The Multilayered Meaning of I Can’t Breathe

The Multilayered Meaning of I Can’t Breathe

By Amber Coleman

Amber Coleman

Amber Coleman

It’s hard to talk about race. It’s such a thinly layered topic. A topic that is all too often over-simplified. I don’t want to acknowledge race; Culture sure; heritage absolutely; But not race. Race separates, and separation is only food for the ego. It creates the illusion that we are all somehow intrinsically different. Which is not true.

Most days, I live inside the ideal that it is our character and work ethic that determines our personal and professional trajectory and not the value attributed to our skin pigment and genitalia. Most of the people I surround myself with approach our world with a similar sentiment. But then you hear devastating stories such as those of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, church musician Corey Jones, and the newest reports of multiple Black churches in Ferguson being lit on fire.

These stories, then burst your idealistic bubble. They further reassure you of the self-addicted state of our humanity. Our humanity; that means you and I included. While it is devastating that these completely vile events are only a microcosm of the universal abuse of power and the racially segregated state of North America, we all can identify with the villain and the victim in the latter scenarios.

We’ve all exploited our power before, and we’ve all been exploited for power before. When we do, however, it seldom results in the death of another, which is the major problem with the latter events. Unsurprisingly, mass-media outlets have not exploited these facts, as a vehicle of combating racism. Instead, their shared information perpetuates racism instead of helping to stop it.

I would like to reconstruct the Black Lives Matters narrative in a way that underlines the power dynamics that are what we call racism. Doing so will redirect these problems from being solely about racial hatred, to issues of abusing power, an inequitable economic structure and most notably, evil. Utilizing anti-racist language while discussing the latter events will be much more effective in actually combating racism, because American discourse on racism by mass media outlets, ironically, is very racist.

Questions to be Answered 

Instead of beginning our analysis with assumptions, we will start by asking and answering fundamental questions. Doing so will disallow us from making racist assumptions, and help us come to new conclusions: Why is this happening? What do the perpetrators have against their victims? Do they have anything against their victims? If so, what? Do they feel they must reestablish their authority? If so, who do they feel has taken their authority from them? Who gave them this perceived authority to begin with? Why have these issues been thrust to the forefront? Are they happening to us all, but disproportionately to Black Americans? If so, why is this happening to more Black Americans than other races? Is this reason economic?

Let’s answer the first question before moving forward: 

Why is this happening? North America is racially segregated. Not lawfully, but by personal choice. Because of this, many White people only interact with the negatively stereotyped Black people portrayed in mass media outlets, and so, are ignorantly afraid of Black Americans. The resulting act of racism is that they’ve generalized all persons of African descent into one negative identity. When White police officers apply excessive force, it is inspired by an ignorant fear. White Americans are not only afraid of the crimes that Black Americans could commit against them, but they’re also afraid of Black Americans rising out of subservience. This fear is inherited and unconscious.

In the mid 1800’s, after the primary identity of slaves in the Americas became African, the only way to keep Africans enslaved was physical threats and confinement, and to create a mental inferiority complex. Slaves were incredibly valuable to their owners; they were their owners primary source of wealth, so maintaining their subservience was critically important. If enslaved Africans were to rise out of subservience, the livelihood of their owners were being compromised. This threat inspired fear in slaveholders. The latter fear is also what has inspired the recent deaths of Black people at the hands of police officers. White’s found esteem in the subservience of enslaved Africans. The esteem that they found in slave subservience, was only a symptom of a deeper need. The symptom is of a state that is codependent upon the accolades and status symbols of this world. The need is fulfillment. This is where the relatability and empathy comes in.

This is Part One of a three-part series. Over the course of the next three weeks, I will be sharing with you three essays on The Multilayered Meaning of I Can’t Breathe.

About The Author

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