STRING THEORY AND BLACK LIFE: The Not So Unusual Case of John Scott
By Robert Merriwether
In physics, there is a relatively new and exciting theory, known as “String Theory”, which attempts to explain everything in the universe: from how the universe began, to its composition and structure, to the laws which govern the different matter, energy and phenomena existing in the universe. For this reason, many physicists refer to “String Theory” as the “Theory of Everything”. Until the advent of this theory, this had been the problem: The laws which explain the movement and behavior of the planets, the stars and other big matter in the universe broke down and did not explain the universe at the atomic and subatomic level. Why was it that the atomic and subatomic particles (atoms, neutron, protons, quarks) sometimes behaved in a manner that defied generally accepted scientific laws and theory, which otherwise governed the big matter in the universe? Without a unifying theory, scientist could not really understand our universe. String theory holds open the possibility of providing such a unifying theory.
According to string theory, the atomic and subatomic particles are not really just subatomic points in space, rather they exist as strings of energy or have strings of energy attached to them. These strings are acted upon by the four fundamental forces in the universe: Gravity, Electromagnetism, the Weak Nuclear Forces, and the Strong Nuclear Forces. It is the pull and push, the attraction and repulsion of these forces upon the strings which causes tension and vibration of the strings, which in turn causes and controls the sometimes bizarre and seemingly contradictory movement and behavior of these atomic and subatomic particles.
What then does string theory have to do with Black people in America? Consider this: America is our universe. We exist in America as an easily identifiable and distinguishable group, yet we have not come together as a cohesive and unified body. We do not exist as big matter in our universe. The laws which explain the progress and relationship of other racial and ethnic groups in America to America do not fit us – do not explain our behavior. We live in America; we consider ourselves American, but we are not really integrated into the economic, political, nor social fabric of America. We are not attached to America; rather, like the subatomic particles in the universe, we, Black people, exist as individual particles, suspended in space.
Like the subatomic particles, we are suspended with strings attached to each of us. And, like the subatomic particles, our strings are acted upon by the fundamental forces which exist in the American universe. The so-called “American Dream” attracts and pulls at one end of our string, much like the electromagnetic force in nature. The gravitational pull of “Racism”, however, exerts a downward pull on our strings. These two forces cause tremendous tension in our lives. In addition, our strings are plucked at by the Strong and Weak Nuclear Forces of our social universe: White Supremacy and Black Inferiority, racial injustice, materialism, self-hatred, our double veil of consciousness, to name a few. We are attached to strings which are being pulled upward and downward and being plucked from the left and the right, all at the same time, causing tremendous tension and vibration – until the string snaps, sending us into a downward spiral, desperately grasping at anything to stop our freefall through space and time, as we try to avoid falling into and being consumed by one of the many “black holes” that exist in our universe.
And so, we come to the not-so-unusual case of Mr. John Scott. Mr. Scott has an extensive background in law enforcement and working with juvenile and young adult offenders. He is actively involved in his community: serving as a volunteer Youth Counselor and Mentor for adolescent and teenage boys, particularly Black boys. He is 52 years of age, married with four children, ranging in ages from 4 to 20. He is a veteran, having been honorably discharged from the U.S. Army in 1990 and is a former member of the National Guard, where he completed training in the Guard’s Anti-Terrorist program in Peekskill, New York. He has a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Human Resources Management. Born and raised in Harlem, he and his wife relocated to the State of Georgia in 1996. It was in Georgia where Mr. Scott began in earnestness to pursue and work on his dream of working in law enforcement. From 1996 until 2004, he worked at various state and county agencies, including stints as a detention officer and as a deputy sheriff.
In 2004, the Atlanta Department of Veterans’ Affairs announced that it had openings in the VA Hospital Police Department. Mr. Scott applied and, after successfully completing the Federal Police Academy, was appointed to the position of Police Officer at the Atlanta Department of Veterans’ Affairs Hospital Police Department. Mr. Scott now had the “good” job, he had sought. The pay was great, the benefits were even better. At last, he had the stability and security that came with working for the federal government and, on top of that, he was doing something he loved. He was living his dream. Life was good. But then, the forces in the American Universe began to pull and push and pluck at his strings.
