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Emmett Till 2.0: How Asking For A Woman’s Number In Oakland Can Land You In Jail


Images courtesy of Davey D @mrdaveyd, (left) &  Ludwig Joanne. (right)
 Now that I’ve had ample time to process this flyer, I got two words for y’all. Well, honestly, I mouthed a few combinations of “F”, “A”, and “S” bombs, before I settled on just two words. But, I digress.

Emmett.  Till. 

Y’all know who that is, right? I’m just gonna leave you with the very basic gist. But, feel free to Wikipedia the name, or follow the hyperlink, if you’re looking for details of Till case:

Black boy visits grandparents in 1955 Mississippi. Black boy spit ‘game’ on white woman, offends Jim Crow. Black boy brutally killed by white husband and entourage for not merely said flirtation, but violating southern racial etiquette. The end.

The parallel isn’t perfect, nor need it be. I mention the reaction of the white woman toward Till because the story is shortcut entry point into a history of viewing black boys and men as eminent threats to the sanctity and purity of white womanhood and hideous beasts in need of control via imprisonment or death. Since the days of Till, and, certainly, long before that tragedy, the American state had been laying heavy expenditures on creating a racist cognizance toward black bodies. This hasn’t stopped.

The line between catcalling and other forms of street harassment toward ALL class of women and this history of racist cognition directed at black and brown boys and men may seem, at first, murky. Not in this case. It’s pretty clear. Drawing a historical line from this woman’s reaction to Till to a heritage of acculurating citizens in assumptions of black pathology wouldn’t be difficult.

Nor would connecting her fear to our country’s history of racist housing. When David Cook begins the caption of his tweet with “Gentrification 2.0 …” he is summoning a national history (in which Oakland is a part) of the state which knowingly and sophisticatedly plundered communities of color, withdrew or canceled investment — politically, economically, and psychologically — in these communities, and thereby birthed ghettos; then, when the market was ripe, opted to “revitalize” these same communities for a new racial demographic, still affected by the historical residue of America cognizing black male bodies as bucks and predators.

Treat as suspect anyone who would think to form the words “race baiting” to describe reactions to this flyer. Hell, go ahead and blurt a few “F”, “A”, and “S” bombs of your own while you’re at it.

‘Cause clearly interracial flirting gone wrong can still land a black man in prison or the morgue in the 21st century.



Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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