When I first dove into Marc Lamont Hill’s Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond, I’d just finished reading Mychal Denzel Smith’s ‘Invisible Man’. Both books were released just five weeks apart, and in realizing the similar theme between the two (a person of color being seen as insignificant), I thought it to be a striking commentary on how many men of color must be feeling in our country lately.
The, two black men were brutalized and publically slain by police within 48 hours of each other. Then came the Dallas massacre. Then Keith Lamont Scott. Then Alfred Olango. It has been one hell of a year for black people and for those fighting against this violence, just to say the least. It was one thing to read this book from a retrospective viewpoint. It was another experience entirely to read Hill’s reflections on our societies’ historic (and often systematic) attack on people of color, particularly black men, while also feeling like you had a live front row seat to it.
Yet again. Yet again videotaped. Yet again hearing the cries for help or one’s last fight for survival. Yet again it all is, heartbreaking, infuriating and hard to take in. Yet again I like many of us, am left staring into the face of blatant, violent and brutal injustice with unanswered questions and a further enforced conviction that our system is deeply broken. 'Nobody’ gave me the exact facts and background knowledge I needed to know that this is not a faulty assessment.
In presenting the history and facts about previously little-known places like Ferguson, Missouri and Waller County, Texas, Hill succeeds in directly tying them to the violence we’ve seen in recent months. In doing so, he provides some clarity to the questions many of us have asked in the wake of such horrific and intolerable injustices. How could this have happened? How was it allowed to happen? Why does it keep happening?
Hill uses the most recent examples of fatal police brutality to explore the long-standing policies (such as the Stand Your Ground Law) and cultures that created and now sustain a culture that allows these murders to occur and injustice to continuously prevail. In examining the data, geography, political history, culture and public policies behind these instances, 'Nobody' makes intriguing commentary on the various larger issues plaguing our society, that ultimately, have given birth to the fatalities we’re seeing now. These include Flint’s water crisis, the war on drugs, the prison industrial complex, the lack of resources for and criminalization of mental illness and our woefully disparate economic infrastructure that continues to disproportionately devastate minority communities.
Furthermore, in the book's presentation of pieces of the intimate lives of Mike Brown (Despite a troublesome academic environment, “Brown like, many teenagers of color, had a positive and eclectic set of aspirations. He wanted to learn sound engineering, play college football, become a rap artist, and be a heating and cooling technician; he also wanted to be famous.”) or Sandra Bland (“…Bland was a 2009 graduate of Prairie View A&M. She majored in agriculture, played in the school band, and was a member of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.”) or the more ordinary aspects of life for Jordan Davis and Freddie Gray, we are better able to see ourselves within them.
“Brown’s story is a testament to how race and class, as well as other factors like gender, sexuality, citizenship, and ability status, conspire to create a dual set of realities in twenty-first-century America. For the powerful, justice is a right; for the powerless, justice is an illusion.”
Not only does ‘Nobody’ help us to better connect the dots as to the “whys” and “hows” of these injustices, but it also allows us to see that those who are deemed a “nobody” in the corrupt parts and eyes of the American political system can really be all of us in one way or another. It brings forth the frightening realization that: many of us, especially people of color, are connected to the “nobody," the wealthy, or the poor, or the disabled or the “respectable” or the teenaged. We walk to the store, we stop for gas, we play music we love, we make eye contact with each other. We exist and try to live our lives both as freely as possible and at times, as mundanely and low-key as we please. We are all nobodies and we are somebodies. We are all a beautiful and valuable piece existing in this mosaic of the ugly idea of a nobody. In knowing that, we know the most frightening call to action ever: that a nobody, can be anybody.
“It would be easy, given the logic of the current moment, to individualize this crisis. We could say that our problems are the work of a few bad apples and that the great majority of police, prosecutors, politicians, corporations–indeed the great majority of the nation–frowns on the exploitation of the vulnerable….Regardless of our individual or collective intentions, we are nonetheless bound up in a state of emergency in this nation. In order to repair the damage that has been done, we must craft a new set of frameworks of our economy, for our schools, for our justice system, for public housing….We must reinvest in communities. We must imagine the world that is not yet.”