Being black in America is a never-ending challenge of whether black lives matter. If you have not lived it, you cannot really understand it. You may sympathize. You may even empathize. Still you cannot really understand because it is a pervasive experience from the moment we wake up in the morning to the minute we fall into a deep sleep at night. And I cannot make you understand, so I will not try. However, I do want to share a few episodes of my experiences of being black in this country. To even begin to understand, you must understand that to so many Black lives do not matter.
I have a knife mark in my left side where I was stabbed because a white man pushed my wife, Faya Rose Toure, down and was standing over her. I jumped out of the car, ran over, and knocked him down. As I was helping my wife up, he knifed me in my side. One of my kidneys was punctured and has a 25 percent reduced capacity to this day. In court he was found not guilty and I was sentenced to jail. I was a lawyer. My wife was a lawyer. But we are both black. Our black lives did not matter.
Our son, Kindaka Sanders, graduated from Harvard Law School. He took the Alabama bar exam. The very day he learned that he had passed the bar, which should have been a day of rejoicing, he and several other young black men were falsely arrested. A forged false incident report was created. He could have been disbarred before he practiced law a single day. His black life did not matter.
My wife, Faya Rose Toure, has a nearly two-year-old charge pending in court that the authorities refuse to try. The police charged her with stealing a campaign sign removed from public property. The law says the signs should not be on right of way in the first place. It was a frame up. Her black life did not matter.
Years ago, Faya and I refused to take the Alabama bar exam at the same time. We were convinced that the Alabama bar would never allow both of us, as a black married couple, to pass the bar in the same sitting. I took it first and she took it the next time. We each passed on our first try. So many others did not make it. Our black lives did not matter.
Joe Smitherman, the former mayor of Selma, Ala., and his co-hort, Cecil Williamson, wrote letters to the U.S. Attorney, the District Attorney, the FBI and ABI, the Alabama Attorney General, the governor and lieutenant governor, the Alabama Ethics Commission, and others. Each letter requested that I be investigated. One leader of one of these agencies told me that he told Smitherman that he would investigate me when they provided the evidence they had. Smitherman told him that he did not have any evidence but if they investigated me long and hard enough, they would find something. All the agencies declined to investigate except one. My black life did not matter.
The Alabama Ethics Commission held an improperly submitted complaint on me for two years until the membership of the Commission changed. Then they changed an interpretation of a provision in the statute. They went to great lengths over great time in going after me but did not succeed. My black life did not matter.
When I worked in the shipping department at Honeywell many years ago, I applied for a vacant position as an electronic technician. I had recently enrolled in RCA School of Electronics. Honeywell had not required any other employees to take a test to become an electronic technician. All got on-the-job training. However, they told me that this time they were going to give a test to all applicants and whoever made the highest score would get the job. They seemed certain that it would not be me. I completed the entire RCA textbook in a week, took the test and got the job. However, they never would tell me my score and no one else was even tested. My black life did not matter.
A writer was doing a book on Selma among other things. He interviewed the son of Mayor Joe Smitherman who insisted that I did not graduate from Harvard Law School. He said I was too dumb to even get in Harvard Law School. He had never talked to me but made a judgment based on my color. My black life did not matter.
Faya and I were in Reverend C.L. Franklin’s (Aretha Franklin’s father) church in Detroit. Policemen shot up the church. All 153 black persons in the church, including women and children, were arrested. Faya and I, two Harvard Law students, were arrested as well for no reason. None of the 153 black lives mattered.
A white man who considered himself a liberal once told me that I actually benefited by being black. His proof was that if I were white, I would not be in the Alabama State Senate. I said, “You are right. I would not be in the Alabama State Senate. I would be in the United States Senate.” With all the obstacles facing black people, he perceived my race as a benefit for me. My black life did not matter.
My life has been threatened several times, once in a courtroom by a policeman. Faya’s life has been threatened many times, including at a voting place in 2017. And little was ever done about these threats to our lives. Our black lives do not matter.
There are so many more incidents I could share that demonstrate that black lives do not matter. However, I have exhausted my allotted space for this column. Suffice it to say that black people never really become Americans. We are always less than. Even President Barack Obama was less than. He was called a monkey many times and accused of not being a citizen even after he became president. President Obama is black. His black life did not matter.
White supremacy is embedded in too many white people. White supremacy is embedded in too many black people. In those whites, white supremacy is inside out. In those black people, white supremacy is outside in. Either way, it is extremely destructive. It is really tough being black when black lives do not matter.
White supremacy is so much more destructive than the usual racism. Racism is found in every race. White supremacy is different because it declares that white people are not just superior but supreme. As stated by the U. S. Supreme Court in the famous Dred Scott decision, black people have no rights that white people are bound to respect. That is a sure indication that black lives do not matter.
Henry “Hank” Sanders was a Democratic member of the Alabama senate for 35 years.
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