their way to do “good” things that a non-black person doesn’t even have to dream of doing to have their lives protected. And quite frankly, there should be no obligation for black people to be the epitome of passion in order to preserve their own lives. Thinking otherwise is nothing short of having a God-complex. Why can’t we just accept mediocre black people who lead ordinary lives?