The Devaluation of Black Life

In a blog post for Strong Families inspired by Trayvon Martin's death, contributor Shanelle Matthews reflects on the ways in which she says society lacks regard for the lives of African Americans.

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In a blog post for Strong Families inspired by Trayvon Martin's death, contributor Shanelle Matthews reflects on the ways in which she says society lacks regard for the lives of African Americans.

As the news of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin’s murder floods the airwaves I sit, familiarly reflective and saddened by the loss of yet another Black life at the hands of a sanctimonious racist. But like many of you, I know that this experience is not an isolated one. Largely, the lives of young Black men have never held great value in this country. From birth to untimely death, they’ve been treated as mules for labor, obvious scapegoats, easy targets and disposable -- at no consequence to the disposer. We’ve watched as the media and policy makers have heavily overlooked the outright assassinations of countless Black boys and men with little to no significance placed on the value of their lives or the racial implications of why they were murdered.

It’s enraging when I think of how capriciously Americans shrug their shoulders and turn the other cheek when considering the value of Black life in this country. Institutional and interpersonal racism has left Black America in a very precarious place; just leaving our homes puts us at risk for being assassinated by any self-righteous, gun-yielding neighborhood watchman who deems us suspicious.

This way of thinking is an example of a broader societal philosophy that literally begins at conception of a Black life. Black mothers, often considered hyper-sexual in nature, are frequently treated with little to no dignity by doctors who dismiss their pregnancies as accidental or inconsequential. With a maternal and fetal mortality rate higher than any other race (often caused by stress brought on by racial burdens), Black mothers often experience traumatic birthing experiences that include forced cesareans, trivializing attitudes by medical professionals, and contemptuous care that has led to death or serious injury. If they survive this, Black children are given the least resources, have the least access to healthcare, endure some the most toxic and contaminated environments, and deal with structural and interpersonal racism throughout adolescence and into adulthood, where they risk the chance of being shot to death by people like George Zimmerman.

Read Shanelle Matthews' entire piece at Strong Families.

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