The last thing Tywanza Sanders shared on his Facebook page was a video we produced called White Riots.
Tywanza Sanders, of course, is the 26 year old killed in Wednesday night's race-fueled terrorist attack at Emmanuel AME church in Charleston, SC. Eight others would also die, including Tywanza's aunt, Susie Jackson. He reportedly had stepped in front of her to protect her from being shot. In the end, his valiant effort was no match for the racism that met him at Bible study that night.
Racism at Bible study. What year are we in again?
These days it's hard to tell. Unarmed black men and women are shot in the street almost weekly for nonviolent crimes and the mainstream nation tells us they had it coming. They shouldn't have run. They shouldn't have broken any laws. They should've had better parents. Better community leaders. But a shooter who kills 9 people at church is a tragic display of wayward youth and mental illness, and is brought into custody with a bulletproof vest and escorted on a private plane. In short, how polite an alleged criminal is determines their treatment. Charges play no role. Racism plays a huge role.
Black and brown people are 4-10 times more likely to be arrested and 21 more times more likely to be killed once in custody. Of course, racism plays no role there either, right? No, it's lack of leadership, it's criminal mentality, it's...what did Bill O'Reilly say, "black people's rejection of education."
Now I won't say that bad choices don't lead to bad consequences. They do. But like New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof recently wrote, study after study proves that the more physical and mental stress you are under (like poverty, joblessness, you know, the stuff RACISM does), the more difficult it is to make good decisions. You are thinking about pure survival. Not long term goals. That makes sense to mainstream America when Dave Ramsey shows them how their stressed out spending habits keeps them in debt. But talk about black bodies doing it and the resounding chorus yells "they need to get a job and stop looking for handouts.
Enter the power of social media.
If the only way I consumed news was through mainstream America, I'd probably hold those same beliefs. When I hear gang violence I'd think "black people" (53 percent of gang homicides are committed by whites. Did you even know there are white gangs?!). I would totally understand why white women are taught to fear rape by a stray black man on the street (white's lead ALL RACES 2 to 1 in forcible rape). Hell, I am black and I've come to believe we are more violent than others by watching the news (83 percent of white murder victims are killed by white people... and there are 6x as many white people so you don't have to be a mathematician to know that is WAY more murders). So basically, I would believe the racist bullshit. As much of America does.
Social media doesn't rely on supervisors or advertisers dollars. We can just say what we want. Because of social media, I knew about Charleston long before CNN decided it might be worth it to disrupt their programming. Because of social media, young men and women like me got me ready to face the truth: the media would try to say this young white man was a good kid, quiet, and gone down the wrong path. (There is actually a social media bingo game about this gone viral. I won in 15 minutes.) Because of social media, I connected with millions who were as hurt, appalled, and devastated as I am. We had a place where people listened, maybe even disagreed, but we could all vent and say what was on our mind and be angry about how we are treated both in the media and in day-to-day society
Because of social media, I also saw how in the dark mainstream America is about how we feel and the facts. Social media showed me how many people who are my "friends" don't really care for black people but a select few of us are the exception. Social media showed me that years of politely avoiding racial discourse at places like work or at parties made them believe that black and brown people were "doing fine". Thus our frustration we are sharing now are from race baiters like Al Sharpton and that communist president. We were fine until they were allowed to stard discussing race in the media I take partial blame for that. Maybe I should have talked about my little brother crying because his high school girlfriend's mom said she couldn't date black boys and my surfing, football playing brother was a "thug." I guess I just didn't feel like it was the right time.
Finally, social media showed me how people really feel. It showed me how Megyn Kelly still has a job. How "I'm not racist but..." is the predecessor for something racist, and how even if a young man ADMITS to killing for racial pretenses, it can still be flipped that there is STILL no race problem in America.
I'm thankful for my job at Brave New Films where we utilize social media to tell a narrative that mainstream America is largely ignoring. I'm grateful for bosses like Robert Greenwald, who let you get your rocks off on national blogs when you're so pissed off you really just want to scream and cry. And I am thankful we are bold enough to do films like Racism is Real and White Riots. I know we are hitting a nerve with mainstream America who doesn't want to talk about this. I know we are speaking for people, like Tywanza Sanders, who identified with our film, not knowing that he would fall martyr shortly after and his death and be subject to the same racist media rhetoric that he recognized happens.
Who is going to call Tywanza a hero? Who is going to call Sen. Pinkney a hero? Who is going to call the other 6 people killed heroes? Because they were! They felt the same things I feel, they shared the same things I shared, and when a white man walked into their church, they welcomed him. So much so that he admits he almost didn't go through with it because they were so nice to him. They knew what was going on around them, what kind of world we live in, how much vitriol is spewed about people who look like them by media and in whispers about the latest police shooting, and this young man was still welcome. That's heroic. They stood up to hatred with arms and prayers wide open. And they paid with their life.
Is CNN going to call them heroes? Will ABC? Fox News damn sure won't. And because they won't do it, neither will America. Like four little girls in Alabama, their names could easily be forgotten outside of a major speech. I am committed, Robert Greenwald is committed, and Brave New Films is committed to NEVER FORGET. We will light timelines, playlists and Twitter feeds up to remind this nation that there is something still VERY wrong. That the days of trying to be polite about it are over. That there are heroes among us that we are failing to acknowledge because it would implicate THIS NATION as the bad guy. Tywanza stood up for his aunt. Lets stand up for him.
Media be damned. We'll report it ourselves.