Brother Ali: My fans are kicking the sh*t out of me over Trayvon Martin

Categories: Brother Ali
Photo by Jonathan Mannion
Note: Brother Ali is a Minneapolis rapper signed to Rhymesayers Entertainment and is one of our 20 Best Minnesota Musicians. His latest album, Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color, will be released in August. Here are portions of an interview following the One Million Hoodies March for Trayvon Martin held March 29 at the University of Minnesota, which drew between 5,000 and 6,000 people.

Brother Ali on Occupy Homes and the foreclosure crisis
Slideshow: One Million Hoodies March for Trayvon Martin in Minneapolis

Brother Ali: The Trayvon Martin case is part of a legacy in our country that goes back to the very beginning. We created a racialized, second-class citizenship for black people. We had something back then called the refugee slave act, which basically meant that anybody black in America -- even in the North -- could be brought in under suspicion that they might be a runaway slave. We've always had this thing. Throughout time, after slavery, we had Jim Crow. We have a long legacy of the police killing unarmed black people that's still going on. We see about four or five of them every year.

As part of that legacy, vigilantes in the name of "protecting us" go out and hunt and target and kill black people. We saw this with the Klu Klux Klan, then lynch mobs, and we're seeing it with these vigilantes, like the Zimmerman guy. Every single one of these cases, all the way back to the beginning, we find a way to blame the victim. We find a way to let the killers off the hook.

The conversation that's coming out of this is showing that we've become very polite, and we've become deafeningly silent about institutional racism in our society. For a long time, we've given ourselves credit for work that we haven't completed. We've begrudgingly, at a snail's pace, doled out these concessions to our black citizens, but we've never really fixed the institutional problem.
Hoodies March Hilary Stein 1.jpg
Photo by Hilary Stein

There's this really damaging, hurtful idea that stifles progress, that we're post-racial. A lot of people think that racism isn't a factor in people's lives anymore, and that Obama is the final symbol that we're past racism. The reality is that whether or not we're bigots individually, hate black people, or say the n-word, we're taught to look at it on a really individual basis. We can say, "I as an individual, I'm not racist." But the reality is that racism has become an institution of its own, and it's also a part of every single institution in American life.
Racial lines, class lines, gender lines, sexuality lines, religious lines, nationality, all of these things. We as the people in the dominant group have an unfair advantage. I think that's why we don't talk about this. When we let George Zimmerman off the hook, we're really letting ourselves off the hook. We really are negating our responsibility in this thing. Whether or not we as individuals are bigots, we are benefiting from a system that holds some people back for the benefit of others.
Photo by Hilary Stein

We really need to take a grown-up, mature look in the mirror, and that's what we're missing. A lot of us can say, "George Zimmerman's a racist," or "Those cops in Florida are racist." The reality is that we have a system in place that keeps going, and we are the only ones who can demand for it to be different. In order to do that, we have to do some really serious soul-searching as members of the dominant, mainstream group. We have to really look and decide what kind of society we really want to live in, what kind of people we really want to be.

Also, this is a national security issue. This is a terrorism that black and brown people live with. The broader, mainstream society experienced on 9-11 what it felt like to be unsafe, vulnerable, and unprotected just based upon who we are. We started wars around the world for that. The reality is that 3,000 people died that day. We lynched 5,000 people in the South during Jim Crow. Since then, the numbers are in the thousands. Unarmed black people get killed by police, and unarmed, innocent people killed by self-appointed protectors of our society.

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