“Why ‘When They See Us’ is too painful to watch” is a story on CNN anout a important news story in my Long Island, New York suburban upbringing as a black child in an area where people moved to get away from black people–including the black couple who adopted me and two other children because we were light skinned and pretty.
w.cnn.com/Why ‘When They See Us’ Is Too Painful To Watch CNN analysis about a Netflix program about the five black teenagers wrongfully convicted of rape in the 1980’s. Them named the victim “The Central Park Jogger,” and branded them a “Wolfpack” that had gone “wilding” in search if prey Their coerced confessions we’re eventually invalidated by DNA evidence after 18 years in prison
I don’t want to write a story you’ve already read about injustice. I want to give you the perspective I have heard people say but I have never read.
“I’m glad the guy isn’t black,” said an associate to me while we watched the nightly news about the mainland U.S. in Hawaii. We are both black, both from the East coast, and both familiar with the almost palpable sense of relief we always felt when the news flashes a suspect’s mugshot. And we happily observe that he is white. We talked about feeling relieved to see that the murderer of Bill Cosby’s son was European. We were also relieved to see that the killers of Michael Jordan’s father were stunningly stupid, and an interracial idiot duo. I had never had this conversation before or since, bu I’m betting others can relate and I won’t be pilloried for telling the truth. The truth is that the anniversary of the infamous 1980’s rape case in Central Park reminds me of the soul shriveling shame I felt to be part of a group that included the now exonerated black youths.
The nightly news was a source of anxiety for me because it’s contents impacted my life. Every time a crime was mentioned, I held my breath, hoping that when the suspect’s picture came up, he was white. He usually wasn’t. I wasn’t the only one who noticed that black people and the mysterious “crack” along with “drug related” crimes, AIDS, and “crack babies” dominated the media. Reading the newspaper was like reading National Geographic about little known cultures, that’s how foreign all of that was to my suburban world. One lucky thing about being black was I knew black people were not necessarily criminals since I wasn’t a criminal. Like any narcissist worth her salt, I used myself as the standard by which all others are measured. The downside about thinking everything was about me, including national news, was the ripple effect of the belief that everything said about black people was being said directly about me, directly to me. And it hurt me.
In school I was always in gifted and talented classes that encouraged students to firm, express, and debate opinions about current events. It was hell for me, the only black student in the “Spark” program since testing into it in 3rd grade. The few other black students were in the regular and much maligned special Ed classes.
I was alone in a white, hostile world that considered me unworthy of notice. Alone, with the tag “Loser,” had to listen to the other students speculate about what was wrong with black people. Why were they always the criminals? Why were the prisons full of blacks? I had the same questions, and no satisfactory answers. I remember sitting statue still as other gifted students shot spitballs that stuck in my poof of hair (my hair was an incontrovertible difference between me and them). I couldn’t feel the paper hit me through the frizz I did not know how to tame. My full lips felt dry and huge, and I didn’t dare lick them and call attention to another source of taunts. I wouldn’t have believed anyone had they predicted lip injections for women wanting lips like mine. In my middle school homogeneity was celebrated not differences.
Let me be clear, racism was not entirely to blame for my problems in middle school or at any other time over the next 30 years. did not have the social skills to interact normally. I certainly didn’t have the charm to make people forget I wasn’t one of them. Race was not the only thing that factored into my unpopularity. I wasn’t friendless only bc I was black. Racism sealed my status. My classmates reacted to and solidified my pariah status. During current event discussions some students tried to choose their words carefully while stealing sidelong glances at me. Others blatantly stared at me and confidently asserted that black people were not the same as “us. ” I was the object of the discussion and excluded. Discussions had other focal points readers can Google: Howard Beach, Tawana Brawley, Willie Horton.
People are angry st Pr willesident Trump’s now for what he said then. Of course he said they were detestable. We were told they gang raped a lone woman and left her for dead face down in a puddle and now she had brain damage. It was indefensible and no one, at the time, blamed Trump for saying so bc we all agreed with him. Now,t are many sounces of info with different perspectives. Back then we had the New York papers and TV news, and that was it. I had no reason to doubt them or disagree. Neither did Trump–until he became the media’s targeted bad guy. Then I he revealed a little about “fake news.” I suspect he knows more than he says about how the media can’t be trusted. Perhaps he knew it then. I was not an enlightened child. I believed the “free press” and trusted the impartiality they claimed. I was a black child humiliated by the “facts” of my difference, shamed by her peers. I somehow shared blame for infamous crimes committed by black people. I desperately wanted to be seen as “one of the good ones.” It was almost as if I owed the victim an apology.
Do I feel vindicated by the overturned convictions? I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wish the perpetrator had been white. The true perpetrator is black after all. Does DNA evidence support the race based assumptions?Do I still need to offer an apology on behalf of my race? In 20 years, will we scoff at how dumb we were to believe DNA. The people who say to trust DNA also gave us the “Wolfpack.” I wonder if anything I think I know is true.