It’s not hard to see how much of a threat racism is to black men in America.
In his book, Smith tackles how black men process witnessing the deaths of other black men and boys while simultaneously celebrating their identity and power. Smith was 25 when George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin. He told host Trever Noah that though Martin’s death wasn’t the start of a new phenomenon, it was a turning point for black millennials.
“That moment galvanized a lot of people and I think it was because you had a generation that turned out to vote for Barack Obama,” the author said. “[Black people] turned their political energy toward the electoral system, the ideas of hope and change. And here’s the thing, here’s the history that we were told was over happening to us.”
Smith admitted that, like many black men, he didn’t think he would even live to see 25.
“I also came of age post 9/11 and the Iraq war. I thought maybe I could get sent off to war and die there,” he told Noah. “And then George Zimmerman kills Trayvon Martin and now you have to worry about people who think they’re police officers. So there’s all of these different elements at play contributing to that anxiety that your life is devalued in a way that could end at any moment.”
After Martin’s death, Smith said he predicted the national focus would be shifted to how black men can prevent themselves from getting killed ― a notion that denies them humanity in the first place, he says. He also stressed how important it is to look at the root cause of not only black people being killed by non-black people but also the root cause of violence within the black community.
“We’re not examining poverty, we’re not examining the lack of educational resources, we’re not examining the lack of mental health resources in our communities,” he said.
In an extended clip of Smith’s interview, he said that many of the issues black people face today are “products of an oppressive system meant to devalue black lives.” He urged black millennials to f**k s**t up and stand up against the racial violence that often goes unnoticed.
“We don’t talk about the sort of violence of the erasure of slavery from the textbooks in Texas. We don’t talk about the violence of closing schools in Chicago and Philly. We’re still not even talking about the violence of poisoning people’s water... That’s happening every single day and it’s all a part of the same system.”