The Pedagogy Of Corpses

DALLAS, USA - JULY 13: Motorcycle Policemen escort the casket of slain Lorne Ahrens on the way of Restland Memorial Park's Ga
DALLAS, USA - JULY 13: Motorcycle Policemen escort the casket of slain Lorne Ahrens on the way of Restland Memorial Park's Garden of Honor cemetery in Dallas,Texas, USA on July 13, 2016. Ahrens was one of five officers killed last week when a gunman opened fire on a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Dallas. (Photo by Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Graphic images in video.


America learns about race by way of corpses. It took the lynched corpses of thousands to teach America about the horrors of the segregated south. It took the corpses of civil rights workers and a few civil rights icons to teach America the depth of resistance to black civil rights.

It has taken the corpses of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling and more to teach America about unequal policing and systemic racism in the American justice system.

As Americans, only death teaches us about our propensity for prejudice. And with few exceptions, the corpses have been black. Black blood has been the principal lubricant for America's education on these topics. We die, America talks about learning. More of us die, America talks about learning and changing. More of us die, and America appoints a commission to make recommendations about learning and changing.

More of us die...

Now, however, the curriculum has changed. This time, the bloody horror visited not just white men, but white police officers -- a class whose sometime legitimate heroism has been clichéd and fetishized into the verbal tic of "our heroes in blue." This time, a man trained in our armed forces to kill the enemy amassed weapons of war and used them on American streets to mercilessly, indiscriminately, and cold-bloodedly murder white police officers.

Like the Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, like Dylann Roof who murdered worshippers on a Charleston South Carolina church -- like many an angry white man brimming with race hatred before him, black U.S. Army Reserve veteran Micah Johnson wanted to teach America. Only this time, he coated his lesson in white blood.

Johnson was white America's perennial fear come true -- the vengeful black man out for white blood. However, Johnson upended the conventional vision. His was no rageful, self-defeating ghetto rampage that burned down his own house. This was cold and merciless. It was calculated, well planned and stunningly effective. It was surgically efficient, so much so that police initially thought there were multiple shooters.

Johnson's murderous rampage ignored the non-violent 'beat me until you can no longer bear to watch yourself beat me anymore' societal requirements for the expression of black anger. He expressed his rage with the same weaponry as the Bundy's, the same self-righteousness as the occupiers of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. The difference is that we had just seen in the deaths of Castile and Sterling that Johnson's rage, expressed so horrifically, had a legitimate source.

When it comes to race, America learns by death. Newt Gingrich, who just a few days ago denied the existence of racial disparities in policing with the "all lives matter" dodge, now says, that "normal white Americans" don't understand the discrimination black Americans face. Vox magazine had an article entitled, "Conservative writers explain why they're now more skeptical of police."

Americans learn lessons on race only through death. It will be the ultimate American irony if the cold-blooded murders of white cops at the hands of a black man finally shortens our learning curve.