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Talk Back: Myth of the Bionic Black Man

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JET wants you to Talk Back.  This is one of the reader submissions that we received and opted to publish.  Want to make your voice heard?  Submit your commentary, TV show recap, poem, or essay HERE.  Read all the rules  so you know how it works. 

In any situation, if a White police officer is moved to kill me, he knows he could do so with impunity. He knows this. His socialization in these United States taught him the ways of race relations at an early age. With them, it’s an implicit understanding. He knows that if I dared to react in a way that is merely displeasing to him he’d be free to take my life without consequence from the law. My innocence doesn’t matter. He understands that, for me, being unarmed doesn’t matter. Standing over my blood-soaked and bullet-riddled body, he’d be justified in his actions. After all, I was Black and I was bionic.

There are two ways the belief in the bionic Black man can be deadly. The first, and less common situation, is when the young and uninitiated White police officer first encounters a Black man in a tense situation. Having never been under duress, if the officer believes that man to be bionic lethal force being applied is almost a sure thing. When the officer faces the slightest threat or even, very often, a misconceived threat, he’ll use lethal force.

Again, it doesn’t matter that the Black man is unarmed. If the officer believes the Black man to be bionic, he understands that man will have no trouble swiping the officer’s gun with his super human quickness. Also, bionic Black men don’t even have to go after the officer’s gun they have the power to crush the officer’s skull between their two hands. With these abilities, the officer’s training is nullified. For how can the expert training of the police, prepped to remain poised and schooled in the art of discernment in the face of danger, conditioned and drilled for hand-to-hand combat and tested for marksmanship, contend with a super human being?

The second and most common occurrence is more sinister. The seasoned White police officer believes in the bionic man, but not in the same way as the uninitiated. He knows I am not bionic. Certainly not, more than any other, seasoned White police officers have the most physical contact with Black men. They know we are fully human and that our limbs bend and our bodies contort like any other under force and heated pressure of conflict. Yet the seasoned White officer understands the power of perception and myth. In fact, he is himself a myth builder.  It serves him, as the construct of race continues to serve the wealthy, the powerful, the poor White, and the insecure. He knows that all he has to say is, “I feared for my life.” No matter the circumstances, this phrase absolves him for he is White and he knows that the majority of the country, both White and non-White believe in some version of the bionic Black man.

George Zimmerman, a fake cop, armed and in pursuit, a man over a decade older than the 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, appealed to this belief. His target, a skinny teenage Black boy, didn’t stand a chance for Zimmerman understood the myth well. He understood that all he had to say was that he feared for his life and it would activate the collective schema of the bionic Black man in the conscious of the country. Instantly, the skinny teenage boy armed only with a bag of skittles and iced tea becomes a demon, a frightening, bionic man of super human abilities, not a scared boy justly defending himself from an armed pursuer. No, he was a bionic Black man leaping out of the bushes and using his monstrous power to threaten the life of the innocent White man.

Mike Brown died 150 feet from Officer Wilson’s police car. That is half a football field. Brown ran half a football field away, running in fear of losing his life and his freedom. He made it half a football field away and then something happened. As it’s been told, suddenly, Brown went from running to stopping and turning around. He turned around an all-powerful being, menacing, hostile and fearless. Now it was Officer Wilson’s turn to fear for his life. So Wilson fired his weapon many times. How else do you put down a bionic man?

Bionic men can run through bullets.