This post originally appeared on The Good Ole Boys Radio Network.
“Well, we don’t believe you, you need more people”
——Shawn Corey Carter
Beyoncé’s husband dropped those nine words in 2001 as one shell fired in a much larger barrage aimed at his various enemies on the Kanye West produced classic “Takeover”. In a song full of memorable bars this one has remained more relevant than any other words uttered during “Takeover” or the entire Blueprint album of which it was included. When not pointed squarely at the heads of Mobb Deep this particular evolved into something else. Something much more lasting than a rap beef, “Well, we don’t believe you, you need more people” was released into the wild as one thing but found its way into an entirely new habitat, the Internet, where it became a meme, mainstay in a comment section of your favorite black blogs, and finally an immediate rebuttal to a perceived falsehood.
Perceived falsehoods -The world is filled with them. Within the new found, mostly black and brown environment in which Mr. Carter’s famous barb learned to thrive and grow the nine words have been used to rebut every untruth from “My cousin fucked Michelle Leslie Brown from 225th” to “I locked A.J. Green down my junior year of high school.” In all the phrase is harmless, silly, and when coupled with another phrase that found a strong footing on the Internet, “Pic(tures) or it didn’t happen” which served as nail to hammer that is “Well, we don’t believe you…” which finally seals the coffin to any silly-ass on or offline debate. This tag team was a final dismissal to your opponents’ utter bullshit. The Hawk and Animal that pins your friend’s poorly thought out lies in a cage match at Starrcade ’87.
The unfortunate aspect of the phrases is that in real, like actual fucking real life it or phrases with similar sentiments have found a footing as crucial tools in the disparagement of those of us who feel or have felt that they suffered any form or injustice or those who try to illustrate that same injustice to a larger group that we do not belong.
Recently Seattle Seahawks defensive lineman and outspoken advocate civil rights, Michael Bennett posted an open letter on Twitter detailing him being detained by law enforcement in Las Vegas on August 26, 2017, while fleeing what sounded like gunshots in a club. Within the letter, Bennett detailed how he was ordered to lay prone on the ground while one officer placed a gun to his head, telling him that he would “blow my fucking head off” while another officer jammed his knee into Bennett’s back. After being detained for no valid reason and then released, Bennett felt like many black and brown men have felt after dealing with the police; violated. Upon the posting of the letter on Twitter hundreds of thousands of retweets spread the news of the incident America, leaving many angry, shocked, or dismissive of what happened.
It’s the dismissiveness of many, most of whom were not people of color that has me here right now. From the time there have been men with guns and badges to now black and brown people have had stories of run-ins with law enforcement. From that same time to now black men have told their sons of the dangers of a bad interaction with law enforcement, official or de facto and how to hopefully survive that interaction. Also, from the same time to know there have been groups of white folks waiting to hit the griots telling these stories with what amounts to “Well, we don’t believe you, you need more people”.
Seldom in those specific words but the idea that the black or brown person telling the story either did something criminal, to begin with, did not comply with the officers they were interacting with, or both. There have always been those who simply will not believe me, Michael Bennett, or any other black man if they tell that story. WE NEED MORE PEOPLE!!! Bennett like many others before him was met with a chorus of denial, “gotta hear both sides”, whataboutery, well actually, and of course “pictures or it didn’t happen”. All being focused into a weak, yet very frustrating laser designed to cut through his experience at the hands of law enforcement.
“They Don’t Think It Be Like It Is, But It Do”
Oscar Gamble played for the New York Yankees during the 1976 season and was asked about the state of the ball club’s terrible front office and responded with the quote above. His response is as eloquent as it is grammatically incorrect. It’s a simply perfect response to those who will not believe their own eyes or take a moment to listen to what is being said.
Not long after Bennett’s open-letter went live TMZ posted a video of the incident. So Bennett’s detractors were given their much sought after pictures but in lieu of admitting it happened, they only responded with caveats and possible scenarios. Most of which had Bennett doing something to deserve his treatment. Again making Oscar Gamble’s prophetic declaration apply too much more than shoddy baseball management and again reminding those often on the receiving end of abuse that you are in fact burdened by your truth of just simply existing.
The truth of just simply existing as a black or brown person is a pretty heavy notion considering the alternatives would require one to exist in either a constant state of passiveness, which does not guarantee a life free of abuse by law enforcement or to simply not exist. I cannot speak for anyone else but I’m not built for the first option and the latter isn’t even on the table.
So I have to ask, what should we do about the burden of the truth of existing while black, brown, or other when no matter what you will not be believed? No matter how many pictures, essays, light-hearted retellings, blogs, or sermons the fact that your truth will need receipts, backed up with notarized visual documentation, and a glimmer of hope that enough people who don’t look like you or check the same boxes that you do will step up and say “We should hear them out.”
Even then you would have to hope that their number is substantive enough not to be shouted down or dismissed so that something resembling a difference could be made on your behalf. Unfortunately, I’m not at all hopeful that will happen because America has a terrible history of “knockin’ me back down on my knees.”
At some point another question will have to be asked, does anyone from the other side even care? I’m starting to think not. One thing I know about America change, positive or negative, will occur if that’s what wanted. That said, I’m starting to think America is what it is because the onus that falls on those who would believe the Michael Bennett’s of the world operate with the mindset of “That can’t possibly be true because that’s never happened to me.”
If that’s the case we’ll never have enough people to believe us, there will be no amount of sufficient visual footage, and they will never think it be like it is.
Vaya con Dios