A few weeks ago I heard of a book about suicide bombers, such as the ones we've become so mesmerized by over the past couple of years in the Middle East. Apparently, Robert Pape (in "Dying to Win: the Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism") suggests that suicide bombers pop up as a last ditch effort to get rid of forces that have occupied their land. It's an intriguing thought, when you consider that the U.S. military is supposedly "liberating" country after country over there rather than "occupying" them. Of course, if the military doesn't leave when they're done "liberating," then the people who have been "liberated" may, in fact, feel "occupied." Not much gratitude, I guess.
Anyway, as I thought about this idea since, it occurred to me that I've repeatedly come across statistics of late about young Black males killing themselves. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, for example, reported that between 1980 and 1996, the suicide rate for 15 to 19-year-0ld African-American males more than doubled. The Black Mental Health Alliance reported that the actual figure for that period represents a rise of 146%. And another source I saw, but can't relocate, claimed that if the age group was broadened to include Black males to twenty-four years of age, the rise in suicide rate becomes nearly 250%. The situation gets even more dire when you add the fact that some social scientists are now discussing the idea that many of the so-called homicides of one young Black male by another are probably masked suicides, where a desperate and struggling young man just puts himself in a position to be killed--so that he can die.
Obviously, this is a heart-breaking situation. But once I had both of these thoughts jockeying for position in my mind simultaneously, I began to imagine what the implications might be. What if young Black men are killing themselves, not because their land has been occupied, but because their minds have been taken hostage by racist forces that have set up camp and refused to leave and they don't see any way less radical to free themselves.
Reminded of the song "Suicide is Painless" (the "MASH" t.v. show theme song written by Mike Altman), I looked up the lyrics and found:
"The game of life is hard to play.
I'm gonna lose it anyway.
The losing card I'll someday lay,
so this is all I have to say:
suicide is painless,
it brings on many changes;
and I can take or leave it, if I please.
"The sword of time will pierce our skins.
It doesn't hurt when it begins,
but as it works its way on in,
the pain grows stronger...watch it grin..."
So what am I trying to say with all this morbid talk of death and desperation? Well, one thing is that I do believe in some kind of kharmic unfolding: that what goes around comes around for societies, as well as individuals. Everybody says they believe some version of this thought. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" says the Christian Bible. "Do not to others what you wouldn't want done to you" says the Jewish Torah. "Whatever you send into the lives of others comes back into your own" was my mother's version.
"Well, I'm not making anybody kill themselves," Mr. White Bread protests petulantly.
No, Mr. White Bread, but you're helping to maintain and benefitting from a system that makes young people want to. And believe me, it's the same thing.
A dead youth may not hold you responsible, but if you believe in God or a Source of any kind from which the above named principles may have emanated, then you better watch your back. Because every dead child is an indictment against us collectively and even individually, if we are not actively involved in changing the status quo.
We watch the suicide bombers in the Middle East as if our President and our military and our torturing interrogators and our tax dollars were not specifically perpetrating the horrors of occupation on innocent victims of our war machine. And we watch the suicide rate of young Black males rise as if it somehow had nothing to do with the fact that we won't provide them a decent education, and we won't hire them to do a decent job, and we incarcerate them at our earliest opportunity, and tell them as often and in as many ways as possible that it's all their fault. I just hope they don't start taking people with them when they go. But we may have it coming, if they do.