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by Yvette Carnell
There are certain black people you can count on to step up whenever there is any slight, perceived or real, to the black community. Al Sharpton will march no matter what. Whether anything changes after the march is another thing altogether, but you can certainly count on him to lock arms and dust off the old spiritual hymn “We Shall Overcome.” It’s the activist’s version of comedian Chris Rock’s cure all, Robitussin. No matter what ails the black community, a march will fix it.
Just as you can always depend on Sharpton to go out front with a march, you can always depend on Russell Simmons to chime in with some pseudo-black yogi wisdom. During the Occupy Wall Street protests, Simmons showed up at Zuccotti Park a few times, at least once with a dazed and befuddled looking Kanye West.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m fine with Simmons financially supporting a movement, but only while remaining in the backdrop. But Simmons, like so many other so-called leaders, never met a camera he didn’t like, and never had a thought he didn’t want to share with the world. And since Simmons is not self-aware, which is odd for a meditation enthusiast, he has no clue that he, his Rush Card, and his blood diamonds, make him far too compromised a person to stand at the center of any principled movement.
Nevertheless, I fully expected to hear from Simmons after Trayvon Martin’s murder, and of course, I wasn’t disappointed. Simmons took to Twitter to add this tidbit to the conversation black people are having about Trayvon Martin’s slaying:
“Trayvon Martin didn’t die so we can create a race war he died so we can promote better understanding. We must start honest dialogue.”
Actually, no. Trayvon Martin didn’t die so we could start a dialogue. Trayvon Martin died because he was shot in the chest. He died because a vigilante night watch captain, who’d called police 46 times previously to report a ‘suspicious person’, stalked him and murdered him in cold blood.
And who said anything about a race war? Does Simmons believe that black people are poised to take to the streets and start chucking spears at white people over Trayvon Martin’s murder? I’ve heard a lot of discussion in black circles about getting the Justice Department involved, filing civil suits and the like, but remarkably, nothing of a pending race war.
I imagine that not everyone can successfully navigate two worlds. Not everyone can muster the effort of being a bonafide star in white society and a principled activist within their own community. Russell Simmons is no Harry Belefonte.
But what bothers me most about Simmons’ comment is that it vilifies the victims instead of the perpetrators. Yes, black people are angry, and rightfully so. But black people aren’t the ones in need of a lesson on how to behave. Black men aren’t going around targeting white youth. It’s the other way around, and if Simmons is honest with himself, he knows it. So why is Simmons equating justifiable black anger with the violence of a race war?
Right now, as black men all over America are discussing how to modulate their blackness so as not to be viewed as a threat in white society, Russell Simmons is reinforcing the myth of the angry black man by intervening to calm the savage black beast.
But I don’t want to leave this on a bad note. In addition to the reporting at Yourblackworld, there have been a number of black reporters and writers who’ve rallied to the cause. Goldie Taylor did an excellent job of laying out the essentials yesterday on CNN, and Charles Blow offered an eloquent and thoughtful piece from the perspective of a black father in Friday’s New York Times. As for Simmons, the sooner you disengage and tune him out, the better. There are other black thinkers and writers who are much more deserving of your time and attention.
Yvette Carnell is a former Capitol Hill and campaign staffer turned writer. She is currently an editor and contributor to Yourblackworld.