Irma McClaurin, PhD
When white people in Michigan defied state & city regulations to protest COVID-19 shutdowns, without face masks and carrying automatic weapons, the police stood quietly and idly by. No arrests, no confrontations — yet these people were armed.
When unarmed Black people protest their outrage over yet another police-initiated death (murder) of unarmed Black men, the police come prepared to engage with tear gas and rubber bullets. These police actions are not just a response to the situation, they reflect premeditation and intentionality — an already planned attack against any Black uprising.
The History of Black Rage in America
To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. ~James Baldwin
Black rage, over the unequal treatment of Blacks by police, an unjust legal system, and structures that send daily messages that Black lives don’t matter, is historic and represents one of America’s deepest scars.
The origins of Black rage in America can be found in many historical events. But the Dred Scott v. Sandford case is an important one which, ironically, has roots in Minneapolis and was heard by the United States Supreme Court in 1856.
Dred Scott, a very light-skinned enslaved man who asserted his African origins, deemed himself free by virtue of having been transported by his slave owner from the slave state of Missouri to the free territory of Minnesota, before it became a state in 1858.
Not only did the Supreme Court Justices rule against Dred Scott, but in writing the majority opinion Supreme Court Justice Taney set a tone about the citizen status and rights of then Negros that resonates today and strangles the hope of Black descendants of formerly enslaved people in the United States.
Justice Taney invoked his white supremacist thinking in language that is now embedded into the white American psyche by stressing that inequality for enslaved Black people, and their descendants, was the natural order of America because we were not included in the Declaration of Independence; he wrote:
…that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.
By upholding Dred Scott’s continued enslavement and his status as property, the Supreme Court made certain beliefs foundational to white supremacy in the present.
Taney’s words might as well have been written today for they reflect a persistent bias embedded in the past and present white psyche, including the white policeman who killed George Floyd, and nationally. This bias is rooted in a firm belief that Black people are not “fit” to be on the same level as whites and they have no rights regardless of the moment in time, national origins, religion, age, class status, education, or political beliefs. Taney writes,
They [Black people] had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that …[Black people] had no rights which the white man was bound to respect. …” (my emphasis)
Black Rage in Minneapolis Today
Things could have ended peacefully in South Minneapolis on May 26, 2020, the day after George Floyd’s murder by police on Memorial Day, but the police were already poised to react with tear gas and rubber bullets, even though the initial protests were peaceful. Three days later, Minneapolis was/is burning.
Black rage in Minneapolis is real. I should know, having lived and worked there for almost three years and visited family for over three decades. I am a personal witness to the city’s unfair and unequal treatment of its Black citizens. And it is not just Blacks who have suffered economically and politically; the wealth of Minneapolis is built on land appropriated from Native Americans, who are an almost invisible presence.
In 2019 U.S. News ranked the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul as 6th in the nation of the “best places to live in America” out of 125 metro cities. And it’s true, but only if you are white. In this city, power and privilege circulate on a continuous loop, if you are white, and there is little trickle down of Minneapolis’ immense wealth, home to such corporate giants like Target, Best Buy, Medtronic, Cargill, and others.
Minneapolis and St. Paul face huge gaps in educational and health equity for Blacks and other non-whites. And the occasional Black success story, like a Black mayor or a past Black Muslim in Congress and a current Muslim Somalian woman representing the state of Minnesota, do not erase the overall group reality of historic disenfranchisement.
What started in Minneapolis a few days ago, and is still happening, was no “riot;” it was/is a Black uprising targeting the prime symbols of inequality in the city — a police precinct (structural racism) and stores (property).
The story of Minneapolis Burning is an American story of centuries of racial exclusion; it is a narrative of the persistence of racial inequality and the burden of racial trauma that Black people carry in our bodies, and the psychological and structural effects of PTRD (post-traumatic racism disorder) with which we must cope with daily.
Black rage over injustices and increasing disparities in health, education, employment, declines in home ownership, and lack of access to wealth accumulation are smoldering embers in the belly of Minneapolis and America.
Back in 1968, the final report of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorder, aka The Kerner Report, prophesied the current state of America today.
Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white — separate and unequal. …Discrimination and segregation have long permeated much of American life; they now threaten the future of every American. (From the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders aka The Kerner Report) (my emphasis)
Is There Any Hope?
America’s future is not bright. Minneapolis Burning is proof positive that little has changed in 50+ years since The Kerner Report was released.
Black people in Minneapolis and across America cannot simply “get over” unequal treatment at every turn of their lives. And the same goes for Black people nationally.
Are we expected to accept police killings of unarmed Black people as a new norm or a President of the United States who promotes and incites further racial divisions?
Aggressive Action by Whites
If there is to be any progress on race relations in this country, white accountability and actions are key ingredients. But first, white people of all persuasions — good, bad, indifferent, allies, white supremacists, idiot 45th presidents — and white institutions like corporations, educational, social and political systems — must take a stand.
They have to acknowledge and accept their complicity in maintaining racial inequality and keeping a white foot not only on George Floyd’s neck, but on the necks of all Black and Brown people.
Why? Four decades ago, The Kerner Report nailed it:
“What white Americans have never fully understood — but what … [Black people] can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain, and white society condones it.”
Black rage can only be cooled with deliberate and intentional actions that dismantle police cultures that target Black and Brown people and aggressive actions that allow access and benefits to trickle down so that the prevailing gaps in health, education, and employment disparities are filled.
No actions of uprisings, apologies, murder convictions, or even reparations will bring George Floyd or others back, but they might prevent another city from going up in flames.