I came home last night to my find my sister picking up some of our old softball bats to bring back to her apartment “just in case.” That is, just in case she happens to get attacked on the street at any point. I looked at her, saw the immense, unwavering fear in her eyes, and felt my heart breaking into a million pieces, the same way it has many times in my life.
This is being black in America.
Following the murder of George Floyd on May 25, the world has truly been a terrifying place. The international outcry from the black community and the increasing worldwide recognition and opposition to police brutality has been unlike anything we’ve seen perhaps since the murder of Trayvon Martin or Sandra Bland, and the whirlwind of activism, protests, riots, and looting has culminated in and for this time. In this moment. THIS is the Civil Rights Movement of our generation. What are we going to do with it?
As these weeks continue to pass, I’m constantly hearing people comment on police brutality and specifically on George Floyd’s killing claiming that “this one’s different. This murder was the one to do it.” And while it may be true that Floyd’s murder was perhaps one of the most tragic, violent, and despicable crimes many of us have seen in the modern-day media, let us not ignore the fact that the killing of black people just like George Floyd is not a new phenomenon. The key that must be identified through his death is in the very essence of it— it was SEEN. The entire murder was caught on tape, and the entire world heard George Floyd’s final words, his desperate calling out to his mother, his telling the officer that he was innocent, that he didn’t commit any crimes, and that he couldn’t breathe. The warranted outrage and surge of activism, influence, and protest did not occur because Floyd’s death was somehow different than all of the other countless, senseless murders of black men in this country that have been committed at the hands of police. Rather, it happened and will continue to happen because these injustices continue to be caught on tape, thus incentivizing the world to hold the empowered accountable. Perhaps Floyd’s death will serve as the straw that broke the camel’s back for many. But for others, the camel’s back has always been broken. His murder by the four officers in Minnesota was not an anomaly. It was not an isolated event. The complete and utter brutality of Floyd’s death that continues to be shared and consumed so widely does its job in forcing the awareness and realities of the irresponsible, inhumane, and indefensible police brutality that continues to take people’s lives, destroy communities of color, and pose the greatest danger and threat to black people. At the same time, the mindless consumption of such videos and killings of black bodies may also increase the desensitization or even sensationalization that often occurs with media coverage surrounding the loss of black lives. My greatest hope is that this kind of numbness towards the taking of innocent black lives ends with George Floyd. May we not forget about the countless other murders we have also witnessed and watched happen on our phones, heard through the radio channels, or have even watched on live television. Additionally, may we never forget the ones we didn’t— the countless deaths and killings the media or people didn’t document for the world to see that have forever taken place, for this has ALWAYS infected our nation. Those that didn’t make the news, those that have been swept under the rug or hidden away for the sake of the assailant’s and accomplices’ protection. May we not forget the thousands of other black men and women who have been shot down by police, who have been brutally murdered on the streets, or whose homes have been broken into during the night where they would be shot with 8 bullets while asleep in their own beds. Rest in Peace, Breonna Taylor. Say all of their names.
What I also hope for this moment and for the people who have begun to awaken themselves to the absolute brutality at the hands of the police is that this fight is not just about police brutality. It is about so much more than the killing of innocent black people by men in uniform, hiding behind their identities as “protectors” of this country and its people. It’s about race and racism (overt and covert) as a whole, it’s about the systems and institutions so deeply engrained in the foundation of this country that perpetuate enslavement, discrimination, dehumanization and marginalization, it’s about the anti-black and pro-white rhetoric and behaviors adopted by many in this country, it’s about the systemic injustices that make simply existing an inherent challenge for people living in a black body, and it’s about the historical, cultural, and societal perpetuation of white supremacy and the pure ignorance of the immense privilege and power that grants them. It’s about this nation and the poisonous, unjust ideologies, systems, and institutions that undergird its consistent inability to create or promote equality, equity, or justice. It’s about the arrival of the first slaves on this soil in Jamestown in 1619, it’s about the centuries of slavery that followed, and it’s about the continued silencing and disenfranchisement of black people following the “abolition” of slavery in 1865. It’s about Jim Crow, it’s about literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes, it’s about the infamous Plessy v. Ferguson case of 1896, and it’s about segregation. It’s about the assassination of transformative, needful black leaders and activists since the beginning of time, it’s about the appropriation of black culture and the lack of any kind of awareness or rightful appreciation that typically accompanies it, it’s about non-black people using the “n-word” and having no clue or care what that entails or implies for the black community. It’s about white people revering the Confederate flag and statues of people like Robert E. Lee, it’s about misusing and misconstruing the origin of the word “ghetto,” it’s about the co-opting of black movements throughout history, and it’s about the microaggressions and forms of racism that society has chosen to both accept and protect for years upon years. Racism is a pandemic in itself.
