Witness

My last paper of the semester was for familiar companion, U.S. Identity Politics. In it, I wrote about the November 19, 2011 slaying of Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.

An account of Chamberlain Sr.’s death can be found on Democracy Now!. When I searched the National Public Radio website for “Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.” nothing came up. Nothing.

This is the hole that racism (subtle and overt) leaves in our lives. I feel bludgeoned by that hole, because, Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. was a 68-year-old former Marine when he was fatally shot in his own home (after being tased and then hit with beanbags fired from a shotgun) in a housing project in White Plains, New York by Police Officer Anthony Carelli who, at the time, was facing charges of civil rights abuse for beating two Jordanian brothers while arresting them and calling them “ragheads.”

I cry every time I remember that, in the 15-20 minute ordeal that led to Kenneth Chamberlain Sr.’s murder, when Kenneth Chamberlain Sr. called to Police Officer Stephen Hart to stop banging on the windows of his home, Hart yelled, “I don’t give a f—, n—–!” Hart himself was also facing civil rights abuse charges, as was on-scene supervisory Sergeant Stephen Fottrell.

Do you see that wars do not stop when minority veterans come back?

 

I have tried, am still trying to keep some anonymity about this project, and this is one story that is hard to keep anonymous because there is a ferocity in me that demands I shout the specifics of this event because actions have consequences.

Actions have consequences.

This is what keeps me in quasi-vague details.

 

A young, white, nondisabled male who was elected to a post in the student government here at the university I attend resigned last week. He resigned amid charges of racism for something he posted to his social network account.

I quote:

“these girls are being so loud in the library. …oh wait, they’re black #racisttweet #sorryimnotsorry”

This young, white nondisabled man breaks my heart because in him are all of the poisonous things in our society that keep us separate that those of us with enough privilege choose not to see. He thought that this would be okay. He thought that this would be okay. His post revolves around subtle stereotypes of Black people as less than. As racist caricatures. As immature, non-adults. “girls,he writes. “girls”

And his “girls” echoes of “hey boy!”; of Blackface routines; of quotas in colleges past that explicitly spelled out “NO MORE JEWS”; of concentration camps erected here while we were fighting to free lighter-skinned, less foreign-looking people from concentration camps in Germany; of immigrants rounded up left bloody on street corners and in basements for stealing “our” jobs, as if work belonged to a people whose idea of work included rape, theft, murder and the creation of a legal language that buttressed their spoils of war, whose ancestors (including me) still benefit from these infinite injustices.

Lest you think I am being hyperbolic, do remember that there are no innocent bystanders here. That doing nothing is doing something. That words have power, because, if they did not, why were slaves banned from reading and writing? Why do my classmates flinch, turn red, raise their voices when I bring up historical, racial inequality?

 

I see these things, and I remember them. I am bearing witness to the truthful brutality. I am bearing witness to the words. I read the stories, watch the videos, listen to the audio before I unwind at night trying to memorize it all.

I am bearing witness, praying that I have the strength to help people see the things they need to witness.

 

How can we fight what we refuse to see?

How can we find salvation and future if we refuse to bear witness to the injustice of today that simultaneously is the injustice of the past?

We must bear witness. We must see.

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