Why Black Boys Are Never Allowed to Make Mistakes in America
Even ringing the wrong doorbell can end violently
No one is perfect. In fact, if there is one thing that all people have in common, we’re bound to make mistakes. We’re even taught not to cry over spilled milk. “To err is human,” an Enlightenment poet, Alexander Pope, said, a phrase that’s remained salient throughout the ages as a testament to our imperfections. However, in American society, Black people are rarely given grace and are often violently punished for committing even the slightest faux pas. And this phenomenon is especially true for Black boys.
In 1955, two White men lynched Emmett Till, a 14-year-old Black boy, for allegedly whistling at a White woman, Carolyn Bryant, in Mississippi. Of course, years later, Carolyn admitted she lied, that Till never whistled at her, but the punishment had already been dolled out. So not only was Till’s murder based on a false accusation, but it also illustrates just how little leeway Black boys have in America. Because even if a Black boy whistled at a White woman, something once seen as a social violation in the racist deep south, it’s preposterous to believe killing him would be an appropriate penalty.
When a Black boy takes a misstep in America, he’s likely to fall into a pit of white rage.
Do you know how we know racism inspired Till’s lynching? If the roles were reversed, and a Black woman accused a White boy of whistling at her or acting inappropriately, there would be no consequences, let alone a violent, extrajudicial response. White boys and men brutalizing Black women is an undercurrent in America’s stream of consciousness. For instance, in May 1870, “fifteen White men raped a Black woman while other members of the mob lynched her husband.” Of course, no charges were filed against the White men, a typical reaction from southern White prosecutors during the Jim Crow era. And the irony isn’t lost on the Black community that a White guilty man has a better chance of evading punishment in America than a Black innocent man or boy. It’s a disturbing pattern.