Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Michael Brown and the limits of "twice as good"

By Jeremiah Carter

Young black people are often advised to be “twice as good.” The charge is given as a way of acknowledging that being simply good enough will not suffice in a society that diminishes black people. However the "twice as good" notion has proven to be quite limiting, particularly in incidents that involve young black men and police officers.

The subsequent questions about Michael Brown’s character, following his violent death, suggest that black men must prove to be perfect even beyond the extent to which law requires. Over the last couple of weeks, Brown’s rap lyrics – with questionable content and apparently inappropriate language – have been highlighted as a way of making a case against him in the court of public opinion.

One of the ways "twice as good" is limiting is in the way victims, particularly dead black males, are defended even by their own supporters. In my estimation and experience, there seems to be reservations when it comes to defending black males who never established themselves as virtually angelic. The standards to which black men are held seem unrealistic.

Over time, we absorb and disseminate contradictory advice. On the one hand, we assert that "I Am A Man,” as a response to treatment that suggests we are sub-human. On the other hand, our “twice as good” mantra sets the bar at an extra or superhuman level.

The right to humanity should not be an exclusive one. It is a right to complexity and the right to make mistakes; and in America, it is a right to a fair trial.

Notebook on Mike Brown and Ferguson   

Jeremiah Carter, who graduated from Hampton University in May, is now a graduate student in the literature program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. He is a contributing writer at the Cultural Front.

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