26 days ago I stood on a stage in front of 2500 people at BlogHer’s Voices of the Year community keynote and read my piece “America’s Not Here for Us.” I shared what it’s like for me to be a mother of color in the United States after the murder of Trayvon Martin and in a society governed by a legal system that devalues and dehumanizes black life.
As I watched that clip yesterday, I found my words haunting. I wrote those words back in 2013 when my son asked me if people still hated African-Americans like they did during slavery. I’m finding the truth that whispered softly in my heart back then to be rubbing my soul raw now as I watch what has unfolded these past 4 weeks. Another round of black life taken at the hands of those grossly abusing the power their badge and the legal system affords them. 26 days after I spoke these words aloud to a room full of conference attendees, we’ve lost Eric Garner, Ezell Ford, John Crawford, and Mike Brown to police brutality-and as my friend Kelly said on Facebook last night-FREEDOM is burning up in Ferguson, MO.
I’ve spent the past 12 days being consumed by what is happening in Ferguson and what Mike Brown’s murder has triggered in one of the most segregated areas in the country. Every night my heart pounds as I log into Twitter to watch the live feeds of the protests and read what others on the ground there are experiencing in real-time on the #Ferguson tag. Every morning I get up and check Facebook from friends who are just as consumed as I am to see what news articles and essays they’ve found that are worth reading. I watch the live stream and hear police officers call the protestors “fucking animals” . I read comments, opinions, remarks, tweets, and heated online exchanges where white people are openly justifying police unloading multiple rounds into unarmed black men’s bodies. Comments saying we deserve it. We are thugs. We destroy neighborhoods. We kill each other so why the fuss over a white cop killing an unarmed black youth? We are menacing. We don’t know how to act civilized so we have to be “taught”. The people who need protecting are the police-not the community. I’ve read comments from people caring more about the small number of protestors looting than of the police response to those protesting peacefully. I’ve read comments from people who absolutely refuse to believe the first hand accounts of what’s happening from those who are there and reporting it. Instead they want the facts from police. They want us to trust the process. To trust the legal system. And on and on, and on it goes. So much defensiveness, willful ignorance, and upholding of an institution rooted in white supremacy. Reaching-I see them reaching for something to grasp ahold of that in their mind proves Mike Brown “deserved” the excessive amount of rounds that ripped through his arms, eye, and head. I’ve seen “let’s wait for the facts.” “Let’s not make this about race.” “Well if Black people would just….if they didn’t….if they weren’t so…maybe if they taught their kids to…if they stopped acting like victims…”
I’ve seen. I’ve heard. I’ve watched white people for the last 12 days be deliberately slow to call out injustice and hate and acknowledge there is something gravely wrong in America, even though they’ll do so to call it out when there’s a mass shooting or other tragedy. That 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement, Black and brown people are still fighting for their right to just exist in this country, to LIVE. That racial profiling and police brutality disproportionately impacts black and brown men and women. That the legal system allows for it to. That racism still fucking EXISTS. That the pervasive myth that black and brown bodies are evil, dangerous, and a menace still lurks in the back of White America’s mind, driving their actions and interactions with black and brown people both consciously and subconsciously. That the system protects police who unload 41 rounds into a black body because the officer “assumed” that the black man was reaching for a weapon. Or 46 rounds . Or reaching for a cell phone. Or neighborhood watchmen who think black boys wearing hoodies and walking home from the store are “suspicious.” Or white men who think listening to hip hop at a loud volume is menacing. Or….or…or….
I’ve been left to sit with a range of emotions as I read all of these comments, as I think about all of those who were unarmed and killed based off of the racist assumptions, as I watch friends and family members of white friends’ racist comments and beliefs go unchecked online.
I’ve shifted repeatedly from one emotion to the next over the last 12 days, my voice left searching for what to say about it all. I haven’t been able to fully articulate what it’s like to watch all of this unfold and White America’s reaction to it. To the apathy. To the displaced anger. To the lack of attention to The Real Issue.
“In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument…They had for more than a century before been regarded as beings of an inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the white race, either in social or political relations; and so far inferior, that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit.”-Supreme Court Justice Roger B. Taney, Dred Scott vs. Sanford
While washing dishes last night, words finally found me. The raw and ugly truth laid bare within them made my heart constrict in pain at exposure.
People would RATHER believe that a person of color was shot or brutalized in some way because they did something to deserve it. Why? Because it’s easier to believe that and believe that the system they rely on for their own protection is “just.” They don’t want to believe or admit that the system that’s just for them isn’t for others because that system is all they’ve known and been taught to trust. That system gives them a power and to admit the system is fucked up and unjust to Others would mean they’d have to relinquish that power, trust, and protection that’s the foundation for everything they know.
To admit black and brown people are targets, to believe that the system that protects them is inherently racist and was never intended to include people of color means they’d have to admit we need a new one. New definitions of justice. Of democracy. Of freedom. Admit that their foundation is faulty and that the system they’ve built their lives around for generations since this country’s inception needs dismantling and replacing. That the system that enables their privilege and power needs destroying and restructuring. Needs balancing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years about humanity, it’s that we struggle with uncertainty and with otherness; especially those who have always been the majority and have always had systems in place to enable their success and survival. This is White America in the United States.
White America doesn’t want to admit the system is fucked up and unbalanced because doing so upsets their power structure and uproots their very livelihood. It puts them in uncharted territory and history has proven they do not handle loss of power or being a minority very well. They don’t know what a world without them in power and one where equality and justice are interwoven in its foundation looks like for THEM. And that fucking terrifies them. So instead of facing this, they’d rather believe Mike Brown deserved to be pursued and shot multiple times, even as he was surrendering. That he should’ve just gotten on the fucking sidewalk and complied with whiteness. That Trayvon was a thug. That Eric Garner’s size was menacing. That John Crawford carrying a toy gun in Wal-Mart was more dangerous than white people demonstrating their right to open carry in Target’s toy aisles. That a black or brown guy’s wallet or candy is really a weapon. It’s easier to be willfully ignorant. Safer. Their ignorance protects them because White America’s sense of justice fosters it. Admitting they are wrong would unravel the very fabric of their lives. Checking their inner white man or woman is just too much fucking scary work. So they choose ignorance, whether it be overtly or subconsciously. They choose to be complicit in white supremacist ideals every single day that they do not demand their foundation’s obliteration.
It’s fear. Fear of otherness. Of the unknown. Of difference. And that fear is what feeds anti-blackness and the white supremacist backbone of this country. Fear protects them but profiles and kills us, negating our very personhood and humanity.
Until White America tells fear to fuck off, we’ll keep dying at the hands of “justice” in a country they broke our backs and our souls to build for them.