To be Black in the shadows of Confederate statues or to navigate an economy of hate

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Panem et Circenses: In a political context, the phrase means to generate public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace — by offering a palliative: for example food (bread) or entertainment (circuses). Collage by Charvis Harrell.

The difference between anger and animosity is as vast as the difference between being an inmate or a convict. Although anger and animosity are defined by hate just as inmates and convicts are confined to their status, all other similarities between each pair end there. Anger is a feeling that can result in both emotional and physical changes, such as increased heart rate and rushes of adrenaline, which can be managed. Animosity is a feeling so intense it displaces itself in action. Take certain actions and become either an inmate or a convict or both. As an inmate, a person becomes a resident of an institution and, upon leaving said place, a way of life more agreeable with the norms of life may be resumed. In becoming a convict, the conditions are so rigid and strict that the very idea of remorse, compromise, or redemption is fundamentally discarded. Young people today are convicts with convictions. 

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George Floyd by Charvis Harrell

Understanding just how closely our economy is related to slavery and segregation begins with understanding just how little time has transpired since slavery. Very few people realize that the last recorded human being taken from Africa in the American slave trade died in 1937. There were people born into the bondage of slavery in America that lived until the early 1950s, but Oluale Kassola and Redoshi, the last people born free in Africa then captured for the slave trade to America, died in 1937. A war was fought to bring about a less severe form of bondage but what followed was a new set of laws and codes, the enforcement of which brought about a way of life so cruel that they were quoted as being the inspiration and outline for the Nuremberg Laws. Herbert Kier’s recommendations for race legislation devoted a quarter of its pages to U.S. legislation—which went beyond segregation to include rules governing American Indians, citizenship criteria for Filipinos and Puerto Ricans as well as African Americans, immigration regulations, and prohibitions against miscegenation in some 30 states. No other country, not even South Africa, possessed a comparably developed set of relevant laws.

When slavery was legally abolished, a new set of laws called the Black Codes emerged to criminalize legal activity for African Americans. Acts such as standing in one area of town or walking at night, for example, became the criminal acts of “loitering” or “breaking curfew,” for which African Americans were imprisoned. As a result of the Black Codes, the percentage of African Americans in prison grew exponentially, surpassing whites for the first time. A system of convict leasing then developed to allow white slave plantation owners in the South to literally purchase prisoners to live on their property and work under their control. Bidders paid an average of $25,000 a year to the state, in exchange for control over the lives of all of the prisoners. The system provided revenue for the state and profits for plantation owners. In 1878, the state of Georgia leased out 1,239 prisoners, all but 115 of whom were African American.

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Mamie Till by Charvis Harrell

As the southern states began to phase out convict leasing, prisoners were increasingly made to work in the most brutal form of forced labor, the chain gang. Chain gangs originated as a part of a massive road development project in the 1890s. Georgia was the first state to begin using chain gangs to work male felony convicts outside of the prison walls. Shackled together at the ankles, five prisoners would work, eat, and sleep confined to chains. Following Georgia’s example, the use of chain gangs spread rapidly throughout the South.

Another factor rarely talked about is the way mass violence is used to destroy entire communities. The largest case of Black expulsion in the U.S. happened in Forsyth County, Georgia in September of 1912 when more than 1,000 African Americans were forced from their homes. Ninety-eight percent of Blacks left and in the surrounding counties saw similar effects, and it was repeated throughout the country. It came to an Apex at Tulsa, Oklahoma when 35 square blocks of thriving community were destroyed. When violence can be carried out on a huge scale without consequences, rather with reward for the oppressors, it becomes a regular way of life.

