We have a black president. But the sanctity of black life has still not been settled

Andrzej Krauze's illustration on African Americans

‘We can celebrate a black president, black professors, black astrophysicists and black tennis players all we want. But the issue of the sanctity of black life has still not been settled.’ Illustration: Andrzej Krauze

On 26 November 2007 Brandon Moore, an unarmed 16-year-old, was shot in the back while running away from a security guard in Detroit. The guard made it look like sport. “[He] put one arm on top of the other arm and started aiming at us,” Brandon’s brother John Henry, who was with him at the time, told me.

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As migrants we leave home in search of a future, but we lose the past

Child on a swing

‘My friends in New York knew I had brothers and had lost my mother. They knew I grew up working class in a town near London. The rest was footnotes.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

This is not a sob story. But the tears came anyhow. They crept up on me at the 70th birthday party of a friend a few years back. We were celebrating in a hotel ballroom in Letchworth in Hertfordshire and I had struck up a conversation with distant acquaintance – a woman I had met only a few times before and have not met since. We talked about the primary school she worked at and the secondary school I went to, which were just five minutes’ walk apart in nearby Stevenage– both had declined – and about the local council and football team. She asked me when I was going back to New York, where I’d been living for seven years at that point, and I told her, the next afternoon.

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Who’s Accountable for Ferguson’s Crimes? No One, It Seems

In the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown and Eric Garner, Fox News anchor Bill O’Reilly had some advice for black America: “Don’t abandon your children. Don’t get pregnant at 14. Don’t allow your neighborhoods to deteriorate into free-fire zones. That’s what the African-American community should have on their T-shirts.” (That’s either a very big garment or very small lettering.)

Whenever black kids get shot, black parents get lectured about personal responsibility. If you raised your kids better, goes the conservative logic, we wouldn’t have to shoot them. Arguments about systemic discrimination and racist legacies are derided as liberal excuses for bad behavior. Neither history nor economics nor politics made Mike Brown grab Darren Wilson’s gun—that was his choice. Individuals, we are told, are responsible for their own actions and must be held accountable for them.

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