*Earlier this week the “chocolate city” of Baltimore, Maryland was thrust into the national media spotlight.
Another Black man died at the hands of police and while the voices of the unheard tried to pierce the silence of our national apathy through protests and chants of “Black lives matter” all hell broke loose. What started as a funeral turned into battles between police and protestors.
The news called them riots. Those participating got labeled as “thugs” and “criminals.” They began with angry words and an insistence that Black lives be considered on par with any other. What they faced—what the Black community continues to face on a daily basis—is a stark contrast with reality. Black lives were unworthy and thus mattered not in Ferguson where Michael Brown was shot in the street. Not on Staten Island where Eric Garner was choked to death for selling cigarettes. Not in Cleveland where a Black 12-year-old was deemed a threat for pointing a toy gun. Not when Walter Scott was shot eight times in the back for running from the police in North Charleston, South Carolina. And not now in Baltimore, where just days ago when the life of a young Black male named Freddie Gray ended as well, in the hands of what many in the Black community believe to be a violent, militarized, oppressive police force.
It was at their hands, which lacked mercy, that the youthful Gray only 25 years old suffered a broken spine while in police custody. Those in uniform—both Black and White, male and female—charged with the responsibility to protect and serve do neither in Black communities in Baltimore and across the nation. They are believed by Black citizens of those communities to be an occupying force of faceless law-bots void of the most basic human qualities. They feel no shame for the brutalities they enact upon those Black lives that so clearly matter less than other lives. They are sanctioned by the American “white way” and immune to prosecution for their transgressions. And what’s more it is the soulless indifference of White America which fuels this aggression. The protestors chanting “Black lives matter” in the aftermath of such aggression are like the chorus of some Greek tragedy, intoning a mantra to restore America’s humanity if only she were open to knowing the truth of how the Bleaching Syndrome works to squeeze blackness out of every Black life.
Though it’s not written down formally anywhere—the closest moment that created a calculus of value for Black lives was when Black lives counted as three-fifths of a human for the first 80 or so years of this young nation’s life. The profound inequality was incontestable policy—understood to permanently legitimize the fact that America was intended to be a White nation—indivisible under God. The freeing of Black slaves who were never intended to be citizens disrupted America’s white fantasy of itself. Enter the Bleaching Syndrome.
The Bleaching Syndrome is a whiteness assimilation strategy which demonizes all things black by idealizing all things white. For Black bodies, the inescapable reality of birth has meant an easily segregated society, where a class based on paler skin tone fixed itself as the dominant currency to the permanent detriment of those with dark-hued skin. This foundational aspect of American society is at the core of disparate unemployment figures, entrenched poverty and today’s police brutality (never mind the sanctioned American terrorism of days past). The most insidious part of the Bleaching Syndrome is that this virus, long established in the white community, has infected the psyche of non-white communities in any even more virulent fashion creating even greater casualties and destroying the psyches of generations. Those have been forced to live in the wake of the this too-often uncontested, often fatal disease have been unconsciously enlisted to infect those closest to them with the virus of innate white superiority and black inferiority and have guaranteed its spread throughout every aspect of American life.
No amount of apathy can deny that this is true. When Black men and women seek quality of life for self and family they are defeated by the entrenched social system born out of the Bleaching Syndrome, sending them too often back through the spin cycle of social ills. The alternative—seen by too many as the only one—may be to sell drugs or engage in other illegal activities which rushes police to fill their charge as institutional defenders of the white ideal as dictated by the Bleaching Syndrome. Poor people such as Blacks have no power or station inside of the skin-tone segregationist state, and are thus at the mercy of whatever brutalities state sanctioned law enforcement chooses to commit. In the trek toward ultimate whiteness Black lives in America’s bleaching process are sacrificed at its altar of unrelenting disdain.
Now, at the crossroads of a crisis of its own making, the future of America then rests on the question of whether Black lives matter. The rioting and looting which is taking place in Baltimore is little more than a symptom of the problem. In a nation that had allowed no place for its despised blackness, only if Black lives matter can real democracy prevail. The question that was raised with the death of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray and so many others, named and unnamed, still remains: is America willing to purge itself of the Bleaching Syndrome? As long the Black body count continues to rise the answer is implicit.
Dr. Ronald E. Hall is Professor of Social Work at Michigan State University and an affiliated scholar of both African American & African Studies and the Julian Samora Research Institute at Michigan State University. Dr. Hall has published widely on the topic of racism and skin color, is a noted international lecturer and expert witness in court cases dealing with skin color issues. Dr. Hall is the author or coauthor of over 150 books, journal articles, interviews, and international presentations and lectures.