On March 2, 1892, a racially charged mob grew out of a fight between a Black teen and a white teen in front of People’s Grocery in Memphis, Tennessee. This incident led to a seven-day series of intimidation, conspiracies and no-knock warrants for the arrest of the owners of People’s Grocery, who came to the defense of the Black teen by breaking up the beating that the white teen’s father unleashed on the Black teen.
As a result of this incident, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell and Will Stewart, all African-Americans and co-owners of People’s Grocery, were ultimately arrested because whites felt the owners incited and emboldened the ongoing attacks between white and Black residents. Rather than being brought to trial, they were lynched on March 9, 1892, by the railroad. Moss’ dying words were, “Tell my people to go west — there is no justice for them here.”
Moss’ words centralized racism and racial terror violence to the South, but every American region has an essential and intentional relationship with structural and individual racism. This is not a post-racial society.
On May 14, 2022, a self-identified white supremacist and anti-Semite (according to his 180-page manifesto) drove about 200 miles from his hometown in Conklin, New York, to Tops Friendly Market, a supermarket in a historically Black neighborhood in Buffalo, New York. According to his manifesto, he targeted the area because “it has the highest Black population percentage” by zip code, and it wasn’t far away from where he lived. He scouted the area for a while before entering the supermarket in full tactical gear, killing 10 people and injuring 3, many of whom were Black.
As a Black, Indigenous woman, I am so tired of Black people being collateral damage to the fear and intimidation of white nationalists who feel entitled to systemic privilege. Black people are often just playing and living in their own backyards, and perceived as posing a risk to whiteness. White exceptionalism justifies actions against white norms and rejects cultural differences that are not white-centered. Jefferson Ave in Buffalo, New York is a neighborhood full of small and/or Black-owned businesses, and many of its residents, according to the publication North Jersey, “know each other like family, and look out for each other like family, too.” The Buffalo attack displays how Black people are often brutalized, oppressed and policed inside and outside their communities, and have essentially nowhere to exist.
The cultural and physical existence of Blackness is under attack. Racism is taught, and at 18 years old, taking a definitive position on the erasure of whiteness in America is at height ignorant and delusional. Black people have dealt with oppression and racial terror violence in slavery, segregation, mass incarceration and now existence. Black people are now killed because they merely exist. This is not new — it’s hackneyed and insane.
History keeps on repeating itself. On May 31 — June 1, 1921, mobs of white residents, some of whom had been deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked Black residents, destroyed homes, and churches, and set fire to businesses in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma — a thriving Black business district. The Greenwood district, like Jefferson Ave and People’s Grocery, was blindsided by the attacks, and the aftermath resulted in Black lives lost, injured or traumatized.
From People’s to Tulsa to Tops, Black people are unsafe in their own backyards. There is no policy that addresses living while Black and the legal consequences that would come from threatening Black existence. Anti-Black racial violence won’t abruptly stop and symbolic gestures won’t suffice until we are ready to pass laws that guarantee the safety of Black existence. Protect Black lives.
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