Reflections

‘When They See Us’: A Reflection

Bryan Tann discusses his thoughts upon finishing the Netflix original.

Hey Plotaholics! Bryan here.

I finished watching When They See Us a while back, on a Saturday night in June and into the next morning. I started watching that Saturday morning, and after binging the entire show in less than 24 hours, I was in tears.

The case of The Central Park Five is among the most potent examples of a miscarriage of justice as there ever has been in the United States in the last forty years. If you haven’t watched When They See Us, I suggest you do so. However, I understand why many won’t. It is very powerful, very potent, and will hit your agony and anger receptors with the might of Rocky Balboa’s body shots.

This article is going to be a little bit different than other articles that I have written for the Plotaholics. I’m not really reviewing this mini-series. It is an amazing series, but I’m going to speak more from the heart.

I was only nine, going on ten-years-old, when the Central Park Five (Korey Wise, Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Kevin Richardson) were arrested and demonized for the brutal rape and attempted murder of Trisha Meili. I actually knew nothing about this case as I have no memory of anything about it from my childhood. I heard about it as an adult when they were first exonerated, but until this series, the incident had essentially faded from my conscious mind.

For that, I feel horrible.

I have known white people—both personally and in my professional life, especially from my time as a certified Corrections Officer at the county level in the state of New Hampshire—that have taken a very defensive stand on situations involving black people. I have had people say to me, and I’m paraphrasing, but not by much: “Why do black people have to make everything about race? Don’t they realize that’s what keeps racism around? I’m glad you’re not like them Bryan. You don’t see yourself as a victim.” Yes. I have had people look me in the face and say this, without batting an eye. They were sincere and felt completely justified.

When you mention the Central Park Five, or Trayvon Martin, or Tamir Rice, or the litany of black men and women whom in the last ten years have been victims of police brutality, one of the things that I recall hearing from white people that I knew (especially in the case of Trayvon Martin) was “Why was he there?” Or, as YouTuber Calvin Michaels stated in his video discussing this same topic, “There’s something you must have done for this to happen.”

Why is that? Why is it that these black citizens had to be doing something that resulted in something happening? Tamir Rice was being a kid with his BB gun when the police drove right up on him and shot him. Young white children have been playing with BB guns for forever without worrying about anything other than ‘shooting your eyes out.’

Why is this simple act of childhood not something we as black people can do? Why? Are we that feared and hated that we cannot do something that is considered part of a child’s life?

Are we that feared and hated that we cannot just walk to the store? So what if I’m wearing a hoodie with my hood over my head or not? Maybe there’s a chill in the air? Maybe I just want my hood on just because? Why is that a problem?

~~~

The first two years of high school were absolute hell for me. I experienced racism and socio-economic classicism for the first time as a young black man who was also poor. I went to a predominately white all-male Catholic High School and the few blacks and other people of color had money. A smaller percentage were like me, there on a scholarship. The other black kids that were there were also either athletes, or were just “cool” enough to hang out in social circles. I was an outcast based on race, money, and I just wasn’t “cool” enough.

There were two students in my biology class that loved to torment me. One was a goofy-looking idiot that had a bit of cruelty to him, but he mostly just looked like a stooge. The other was cold, cruel, and full of hate. He wore his hatred on his face, seemingly with pride.

One day the goof looks to his buddy and goes “How do you know that Adam wasn’t black?” The cruel buddy starts laughing and goes “How?” The goof responds “Because a nigger won’t give up a rib to anybody!” I remember kids in the class laughing. Even the teacher, with his massive mustache, cracked a smile and never once attempted to stop the laughter or the racism itself.

Goof looks at me, giving me this big stupid grin. I say to him “Would you say that if _ _ _ _ _ _ were here?” I mentioned his name because at 14 this kid was over 6’ and 250lbs. He was also the son of a former Pittsburgh Steeler. Everyone knew him. He was also one of the many that made my life a living hell.

Anyway, the goof goes ‘He won’t do anything, I grew up with him!” That hurt worse than anything. So yeah, this little bigot had a black friend, he told his joke. It wasn’t funny and it caused nothing but pain. Doesn’t mean that’s okay.

Just because you have a black friend doesn’t mean you don’t have a prejudice. We all have a prejudice. It just is what it is. It’s a matter of being able to put your prejudice aside for truth, fact, and to have respect for someone. Furthermore, just because you have a black friend that you make jokes with and it’s funny to them doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.

~~~

Clearly, When They See Us struck a chord with me, and it provoked thought in me that pushes beyond the scope of the series, as any good art should.

We are all one people. That is all there is to it. Our hearts pump blood through our bodies, our brains all send electrical impulses to make our bodies work. We are one people. It’s time to act as such. As compelling at When They See Us is as television, it would be nice to live in a world where such television isn’t necessary.

-Bryan

~~~

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4 comments on “‘When They See Us’: A Reflection

  1. Bryan, that was so beautiful. Im in Ga, and comments similar to those you suffer(ed) through abound without shame here, and it’s so heartbreaking and infuriating. I’m so sorry you have to live in a place full of unfounded hatred, and then get gaslighted for feeling targeted. I’m grateful that you shared your perspective.

    Like

    • First and foremost, thank you so much for taking the time to reply to me Amanda, and I’m sorry that it’s taken me this long to respond.

      I appreciate your apology. It seems to me that you do your part in all of this by standing up for what is right, which is equality and to the eradication of racial bias.

      Thank you for reading and being a fan, we look forward to continuing to entertain you!

      Like

  2. Bryan, I’m a friend of Shane’s from undergrad/grad school and your piece resonated with me. I feel heartbroken for that boy in class who had to endure such cruelty and hatred. I now live in the UK (but grew up in south Georgia) and I know racism exists here in England too towards Bangladeshis and Pakistanis. I hope that the conversations start to change in America and in Britain. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’ve been meaning to watch the When They See Us, but I admit I’m a little afraid to start.

    Like

    • Hi Elaine,

      I’m sorry it took so long for me to reply. Thank you for your kind words. To be honest, I can understand why you would feel afraid to start When They See Us. It is very powerful and it will truly anger and sadden you. I have seen in some media the racism toward the Bangladeshis and Pakistanis in England and its so horrible that it happens all over, you would think that as a human society we would be above such things.

      Like

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