401 years later. Here we are.
This fight is everything, and it is about everyone.
In my lifetime, my black father has been the one who allowed me to see what living in a black body meant for people like us. But my white mother was the one who taught me how to be an activist. I watched my father be consistently discriminated against in the world and in his workforce, and I watched my mom take active, conscious steps with him everyday to combat and challenge those systems and the people who create and bolster/eternalize them, in spite of how similar to her they looked. I saw the deep sadness in my father’s eyes whenever people questioned his relation to us, his children who happened to have skin a few shades lighter than his own. I heard the conversations in our home, the discussions and often difficult discoveries that the oppressive, coercive, and unjust systems were internalized even by people we call family and friends. I felt the anxiety and the fear whilst walking in public or even around a grocery store, for there is no guarantee of security or safety when you look like my father. And simultaneously, I saw the fire in my mother’s eyes every time she chose to speak up, to defend the goodness and virtue my father possesses and that is in constant danger of being overlooked merely because of the color of his skin. I heard my mother’s thoughtful, empathetic, and passionate words, never failing to challenge the institution and the unequal valuing systems that continue to empower whites and disempower people of color. I felt her anger, her frustration and confusion, and her fear for my father and her children’s lives as we went off to work and school (respectively) each day. I understood why, when I was in the third grade and wanted to complete my hero report on J.K. Rowling, my mother urged me to instead check out books and biographies about Ruby Bridges and complete the project about her wonderful life as a young advocate and barrier-breaker in the world of school integration at just the age of 6. I knew that her voice was the strongest I knew, and I knew that she often served as the protector, for she understood her great privilege and never went a day succumbing to the luxury of silence that whiteness offered her. To be silent, unmoving, and absent in times of injustice is an immense privilege, and I’m so lucky to have had a mother (and now wonderful friends) who refused to reap this benefit for the sake of her husband and children, and for the world.
My mother taught me how to speak. She taught me how to fight, and she taught me what it means to be brave and courageous. She also taught me, as she exemplified everyday, that seeking justice and participating in advocacy often means being willing to disagree with people in your own home or to stray from the bubble in which you are raised, engaging in the most difficult of conversations, and daring to defy what has been so deeply engrained and sown in the soil by which we have always been surrounded. She taught me that these things start in our own circles, that accountability and willingness to fight or even engage in discourse is a virtue in itself, and that shying away from the most important of conversations such as justice and equity was not to be modeled or accepted. So, in light of her fire and light, I urge you to be active. Call out people who don’t seem to understand that racism goes beyond white people overtly saying “I hate black people.” Racism and the racist, white supremacist ideological groundings and behaviors are deeply-rooted in this nation and in people. Check your non-black friends who like to say the “n word” and joke about fried chicken, refuse to stand for even the seemingly harmless comments that many others allow to pass through, and protest anybody and anything that attempt to immortalize the institutional injustice that composes the entire history of America. Demand justice for George Floyd, for Breonna Taylor, for Ahmaud Arbery, and the thousands and thousands of other innocent black lives that have been taken. Call your local governors, state senators, and even federal government representatives. Go out and protest. Post the black square on Instagram for assumed solidarity, and follow it up with extraordinary action and allyship that make the post meaningful. And if you find yourself wishing that things could “just go back to normal,” or that you can resume posting what you ate for lunch today on your Facebook feed, please check your privilege. To have the mental capacity to think of anything beyond racial injustice right now is truly a luxury.
