Exploited, marginalized and exoticized by the American majority since first reaching the western hemisphere, the role of the black body in Western history is unquestionable. Even as black women become the face of beauty products and Bond girls, and black men set new standards for physical prowess, their bodies remain a commodity to be bought, traded and appraised to the ends of others. America is a country founded on free labor from slaves, and buoyed by its capitalist spirit.
It should come as no surprise that the systematic killing of millions of blacks is overlooked by white politicians, who believe that the opportunity to live in America is an equal trade. It should come as no surprise that Blacks were once counted as three-fifths of a person for electoral purposes, or that in 2013 the president of a major university would identify that decision as an ideal compromise.
The portrayal of African-American children as “gator bait” is a trope that lasted for decades after slavery, featured on postcards well into the civil rights era, celebrating the lack of value in a black life.
Every year, multiple instances of unaware white Americans don blackface, inciting powerful feelings of anger and sorrow in the black community, only to retreat under the veil of ignorance and a light apology when confronted.
Unfortunately, awareness is lacking on both sides of the issue, with blacks unable to recognize the ways in which they are marginalized and stereotyped by the media and centuries of oppression. European standards of beauty and masculinity are imposed upon African-Americans from birth, regardless of how impossible they are to obtain.
Black women who do pass the threshold into stardom are viewed as “exotic,” a rare beast to be obtained and conquered. Black men, regardless of stature, are feared for their perceived hyper-masculinity, even as white-led media outlets do their very best to perpetuate the stereotype. African-Americans are transformed into commodities for the purpose of continuing the great American capitalist tradition.
This is why the death of a 16-year-old black boy at the hands of police, or the murder of an infant can be forgotten with the wave of a hand. The Newtown, Conn. murders held weight because they disturbed the image of the ideal white America, where as every murder in the urban jungle of Chicago is simply added to a tally. In the public eye, black lives are only as valuable as the attention they earn.