Mr. Scott’s problems at the VA Police Department began shortly after he started there. From the start, his superior officers cast him as an outsider. Because he would not engage in nor condone activity he believed to be unethical or suspect, he was isolated and ostracized within the department. His superior officers, in particular, felt threatened by his professionalism and commitment to duty. Time and again, Mr. Scott was overlooked for promotion. He watched as those with less experience and less qualifications than he, received promotions. Over time, he began to form an opinion that not only was the supervisory and management of the VA Police Department extremely cliquish but it was rife with corruption. Mr. Scott began to blow the whistle on the corruption and nepotism that existed in that department.
He did not fully appreciate, however, that he was challenging persons of position and influence, who could and did make his job and working conditions more and more intolerable and hostile. The failure to promote continued and his complaints and grievances fell on deaf ears. His strings were vibrating as his opportunity for advancement in his chosen field was evaporating before his eyes. It now appeared that his supervisors were trying to force him out or come up with a rationale to terminate him.
On one occasion, he was publicly humiliated by being arrested at his own home in front of his children and neighbors on charges, filed by a white female officer, who incidentally had been promoted over him, that he had threatened her life. Even though, the charges were later dismissed for being without merit, no apology was issued to Mr. Scott nor was the charging officer reprimanded for filing a false charge. Mr. Scott could see the writing on the wall. The strings of his life were being manipulated and his dream of a career in law enforcement was slowly unraveling.
To make matters worse, in 2010, Mr. Scott suffered an on-duty injury, which required him to be off work for several weeks. He was released to return to work, but restricted to light duty. Mr. Scott’s supervisors, however, refused to assign him to light duty at his then pay scale. Instead, he was re-assigned to work as a Dispatcher, which constituted a re-assignment to a lower federal job classification, with a resultant reduction in pay. Adding insult to injury, he was informed, by his superiors, that there was no chance of him returning to his job as a VA police officer. From 2010 until April 2013, Mr. Scott was transferred from department to department in the Veterans’ Administration, all at the lower job classification. The strings of his life were beginning to snap. Then suddenly, the VA reversed course and decided to return Mr. Scott to the VA Hospital Police Department, but an examination to determine his fitness to return to the police department found that due to job-related stress associated with the police department work environment, he was unable to return to the police department, although fit to work in other VA Hospital departments. The VA administration balked at this and placed Mr. Scott on medical leave.
Months went by with Mr. Scott and the VA unable to come to any agreement as to his return to work. After a few months, his benefits under the medical leave act ran out but the VA persisted in their position and refused to allow him to return to work. The VA subjected Mr. Scott to further medical evaluations, which corroborated his initial examination. Apparently, realizing that they did not have a sufficient legal basis to terminate Mr. Scott nor could they keep him in such a state of limbo, the VA agreed to return Mr. Scott to work in another department at a lower job classification. For his part, Mr. Scott has employment but his reputation has been tarnished. This ordeal has left him scarred. The stress of fighting just to be treated fairly has left a toll on Mr. Scott. At the age of 52, he now knows that his dream of working and retiring in law enforcement is over. The stress, the tension and the vibrations exerted caused the strings of his life to unravel and sent him on a downward spiral in the universe.
The case of Mr. John Scott is not so unusual. It has been and is repeated over and over again, down through the ages. The unusual case is the one that garners publicity or attention; the unusual case is the one that finds its way into a courtroom. Most often, as we individually attempt to attain a piece of the American Dream, we contend with the forces of injustice and institutional racism as best we can.
Like the subatomic particles in the natural universe, Black people, having not bound themselves into a cohesive body – as big matter in the American Universe, if you will, are especially sensitive and vulnerable to the fundamental forces which exist in that Universe. As was the case with Mr. Scott, these forces cause tremendous tension, stress and strain upon the strings of our individual lives. And when the strings unravel or snap, we are sent into a downward spiral. Some of us fall into one of the black holes which exist in the American Universe and never come out. Some of us, like Mr. Scott, are able to grab hold of something and stop the freefall before we are consumed by a black hole.
This social “String Theory” not only explains Mr. Scott’s case, it offers an explanation as to why we act differently than other racial and ethnic groups in America. It offers an explanation as to why there is a relative lack of progress amongst Black people as a group. It offers explanation as to why even with the progress we’ve made, we seem to remain in the same relative position in America: at the bottom.
This theory seems to suggest that Black people must bond themselves together as a unified group and form themselves into some type of big matter in the American Universe. There is, however, another element of string theory. It suggests that there are alternative universes in space, “multiverses”, if you will. In other words, this universe is not the only universe out there. Maybe, just maybe, America is not the only universe. Maybe if we put our minds together we can find or create our own or another universe – another reality, which is more conducive to Black life. Hmm . . .?