A Cross Burning In A Community That “Accepts Black Children”


Few images are more terrifying to behold than a burning cross, or its remnant on your property.  There can be no doubt that you have been targeted with something hateful.  It is an act of extreme cowardice because even as it inspires fear in the person it is aimed at; it allows anonymity for the perpetrator.  Though we daily live with the lie of a post racial society, burning crosses are not a thing of the past.

Sixteen year old Shaquille Howard would wake to find the remnant of a burnt cross outside of the home that he shares with his legal guardians and several other foster children.  Considering that the Walbecks live in a primarily white neighbourhood  an hour east of Pittsburgh, it is quite obvious that this event is highly racialized.

“Everybody accepts him. Well, apparently, there’s somebody who don’t,” said Joe Walbeck, a former coal miner who’s on disability. “I just can’t believe there are still small-minded people out there like this.”

As kind as these people seem, they cannot conceive of this because they are White.  Walking through the world with White privilege has allowed them the ability to ignore the obvious racism that occurs on a daily basis.  A simple evening of watching television, should make it clear to the viewer which bodies are valued and which bodies are not.  Whether or not Walbeck is aware, each day his foster son Shaquille opens his eyes, he must negotiate a world that has decided to mark his Blackness as a negative identity.

Even  Trooper James Fry of the Indiana station, who is investigating this hate crime, has yet to understand the role that this plays in supporting White supremacy.

“They all kind of said, `I thought this was done years ago,”’ Fry told the Gazette. “Every indication is … it’s a very isolated incident.”

Hate crimes are always understood to be isolated incidents.  It matters not whether or not another cross is burned in this neighbourhood again because each incident of racism directed at a person of color affects the entire African American community.  When Sean Bell and Oscar Grant were murdered in cold blood it was a reminder that our lives are not safe with the police.  Each action cements the power of Whiteness and this is felt by all the peoples of the African diaspora.

When they find the perpetrator of this hate crime, Whiteness will once again frame hir as person that acted as an individual, thereby divorcing itself of the gains made by hir action.  This is uniformly the case when a White individual commits a crime, whereas; a person of color is always representative of their race.  Whiteness is never understood to be a threat; it is the great normalizing force socially.

Finding this person will not lessen the threat that Whiteness poses towards people of color.  Whiteness cannot hope to undo the damage that it has done to African American communities, until it owns its criminality in full.  This crime is just one action within a larger purposeful decision to terrorize bodies of color.  Whiteness is a systemic force that must be acknowledged and dismantled. Though only sixteen years old,  Shaquille Howard  is but one of the many victims who has been forcefully reminded that Blackness constitutes other within this racist, patriarchal, sexist, white supremacist state.

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