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Emmett Till by Charvis Harrell

Redlining 

The term “redlining” was coined by sociologist James McKnight in the 1960s. He derived it from how lenders would literally draw a red line mapping the neighborhoods in which they would not invest. Black inner-city neighborhoods were most likely to be redlined, and bias clearly extended beyond geography and income. Investigations found that lenders would make loans to lower-income whites but not to middle-or upper-income African Americans. In the 1930s, the federal government began redlining real estate, marking neighborhoods “risky” for federal mortgage loans on the basis of race, which led to my birthplace, Macon, GA, being designated the most redlined city in America. The problem pervaded most of America and could still be felt decades later. In 1997, homes in the redlined neighborhoods were worth less than half that of homes in what the government had deemed “best” for mortgage lending. That disparity has only grown greater in the last two decades; for example, redlining has been used for discriminatory practices by contemporary retailers, both brick-and-mortar and online. 

Reverse redlining is the practice of targeting (predominantly Black) neighborhoods for products and services that are priced higher than the same services in areas with more competition. The world of hurt they are born into is not by their own design; they inhabit a segregated country. Tribute is openly paid to the people who fought against their right to be free, by way of monuments erected. After freedom was supposed to be granted, other institutions were erected to ensure the restriction of key freedoms. We then leave it to the restricted to navigate these inequalities the best way possible, however, they may. When young men are unable to apply for jobs due to the lack of transportation to get back and forth, there are no reliable public resources. Legal options become fewer and the necessity of money becomes more important than respect for laws. The probability that someone in that situation will turn to vices is so assured that we have economic systems thriving on recidivism, rather than taking the simple steps to prevent a segment of society’s regression. Training children in a 20th-century school system and expecting the society to function efficiently in the 21st century is ridiculous. At eighteen years of age, with very little direction or setup for financial literacy, we unleash them upon society with only the right to vote, smoke, and bear arms. 

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Breonna Taylor by Charvis Harrell

In lieu of developing ways to deal with frustration and anger, children come from a world of sensory overload where they are constantly bombarded with an overwhelming amount of stimuli enticing them in a way that fifty years ago would have seemed unimaginable. 

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Rodney King from “Cartoon Violence” by Charvis Harrell

I come from the last generation where the television went off around midnight, not by choice, but involuntarily, after the Star-Spangled Banner played and a multi-color test pattern covered the screen along with an ear-piercing beep. The programming ended and if any entertainment was to be had, it was conjured up on one’s own, an exercise for one’s imagination and creativity. Now, TV programming serves as an unapologetic commercial for products interrupted by more commercials for products, with whole blocks of channels that offer the same thing for 24 hours. Before, during, and after that, handheld devices function in the same manner, replacing opportunities to utilize creativity and imagination or to experience the rest from the desires and insecurities that the ongoing input is designed to produce. In marketing, people of color are still treated as commodities more than consumers, targeted even to the point of ridicule, as freedoms of life and liberty are replaced by the freedom to choose a brand. Many of those brands utilize the aforementioned recidivism economy (i.e. prison labor) and the archaic school system (i.e. minimum wage as opposed to livable wages), then treat the people of color most affected as capitalism’s billboards advertising for the people that hate them.

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Flyer from 2011 art show ‘How To Stay Alive While Being Black‘ – Charvis Harrell

We have finally come to the point where the institution is overcrowded with convicts and all the righteous animosity must be dealt with. When strangled pleas to be allowed to perform the most basic of human functions, the simple act of respiration, fall upon malicious ears, it proves that words don’t work. The 24-hour entertainment machine is being reclaimed as a tool to manifest change and the mistake Japan made when they woke a sleeping giant is again made. We were forced to watch helplessly as a mighty big man was mercilessly brought to what you thought was his end. You couldn’t be more wrong. We did witness a death, but more importantly, we witnessed a birth. Fears died with George and so much courage was born from his final moments of suffering. He died with his hands shackled, under the weight of racism and hatred, so the rest of us could learn to fight to be free.

Wap konn Jòj. Wap konn manman Jòj, wap konnen papa Jòj. Anfin, tout fanmi Jòj.”

You know George. You know George’s mother, you know George’s father. Finally, the whole family of George.”

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