For her son’s funeral in Chicago, the mother of Emmett Till, Mamie Till, insisted that the casket containing his body be left open, because, in her words, “I wanted the world to see what they did to my baby.” The photo of Till’s severely beaten and bloated body went viral before this world started using the phrase to refer to social media posts that garner worldwide attention. While this was an unprecedented moment in history, now in 2020, we have witnessed viral videos of the murders of countless Black men and women recorded on cell phones and uploaded to social media platforms. I remember the horror I felt as I watched blood begin to pool across the white t-shirt of Philando Castile. I watched in horror as an officer placed Eric Garner in a chokehold as he said, “I can’t breathe.” I sat in disbelief as I watched an officer shoot, Pamela Turner, five times. It took weeks for me to get the image of Sandra Bland’s lifeless eyes out of my head and even longer to stop thinking about Michael Brown lying in the street for hours. The list is endless of the images of Black bodies being brutalized by the police. The images linger in the mind like a foul stench that permeates a room. The videos are uploaded to Instagram in between pictures of voluptuous models and random advertisements for ring lights and makeup. Normal blending in with abnormal, to remind us that Black lives in America still do not matter, and Black death is always ripe for consumption.
It took weeks for me to watch the video of George Floyd. It was not just his murder but the cruel way in which it happened that cut so deeply. I would start the video, then stop it, try to gather myself, then watch it again. When George Floyd cried out to his deceased mother, my soul shattered into a million pieces. I am still trying to put those pieces back together. This week I watched a video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by the police in front of his children. I could do nothing but cry. I cried because I am tired; I am mentally exhausted; I am hurting. I wouldn’t shoot a dog in the back, yet this Black man didn’t matter to those officers. They never saw him as human.
I continue shouting, wondering when this world will hear me. And the answer seems always to be never.
My soul is screaming, and the world just keeps on turning. The world acts as if nothing has happened. There is no pause. There is no day off to process the images that are now burned into our minds. No break from zoom meetings or conference calls. No respite from people wanting something from you and never giving you anything in return.
For us these are not just random murders of people we do not know but we understand they could easily be our mother, our father, our sisters, our brothers, our sons and our daughters. They could be us. After watching yet another murder of Black people, online everything sounds like white noise. Everything seems mundane. Everything outside of fighting for justice seems pointless. Nothing makes sense. I don’t want to hear about how you spent your weekend, or the funny thing your child did, or what you watched on Netflix last night. None of it matters when I am fighting for my very life. And you can’t see that. For you, it is just another day, and for me, it is another day that this world shows me no matter what I do, my life can be taken in seconds simply because I am Black. And the world will just keep turning.
Understand there are times that Black people need to collectively grieve as we ask ourselves how much more? How much more does this nation want Black people to endure? How many more times should Black people have to go online and speak to our humanity? How many times do we have to read racist comments disputing the reality of being Black in America? How many more times must we explain this to you?
When another Black murder is uploaded online, I ask yourself to pause and read through the following steps.
- Do not start explaining the law to Black people. Many Black people KNOW the law. Do not say, “If they would have just complied then ____________ fill in the blank.” Before you start down that road, do a Google search and find out how many White people “do not comply” and are taken into custody without a scratch on them. How many White people didn’t comply and are walking around just fine without being shot in the back? Before you start to speak about the law, understand how laws are used unjustly against Black people.
- Do not ask Black people why they are protesting. Open your damn eyes! If you do not understand why Black people are protesting now, then you never will. This nation is more concerned about Black people organizing a march then WHY Black people are marching. Have you not been paying attention to what is going on all around you, and if you haven’t ask yourself why not?
