Radio Raheem


For me, it started with Radio Raheem. 1989: At twenty-seven I wasn’t woke. We didn’t use that term then, which is fine with me because I find it beyond annoying. Better adjectives for me included immature, self-absorbed, sheltered, suburban. In 1988, I moved into Washington, DC. Not into what would be considered a nice neighborhood. My friends and I bargain hunted. We found a stately house to rent for a great price. We were gentrifiers. We took a four-block hop from the area the white professionals already claimed.

I can’t imagine what my neighbors thought of us. Initially, we didn’t interact with them at all. We left for work in the morning, and we came back home when the bars closed. I suppose we popped in for dinner sometimes, but mostly I remember my first house there as a crash pad. I lived in this neighborhood for three years. Slowly, I met some people on my street. I observed their situation. I woke up to poverty and endemic racism. I watched Do the Right Thing.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the next thing you should do in this life is watch it. I’m about to spoil it big-time, but you should watch it anyway. From Do the Right Thing, you can learn in two hours what it took me three years to figure out. The United States is a stacked deck against African Americans.

Do the Right Thing is a twenty-four-hour snapshot of Bedford–Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. Over the course of one day, we meet the residents of a street, begin to care about them, even love them, and then we watch one of them get killed… by a cop. I won’t dig too deep into the plot. Suffice it to say that three black men (including Radio Raheem) and Sal, the white owner of an Italian Pizza joint, get in a stupid argument. For no reason, or for a million reasons including gentrification, poverty, race, distrust, and envy, the argument escalates all day. At the climax of the movie, Sal and Radio Raheem get into a fight. Radio Raheem is choking Sal in a headlock when the cops show up. A cop puts Radio Raheem in a choke-hold. It’s possibly the most emotional movie scene I’ve ever watched. A crowd of people beg and plead for the cop to stop choking Raheem, but the officer doesn’t relent until Raheem is dead on the ground.

Does this story sound familiar? It should. It happened thousands of times before Do the Right Thing came out. And it’s probably happened a thousand times since. A white man kills an unarmed black man in what can only be construed as a complete disregard for a black life.

Today, I read When They Hurt – I Hurt on This Vulnerable Life. My blogger friend Emma, who is black but was raised by a white family, talks about the racism she endured in her white middle-class community. She points out situations where allies came to her aid, and other situations when no one did. She finishes her blogpost with the question Will you be my ally? Here’s the deal. I see myself as a strong proponent for racial justice. I’m “woke.” I can proudly say I do no harm (any more), but do I ever do any good? I can’t point to any events where I intervened on behalf of a person who was being discriminated against.

In February of 2012, George Zimmerman harassed Trayvon Martin for walking through Zimmerman’s neighborhood. Martin’s crime was being black. A scuffle ensued. When Martin got the upper hand, Zimmerman shot him. He was acquitted due to self defense. In the eight years since this event, the #BlackLivesMatter movement blossomed. Every time there was a similar situation, there was an uproar from people, both black and white. Each time, I naïvely  thought that things would finally change. Things haven’t changed at all. Here are some other names you possibly know:

Freddie Gray

Sam Dubose

Philando Castile

Terence Crutcher

Alton Sterling

Jamar Clark

Jeremy McDole

William Chapman II

Walter Scott

Yoshi Hattori

Botham Jean

Eric Harris

Tamir Rice

Akai Gurley

Michael Brown

Eric Garner

Ahmaud Arbery

On Monday, George Floyd was confronted by police for possibly trying to pass a counterfeit twenty-dollar bill at a convenience store. A short time later, Floyd, face down and handcuffed on the sidewalk was killed by a cop kneeling on his neck. Just like the scene in Do the Right Thing, a crowd of people begged for the cop to stop. Three other officers stood idly by watching.

I don’t know how to be an ally for Emma. Everything that can possibly be said on this topic has already been said. It simply comes down to a pervasive belief that some lives are less important than others. A popular meme over the past few weeks contrasts gun toting liberty protesters with young black men going about their lives. In the memes, the armed white men are treated with respect. The unarmed black men are threatened with drawn guns. If every person in the country doesn’t innately understand the dangerous and truthful irony in these memes, then I’m sorry Emma, I don’t know what I can do.

37 thoughts on “Radio Raheem

  1. This was heart wrenching. Having the will to be an ally is the first step and then you have done more than that by writing about it.
    I am aware of the appalling state of Afro Americans in the US. It is no different here in India; casteism, intolerance towards others region, religion, culture and language is rampant in our society too. Reading ‘To kill a mockingbird’ & ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ in my late teens made me aware of the racial biases. Literature does not only create awareness but also has the potential to move people enough to do something about it. You have shown that you are an ally of Emma by taking her word to many others. Awareness is the key. The more we speak about it the more will we learn to be tolerant towards each others differences.
    Thank you for being an ally of Emma and I am her ally too. Could you please share the link to her blog?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Jeff, my heart weeps. In the wake of acts of self-sacrifice and caring we saw in response to this virus, I began to hope we had turned a corner in this county. This week’s events leave me appalled, saddened, and outraged. I hope together we can find solidarity and a positive path forward for everyone. 😥

