A Few Bad Apples
By Haley Norris
“White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday a “few bad apples” are to blame for issues of police brutality and denied that there is any systemic racism in U.S. law enforcement agencies.”
In my undergraduate program, I took a course about interracial relationships in the antebellum South, during the 2016 election and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. I do not remember the exact day or the exact incident that spurred our discussion about police brutality and institutionalized racism, but it is a conversation I will remember for the rest of my life. The professor for that course asked us to think about our nation, our government, as a tree. Our professor talked about bad apples, the people that abused their authority, and how we should think about where those bad apples come from. She drew a tree on the board and asked how come there were bad apples if our tree was not bad? We talked about how those apples grew from the branches of our tree and how even if they were removed, there were somehow always more bad apples. Those bad apples were rotting because of the branches they grew from, branches that came from the trunk whose roots were rotted by institutionalized racism and that was why we had bad apples. That’s when I realized how rotten our tree was.
You may be wondering how that is possible, how I could think that the tree symbolizing our nation was rotten, or how I could think it was more than a few bad apples. Our laws and systems were started as a sapling, planted in the soil of a time when the color of your skin determined if you were a property or a person. As trees grow, they remember the world around them and illustrate what happened in those years in their rings, one ring per year. The rings of our tree hold hate and violence, slowly rotting it from the inside. Our tree was planted in 1776 meaning we have more than 244 rings of racial discrimination and violence. Before our nation was a nation, we had 157 years of African blood spilled on our soil as people were ripped from their homes for profit. Our land was tainted but we still planted our tree, building our nation in blood and hate. The first 89 rings in our tree are slavery, the next 89 rings are segregation. Brown v. Board was only 66 years ago and every one of those 66 rings are marred by brutality against black skin. And yet we still try to build on that tree.
Slavery wasn’t that long ago. Segregation wasn’t that long ago. Brutality and hate towards people of color is still happening in 2020 nearly 401 YEARS after the first Africans were brought to this land. Our nation, our tree, is rotted by 401 YEARS of hate that it carries within its trunk and roots. Yet, we still think it will change. We still think we can save our tree, but we can’t.
At first, I wanted to burn our tree down and plant anew, but I realized we can’t do that. If we burn our tree down that would be erasing our past and the pain it carries, we need to leave it to rot away with time, living in its shadow so we always know that we can’t go back. We can and we will plant a new tree because among those bad apples, there are a few good apples who need our support and our love. A few good apples that want a new tree too.