- Don’t tell Black people how to process their grieve. James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a state of rage almost, almost all of the time — and in one’s work. And part of the rage is this: It isn’t only what is happening to you. But it’s what’s happening all around you and all of the time in the face of the most extraordinary and criminal indifference, indifference of most White people in this country, and their ignorance.” Trust me, most Black people are in a state of rage, and it is taking every ounce of dignity for us to contain it. But it is, bubbling just underneath the surface. Please do not mistake our kindness for weakness. Trust me. Some of us just have the decency not to do to White America what White America has done to us. However, whichever way Black people choose to grieve is the way Black people choose to grieve. You do not get to decide that. We get to decide that. Grief manifests in many different ways.
- Do not say that you understand how Black people feel. You do not understand how Black people feel. Pause. Take that in. I know that is difficult for some White people to understand, especially when they see themselves as allies. While you may empathize with Black people unless you are Black, you have absolutely no idea how Black people feel, so do not say that you do. You aren’t Black. You aren’t watching video after video of White people being murdered by the police. You aren’t watching video after video of Black people calling the police on White people for doing everyday things. It is okay to say, “I do not understand, but I am here to support you in whichever way you need and that I have the capacity for.”
- Do not make statements like, “I cannot believe this is what we have become,” or “This is not us.” In fact, it is. It is America. An America that Black people have tried to tell this nation about for centuries. When you make statements like that, it shows us you have not been paying attention. You have not been listening to everything that we have been saying. If it is not you, then who is it? If it is not racism, then what is it? Accept the reality that this is what America is. America is founded on racism. America is a racist nation. Take off your rose-colored glasses and admit that painful truth. And trust me it won’t feel good but watching Black people murdered over and over again doesn’t feel good either. The sooner you can admit that truth, the sooner this nation starts down a path of reconciliation.
- Do not tell Black people about all the times in your life that you felt an injustice. Save your stories about when you felt injustice in the world because Starbucks forgot to add extra whip cream to your latte, or you had to wear a mask. What are minor inconveniences is not injustice. This is NOT about any individual “injustice” you have felt that often can never stand against Black people’s injustice in America. Do White people face unfair issues? Of course. However, entire systems are not constructed to marginalize White people. Black people and White people have never had the same experiences in this world and never will.
- Do not center yourself. Everything is not about you. You do not have to make instances of injustice about you and how you are fighting the system, speaking to your neighbors, having tough conversations with your family members. That is all great, but at this moment, allow Black people to be the center. This is not the time for you to let us know that you are not racist. While we appreciate having allies, now is not the time to remind or try to convince Black people that you are not racist. Stop making everything about you and what you are doing.
- Do not mention crime in Black communities or “Black on Black” crime. Ask yourself, do you EVER say, “White on White,” crime? EVER? If the answer is no, honestly ask yourself why you are saying Black on Black crime? Crime is simply crime, and common sense should TELL YOU, people commit crimes in proximity to others. Typically because this nation has redlined communities, Black people live among Black people. I recall some packages were stolen from my porch. I have a camera and saw it was a White woman that lived across the street. I didn’t say, “Wow! This is White on Black crime.” She stole the packages because SHE LIVES NEAR ME! It had nothing to do with my race. It was her proximity to my home! Also, to believe that Black people are not concerned about crime in our communities is a lie. Do not feed into that narrative, and when you see it, shut it down!
- Do not ask Black people to educate you or do labor around racism during this time. Black people have given enough. We have written books, done movies, documentaries, articles, blogs, etc. Any information you could possibly ask a Black person for during this time already exists. Search for it. It’s out there. Black people are tired, and it is taxing to be the authority on racism during a time when all many of us want to do is break down. All Black people simply want is a space to breathe. Give us a moment to collect ourselves.
These are just a few steps I have thought of as I process my trauma, watching the endless videos of Black death online. Each video is like a weight saddled to your back as you attempt to tread water in an ocean of racism. Collectively, Black people are screaming that we are drowning, and this world either ignores us or just doesn’t give a damn. While I appreciate White allies, I appreciate it even more if you allow Black people a moment to catch our breath as we prepare to fight another day.
Consider this notice that we are calling in, Black.
Categories: Thoughts, Musings and Reflections