Sara Menkir – Blog #6

Trevor Noah defines society as a contract that we sign amongst each other, spoken or unspoken, in which we assent to “common rules, common ideals, and common practices” that define us as a group. But, he emphasizes that this contract is only as strong as the people who are abiding by it. Trevor gave the example of Amy Cooper, the white woman who confronted Christian Cooper, a Black birdwatcher at Central Park. “I’m calling the cops.. I’m gonna tell them there’s an African American man threatening my life” she threatened him, weaponizing her being a white woman and using it against him, aware of this power and relationship her whiteness had with law enforcement, in contrast to Christian Cooper. Trevor defined her treatment of Cooper and this encounter as a “powerful explicit example of an understanding of racism in a structural way.” This same day, George Floyd’s life was taken by police officer Derek Chauvin, who according to Trevor, “could take his life and so he did”, knowing that there would be no ramifications. He feels like there’s no justice when there’s people out there whose consequences after taking a life would be much worse than just being fired. Trevor goes back to the topic of the contract and that as a Black person in America who is not being protected in their society, there is no interest in maintaining the contract. The contract Blacks have signed with society continues to not be honored by the same society that’s “forced them to sign it” with them. Trevor continues to emphasize that there cannot be a social contract if the law and people in power don’t uphold their end of it, along with people at the top needing to be the most accountable because they set the example of what needs to be done in society. He brings up the question: if law enforcement is failing to adhere to the laws, then why should the citizens of that same society adhere to such laws? The unjust actions of law enforcement and individuals like Amy Cooper across America have made it difficult for African-Americans to count or be regarded as “full citizens” when not treated as such. 

In the film “I Am Not Your Negro”, James Baldwin’s unfinished but revolutionary story about race in America is captured through the stories of three notable Black civil rights activists and his dear friends: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malcolm X. Animating and bringing to life the real experience of being Black in America, during the Civil Rights Movement and today, Baldwin highlighted how Black oppression has lingered for so long. I especially noticed that the film repeated how Blacks were portrayed through the media (films, shows, magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, advertisements), which contributed to how and why extensive and prevalent racist acts became in America. While Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X are usually seen as opposing forces with King’s nonviolent/nonresistant approach and Malcolm’s approach to obtaining justice “by any means necessary”, they both desired the same outcome to attain equal rights and justice for Blacks in America. Their contrasting ways of addressing justice for Blacks in America, along with Evers’, contribute to the fact that they all stood for the same cause and all gave their lives fighting the same battle. Aware of Black struggle in America and its historical implications, it hurts to be reminded of this constant battle. To live in a country that your ancestors brought into being and were the driving forces for it to prosper, yet continuously underserved and be denied equal rights in the same country is mind-boggling to me. Overall, this film allowed me to refer back to the oppression Blacks faced for hundreds of years and how the threatening of Black civil rights are still very present today but simply more covert and to a lesser degree. 

A quote by James Baldwin that stood out to me: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.” Baldwin is expressing that change can’t happen unless everyone acknowledges and faces the issue that is racism and grasp how systematized it is. 

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