Here We Go Again
To live and die in America.
My first piece on Medium was March 22, looking at how jarring the onset of the pandemic was. I planned to continue writing about how things would unfold, and how we would all cope, adjust, grieve, and progress. I didn’t imagine that the majority of my subsequent writing would revolve so concretely around race.
I should have known better.
In my March 22 piece I also talked about the college success book I was about to release, and how it was so difficult to focus on that project given the mounting health concerns and uncertainties produced by COVID-19. I have tried my hardest to make space for my book promotions, and do all of the things that one does to thrive as a writer / publisher. And to be honest, those magical moments of singular focus have been some of the most therapeutic for me in these months of being home bound. But, it hit me right before starting this draft that I haven’t touched my Higher Learning Medium publication in a few weeks. It’s hard to be a parent, and a son, and a husband, and an employee, and an entrepreneur, while also trying to survive a pandemic, and be Black, and human.
Black. And human. Let’s unpack that.
This morning my daughter asked me how I was doing. Rather than lie to her, I explained for a solid eight minutes why I wasn’t doing well. As I mentally re-saw the still image of the White expressionless police officer murdering George Floyd (I have not seen video, nor do I need to), I said aloud to my daughter two things that I know are indisputable truths.
The White expressionless police officer would not have restrained another White man in this way.
The White expressionless police officer also would not have restrained a dog in this way.
In both instances, there would have been a clear recognition that this specific application of pressure on a living soul’s neck, forcibly pinning that living soul’s head to the street for an extended duration would do critical harm.
Why did the officer not keep this top of mind in this situation, or at the very least follow an authorized protocol? Why did the officer not ascertain that George Floyd was no longer a threat (if he ever even was)? Most importantly, why did the officer not listen to the pleading of the onlookers, or of George Floyd himself, who said he could not breathe.
When someone indicates that they can not breathe, and other people who are watching a man die yell and scream to let you know that the man can not breathe (in case you can not hear the man whose head is being crushed beneath your knee), but you continue to choke him, you either intend on killing this human being, or have made peace with the possibility.
What part of “serve and protect” or “innocent until proven guilty” or “community policing” or “trained professional” is this?
This is where we are.
This is why people —other caring humans — said, quite simply, that “Black lives matter.” It was supposed to be a modern-day reminder, because history has proven otherwise. We are, for horribly worse, stuck in that living (and dying) history, intent on bringing the lynching tree to the Twittersphere, traumatizing the darkies on loop until they get back in their places.
We’ve always known that White lives matter. This was only ever a question in White folks’ misguided feelings, when the sound of Black lives mattering didn’t sit right. A White person accused of writing a bad check or passing off a counterfeit $20 (whichever it was, because it really doesn’t matter now, nor then) — or occupying a government building with an assault rifle — will live to drink another Pabst another day.
We know that dogs’ lives matter. Amy Cooper no longer has hers after we witnessed Henry being choked on his leash for significantly less time than George Floyd begged for his life.
We can reason — because we tend to imagine that we’re good people — that Black lives matter on some abstract level. I mean, they have to, right?
I haven’t been to The National Memorial for Peace and Justice yet, but I anticipate someday seeing it firsthand, because that is the kind of pilgrimage that my ancestors would want me to make. This sacred work of Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice Initiative highlights the over 4400 documented racial lynchings in the United States.
How many other racial murders have gone unaccounted?
What do we call the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery, if not a lynching?
Have you ever been chased by unknown men with guns? Men who fit the description of the ones your mother and other elders have warned you to stay away from? Men who descend from other men who perhaps gave their lives to keep your kin in bondage? What would you do? Can you even imagine? White people, can you imagine? Give it a moment and try.
If a handcuffed George Floyd could have wrestled the officer’s knee from his neck and sat up to regain his breath — to save his own life (something he absolutely didn’t plan on having to do when he woke up that morning and set out on his day) — what would have happened next? Gun shots into his torso after he’s barely able to take in a good gasp of air? A second or third officer rushing to crush his handcuffed body back to the pavement?
In the days of lynching as we have come to frame the historical notion of lynching in our minds, Black lives mattered to many only as much as the spectacle of ending a Black life mattered.
I’m left wondering today, does Black death still matter more than Black life?
That’s a tough question — to ask, and to answer. I need to acknowledge that now, before I share the rest of what’s on my mind. It’s not going to get any easier; it’s time to make that plain.
The Joe “You Ain’t Really Black If You Don’t Vote For Me” Biden fallout produced pieces highlighting Black people’s abusive relationship with the Democratic party. That’s a multilevel understatement. Our ties to all of America are toxic.
We can talk about policing and mass incarceration and other creations of White toxicity as oppressive systems, and they are that, and they should be addressed in radically different ways, but in this moment I am interrogating the deficient psychology behind these systems. The frail mechanisms of “power” that believe winning through violence and manufactured hierarchy is beneficial.
You have built this straw house, knowing that it will burn, because it must, but you are hellbent on having us all believe in its opulence, even as it dissipates into nothing. Perhaps this is why you are going mad, questioning why we are occupying spaces, simply breathing and being. Something is broken, but of course it can’t be, because everything’s always fine in White America.
People have spoken about two viruses — COVID-19 and racism. Both conversations are nuanced. Obviously, overcoming COVID-19 centers around eradicating the virus, but also involves reforming social infrastructures. Racism is more often framed as a social norm, a product of our diverse nation. But why? Is it too painful, or inconvenient, to think more deeply about the pathological drivers of racism, in this stolen land of the free?
Why do you abuse us in this way? Are you okay, Amy? White expressionless officer? Men with guns and cellphone cameras and trucks who could have stayed on their porch, or shouted a friendly “good afternoon”? Is your humanity fully evolved? Are you capable of loving in the way that your version of the Rev. Dr. King wanted us to love you? Is that too difficult? Can you not picture it? Do you try? Can your colorblind formulas compute such a radical notion? Or are your overtly racist frames not compatible? Do you simply wish that we would stay in our ghettos (until you decide that they are yours after all), go back to Africa (a place where most African Americans have never been, that also happens to be a whole continent and not a remote island for exiled Negroes), or die asap? If we were gone, would your life be that much different? You really think that Barack and Michelle Obama, and 37 million other Black people with a net wealth approaching zero have taken something from you, after you actually enslaved some of their ancestors? How does that even work in your mind? What grudges are you holding, and why? What causes will you fight for, and which are you sitting out? Do you really think that we are here to talk to your “actually racist” parents? What do you think they are telling your racially ignorant kids when you’re out for date night? And what do your kids think of you when you can’t actually explain why you’re voting from Trump again (“we’re Republicans, it’s what we do” sounds extra dystopian right now, but maybe that’s just me), or scroll past all of the “Black stuff” that’s happening again for whatever reason in the news?
How do you imagine that you will die?
Amy Cooper — and the rest of you — I’m pretty sure that you don’t have dreams of random Black people threatening your well-being or snatching your last breath.
So why are you so afraid to let us live?