I read the account of the beating of Bakari Henderson and the first thing I thought of was Poland, so eager to wave the Confederate flag in honor of Trump’s arrival. I wondered at the time if they recognized the significance of what they were doing. Did they understand that many would see it as though the Polish Right were telling a segment of the American extremist Right, yeah, we know what you wanted to do and together, we’ll take it as far as you want it to go? None in the Republican Party found that too troubling.
I realized that for some time now, in addition to our history, Europe has been reading the standardized playbook about how to justify the killing of African-American men. And that is to put the blame squarely on them.
When you do that see, the first thing that’s mitigated is the charge. That’s why no one in this case is being charged with murder, so far, but rather, involuntary manslaughter. The bouncer’s statement to a local paper that Henderson “took an ashtray and threw it at me” and his admission that he responded by “punching him in the face and two or three times in the body” ties it all together; bolstering the claim that Bakari was the aggressor and everyone acted in self-defense. The Americanized threat of the big dangerous black man has gone global.
The Absence of a Trump Tweet
And through it all, the White House, so far, remains quiet. Conspicuously absent is a Trump Tweet about the incident, followed with a statement of concern and condolence for the Henderson family. It would be heartening to see the same level of concern and national support (a Tweet) shown for Otto Warmbier, who died mysteriously after being in North Korean custody for over a year, to be shown here. I think such a declaration would tell the world that America values its black citizens. Am I being naively hopeful if I say that a statement like that could be that first step-so far untaken-in mending fences with the African-American community?
Like the Wandering Scholar above, I’ve experienced that same belligerent racism she met abroad, right here in America. Sometimes immigrants attempt to assimilate into our society by taking an encoded stance against black people. I find it to be particularly true for some opening shops in Black neighborhoods. Some, not all. Something akin to a Gentleman’s Agreement, it’s almost as if to them it’s a prerequisite for citizenship that to be welcomed in America, you must display the same disdain and prejudice for Blacks that many other Americans have. It’s like an unspoken, yet nevertheless still very gradable part of the naturalization test.
Would it be sensationalist of me if I were to call Bakari’s death the result of a lynching rather than a bar brawl? The absence of any real follow-up coverage tells me there’s a desire to play down such incidents, characterizing them as isolated, with no real social significance or pertinence. To them I say, open your eyes, please and recognize it for what it was. Let’s not wait until we see a rope or smell the smoke of burning flesh to call it as it should be.
I keep thinking about that flag; and strange fruit. How America handles this will speak volumes to both Europeans, the world and to us here at home. Will she proclaim that yes; we hold our African-Americans as dear to our heart as we do every American? Or, will her indifference say that black citizens, at home and abroad, are suspect, un-entitled and worst yet, prey? Doing the latter rather than the former, gives a whole new meaning to the words pledging allegiance.