To turn a blind eye is to side with the oppressor. To exist in a black body in this world is a predetermined threat— the systemic supremacy and abuse at the hands of whites in power makes it so. Failure to acknowledge, to feel, to defend, to become angry, and to speak is merely a perpetuation of the injustice defining what this country has enabled. This is heavy, and it feels personal because it IS. It is about ALL of us. We are ALL complicit. We are ALL responsible. And we must ALL become aware of our privileges and fight for those who have not and cannot ever reap the benefits that come with the immense privilege of power and whiteness. Deny the normalization of abuse, halt the numbness to racism and microaggressions, and demolish the structures that harm and kill people of color. This is our America. This is murder. As a white-passing biracial woman whose black father was also in law enforcement, I’m truly at a loss for words. Every single day, I have to think of the horror surrounding the possibility that it could have been my father, my uncles, my friends, my cousins, or any person of color whose life is inherently undervalued and less meaningful according to the state and the abysmal sources of power that poison any potential for freedom. My complicity and my privilege need to be examined, as do the world’s. It can no longer be the work of the most oppressed to challenge the systemic injustice and abuses of power that have forever tainted this country. We are all responsible for the infringed liberty and life experienced by the most marginalized, and turning a cheek is no longer an option. Face the fire, even if you’re scared. Speak up, even if you don’t know what to say. Say the wrong things, make the mistakes, and challenge people and the system everyday. There is a grace that comes with learning what to say and what not to say, what to do and what not to do. For so long many have been taught to not talk about race. To be colorblind was to be on the side of equality, and to not take note of the vast differences in color and experience across the nation, individuals, and communities was a signal of moral superiority. The time was never right to be silent. The world needs you to speak. There is no more space for fear. Be an ally. Be an activist. Do not succumb to the silence that surrounds you; it will not protect you. Whatever you do, act. Enough is ENOUGH.
In spite of how proud of, inspired by, and grateful I have been for my circle and their ability to take a stand and bravely challenge the system and those who created it these past weeks, my heart remains extremely heavy in this time. It is impossible for me to look past the hatred and injustices overwhelming the world and this country, the complete lack of willingness to fight by many— for the black community, for justice, for equality and equity— and the silence of the masses. The despair, frustration, and anxiety runs deep, and I am often horrified at the state of this nation and the direction it continues to be headed. This life and this time is full of fear, and I feel it everyday. I feel it for all those who have skin a few beautiful shades darker than my own, who will continue to be marginalized, wrongly prosecuted, illegally and wrongly attacked and imprisoned, or viewed as a “thug.” I feel it for women of color, who will continue to feel unsafe and devalued in this society and by this administration. I feel it for young people of color, the ones who will be forced to deal with the fallout of these tragic and terrifying times brought on by the most privileged and irresponsible, and who will (unfairly) be largely responsible for educating generations past and people who simply cannot be reached. And most of all, I feel it for anyone living in a black body, who cannot afford the privilege or the luxury of staying silent, for the weight and severity of racism and evil surround them everyday. The most oppressed and powerless continue to be burdened with the weight of dismantling and challenging their oppressors and the system that was never meant to serve them, and this cannot remain true any longer. We carry this weight everyday. We live it through. Our lives are not a hashtag, we are not a trend. Posting and claiming solidarity does not suffice. Speak and ACT for those who need it most. Read. Listen. Donate. Educate. Sign the petitions. Make the calls. Advocate. Understand and empathize. We cannot do this on our own. Fear, discomfort, or uncertainty are no longer excuses for complacency and conscious complicity. Fight against it everyday. Resist.
Black lives matter, and they always have. Even despite what our history and the “leaders” of this nation tell us.
I will be publishing more posts that I hope will inform and assist in some way or another within the next few days, including what BLM means and entails, ways that non-black people can be allies, book/podcast/tv recommendations, things we can all be doing and learning, and how we can continue to support and bolster the movements and campaigns that are so needful in this time. But for now, the link provided below is a great resource to start with getting involved and better understanding/participating in what our world is seeing today: