The Strange Fruit of Living While Black

by Sidra Owens

I was raised by a single mother, who was born in the midst of Jim Crow, and she has seen whites-only signs. She has witnessed the rise of the Civil Rights movement. She has vivid memories of where she was when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., President John F. Kennedy, and Robert Kennedy were assassinated. She trekked with great pride to the inauguration of the first black president of the United States (something she thought she would never see in her lifetime), and one of the most important lessons she ever taught me is that no matter what color someone is, there are good people and bad people. There are good black people and bad black people, and there are good white people and bad white people. I have continued to carry that lesson with me, as I have grown in age, wisdom, and experience. That is a lesson that I have taught and will continue to teach my child and hope that she will see that I am right, just as I have seen the truth of my mother’s lesson to me.

Unfortunately, the progressive-minded people of any color, the ones striving for unity among all people are hard to hear. The negative ones, those spreading hate are always the most obnoxious and the loudest… Deafening is the best adjective. They are deafening. Racists are deafening. But what is their goal? When they scream the separatist talking points? What is their goal? They use dog whistle lingo; carefully disguised rhetoric to express their true wants while making them ‘seem’ benign? They want to make America great again. They want to take America back. Take America Back from whom? What is their goal? When seemingly mild-mannered white folks call the police on black people for civil and lawful actions, what is their goal? Black folks barbecuing. Black girl selling water.Black folks leaving an Airbnb. Black folks at the pool.Once again… Black folks at the pool.And last but not least… Black folks sitting in the car.

This phenomenon has been label #livingwhileblack. But I’m going to repeat the question. What is the goal? This may seem like a long way around the mulberry bush but bear with me. You’ll see my point. In recent years, we are all aware of the number of black people, who have been wrongfully murdered by police for absolutely nothing. They were unarmed, they were calling for the assistance of the police, they were complying, they were running away even, and all of these actions seemed to be deserving of a death sentence, because that is what was carried out, on the spot with the perpetrators receiving no consequences for their actions. It’s pandemic in the United States of America. We all know it’s happening. It’s common knowledge. So, let’s make a comparison. From 1877 to 1950, there were more than 4,000 black people lynched for various reasons.

Most of which were untrue. There was rarely any evidence to support the accusations, with lies coming from any supposed eyewitnesses, just for the sake of murdering a black person, whether in the dark of night or as an afternoon activity for the family. But the most famous incident is the case surrounding the death of Emmett Till, who was drug from his home and lynched for reportedly whistling at a white woman. The men responsible for his death were put on trial, but it was mostly them expressing why Emmett Till deserved to die. Fifty years later, the white woman, in this case, Carolyn Bryant Donham, admitted that the claims against Till were lies. He never made advances on her, but when on trial, she swore that it was true. When she made the accusations, before Emmett Till was murdered, we have to ask, what was her goal? Do we think that she didn’t know what was going to happen to Emmett Till? I submit that she did. Now let me circle around back to my point. With the widespread coverage of the abuse and murder of black people (who have not committed a crime), at the hands of police, what do these ‘good Samaritans’ think will happen when they call the police? What is their goal? Is their goal the same as Carolyn Bryant Donham? Are they simply reporting what they suspect is criminal activity? Or are their goals more insidious? You may suggest that they would not willing want any harm to come to the subjects of their police reports, but racism isn’t always overt, it is often unconscious.

So after watching Eric Garner get choked out for breaking up a fight and selling loose cigarettes; after listening, Philando Castile take his last breaths, after following the law and attempting to comply with police instructions, and after watching, the police shooting an unarmed Alton Sterling, as he lay on the ground; do you really think that these ‘Samaritans’ do not have the best of intentions? I conclude that they do not. I conclude that our country is bearing old, yet strange fruit, from seeds that are sewn repeatedly, generation after generation. Rather than it hanging from the trees of the American south, this fruit is smashed and staining the streets of our cities nationwide. It will take the combined effort of all the good black people and all of the good white people to stop the cultivation of such strange fruit. We must acknowledge and supersede the unspoken, possibly unconscious ‘goal’ of superiority that continues to stain our collective souls.

 

artist: gabe weis & orin rutchick

originally published in Medium
Sidra was born in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA but has spent the entirety of her life in the heart of Piedmont. Having cultivated a love of reading in elementary school, Sidra was first introduced to writing prose when she had to write a mystery story in sixth grade. She expanded her artistic horizons and her storytelling expertise through experimentation with tabletop and verbal role play, allowing her to master the ability to develop characters, their motives, and the worlds where they dwell. With A Haven Amidst Perdition being her first published work, she demonstrates the abilities she has honed since leaving college, having returned to secondary education and obtaining her Bachelor of Science in Behavioral and Social Science. She will be able to add greater historical and sociological depths to the characters that are clamoring for their stories to be told.

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