The death of Quawan “Bobby” Charles, a 15-year-old Black boy from Louisiana, is being compared to the lynching of Emmett Till by the media. The Washington Post reported that, at the sight of his body, Bobby’s mom, Roxanne Nelson, ran “from a viewing room screaming in horror at the sight of her son’s mutilated face.” While police declared drowning as the cause of death due to water found in his lungs, the family denied that, citing the physical evidence of the horrific injuries to his face and body.
In order to get justice for her son, Roxanne Nelson, like Mamie Till, released a picture of her son’s mangled body to the public. Although the deaths of Bobby and Emmett Till were over 50 years apart, their chilling similarities reveal a greater truth about the state of our country. It is in moments like this when history reflects itself so clearly that I realize the fight for racial equality in America has been plateauing for longer than most Americans like to admit.
Some say that because we had a Black president, that must be evidence that our society is past its racist history but the immediate response to Barack Obama was Donald J. Trump. Trump has a history of racist remarks towards minorities, and his election in 2016 was called an “inevitable backlash to the Obama presidency.” If American racist ideologies were diminishing instead of hiding in plain sight, there would be no impetus for a “backlash” against the previous Black president.
The Civil Rights Movement has been taught in black and white images, giving a skewed version of how recent the movement actually was. When racism today is compared to the racism combated by historical figures such as MLK and Malcolm X, it is dismissed because it’s not as “in your face” or as unapologetic as it used to be. If Americans are taught to celebrate the Civil Rights Movement with memorials such as MLK Day, then it is hard for most Americans to believe that we are facing the same issues today, as memorials or celebrative holidays indoctrinate these issues as things of the past. However, the truth is that there are many people from that time period still alive today, such as Ruby Bridges — and many of the same issues, such as segregation in schools, are as well. While we can celebrate how far we have come, we cannot forget that we are still mid-war.
It is a shame that the Black community has had to make the same sacrifice that Mamie Till did in 1955 by exposing the brutal murder of her son, in order for people to empathize or believe that we are dying. It is appalling that the police would ignore the physical evidence of Bobby’s injuries the same way a court ignored Emmett Till’s murder in favor of a lie. The continued blind eye society has turned on the abuse and murder of Black bodies can only be described as a testament to this country’s approval of the death of Black people. It is nauseating.
The fight for racial equality was always going to be an uphill battle, but we have been fighting in place. Most of our enemies were hidden until Trump gave them the confidence to come out from the shadows. In spite of Trump’s loss in the presidential election, we must ask ourselves: How will we progress? We as Americans cannot continue to promote a political system where we push those against social progress to the sidelines and hope one day they will join us; that will keep America reliant on moderate candidates during future elections that will not promote the radical change needed in our society.
The American public can no longer wait for a leader to guide us to sustainable progress. Our growth from the ugliness that birthed this country does not start or end with a president, but with education, conversation and an honest examination of where our society must improve. We cannot promote this nation as the land of the free when we have the highest incarceration rate in the world and have normalized police brutality, the killing of immigrant children and dividing Americans based on social identifiers and politics.
It took Mamie Till releasing the image of her son’s mangled face for the Civil Rights Movement to really begin. It took a viral video of George Floyd’s horrific death for the discussion of racism in America to begin again. It took the public seeing Bobby’s body for the police to take his death seriously. When will we stop waiting for evidence of an innocent life taken before we realize that America is nowhere near becoming a post-racist society? This year is one that has shown Americans how racism-riddled the American body is. We must educate ourselves before it is too late.