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you so much Jeff. You have always being such a supporter of me and my blog posts and now here you are as an Ally. I woke up to this post and it touched me to the core. I appreciate you taking to your blog to write about the injustices that are faced black people in your country. That is being an Ally. To me (as whoever you ask will say something different) being an Ally isn’t being a vigilante trying to rid racism from the streets – it’s speaking up when it feels hard to do so but it feels right in your gut. It’s having the hard conversations with colleagues and family members. It’s reading or listening to personal stories and not jumping in being defensive. You Jeff are an Ally. I have always known it from all the posts I’ve made where I’ve mentioned my race. Thank you so much for highlighting my blog. I appreciate it.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a white guy, I grew up with privileges I didn’t know existed. But I always knew, despised and could identify racism, hate, discrimination in a city wracked with it (St. Louis). I’m angry about what keeps happening to black people. So many lost and innocent lives. So much pain and economic disadvantage. I’m an ally. We must all do the right thing … live and lead with compassion. I used to teach diversity training and felt that really mattered because I was standing up in front of managers of companies telling them to do the right thing when it came to embracing differences in skin color, religious beliefs, cultural heritage, and sexual orientation. But that all seems fruitless now. Still, I’m an ally. I feel Emma’s pain. Thank you for sharing her blog.

    Liked by 1 person

      • That would be funny. I did that back around 2000. It was meaningful work at the time and gave me a sense that I was contributing to social justice. I still have faith in humanity most of the time, but the past three years have been especially rough.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, Jeff. You are definitely being an ally. My neighbors recently adopted two black boys. When Bobby was walking our dogs down the street a different neighbor stopped him and started asking questions along the line, “How long are those boys staying.” Bobby shrugged him off and let us know. A couple of months later the man turned up in our back yards talking to the boys while they were out playing, asking them questions while telling them they could pet his dog. The adoptive parents went down to the man’s house later and asked why he was talking to the boys and he claimed innocence. But it appears to all of us this man definitely has a problem with the boys. I never would have thought that. It is so eye-opening and not right.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I remember watching some of Spike Lee’s movies years ago. It has been a while since I have seen one so I might not remember all the details. Thinking about the movies though, it was a reminder that things have not gotten better, only worse.

    Everyone is going to have different opinions about racism based on their own experiences. I have lived in a fairly liberal area for almost 20 years. I’d went to Catholic schools myself and had some idealism when my children started in public schools. I found though there is a huge undercurrent of racism that is not acknowledged. It could be a parent’s attitude about one public school vs. another, or the decision to make school boundaries in a certain way. Or it could be that school officials are less responsive to the concerns of parents whose kids are attending a school where most kids come from disadvantaged backgrounds. It seems like a lot of public money is being spent to please some of these
    parents…building newer schools in richer neighborhoods, caving to pressure from home builders to build a school in a certain area to increase real estate values.

    My heart breaks over this situation. My son just graduated from high school. I wonder what the future holds for his former teammates, friends and classmates of color. My son is becoming an adult in a time of uncertainty….but not in the same way his Black classmates are. I can’t imagine what it would like to be in their shoes, or to be in their parents’ shoes. Some of these kids I have know since my son was in kindergarten…..they shouldn’t be becoming adults in a time where they fear for their lives because of their skin color.

    Emma—my heart goes out to you. Our country has to do better.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure things have gotten worse, but definitely more publicized. To me, Radio Raheem’s death was so shocking because it never really occurred to me that things like that happen. Now there’s a highly publicized occurrence every few months. There seems to be less racism in my kid’s generation, than in mine. But I thought that about my generation until Trump was elected.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Please add – 1992 – Yoshi Hattori was a Japanese student on an exchange program to the United States who was shot to death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was on his way to a Halloween party and went to the wrong house by mistake. Property owner Rodney Peairs fatally shot Hattori, thinking that he was trespassing with criminal intent. The shooting and Peairs’ acquittal in the state court of Louisiana received worldwide attention.


  8. It makes me feel so sad and hopeless that this is the world we live in. When is enough enough? Why doesn’t it change? Why aren’t people held accountable? Thanks for your post.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I watched this on the news the other night and cried. It just seems such a massive step backwards and terribly wrong to let these men get away with this awful crime. It is murder pure and simple and the truth cannot be avoided it is right there captures on video for the whole world to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Good reminder on that movie, will watch it with my “social justice daughter,” Lily. Actually doesn’t deserve quotes like that. Yeah, the Blackkklansman movie blew me out of my seat, watched that twice in the same week last year. Thanks for putting this out there Jeff, good stuff here.

    Liked by 1 person

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  13. I showed Do the Right Thing to my students for many years until one parent complained to the administration about its “language.” Inappropriate. (For 16 year olds, mind you). That wasn’t what was inappropriate to her, obviously. Soccer mom white supremacy is the worst.


      • I was the white teacher in two rich private schools teaching about this for decades. The black kids were always my advisees, because they knew I “got it.” It was exhausting protecting them, I can only imagine what it was like for their parents. (And the same for my Muslim kids).


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