Although Michael Harriot is on vacation this week, he still agreed to write our weekly Clapback Mailbag. However, instead of responding to trolls, haters, disgruntled readers and anyone who has a question about the content on The Root, Michael submitted this open letter to Ahmaud Arbery.
Dear Mr. Arbery,
Do not rest in peace.
I always wondered why people take off running every time they supposedly see a ghost. When Scooby-Doo or other life supremacists see a phantom spirit, are they running to someplace safe or are they running from the apparition? It’s not as if the dead are bound by the laws of physics or nature. Ghosts can walk through walls, transcend time and space and, according to my research, the average ghost runs a 4.21 40-yard dash. Running to your mama’s room or hiding in the closet ain’t gonna help you, bruh. There is literally no escape! Ain’t nowhere to run!
Yes, I believe in ghosts.
There is a translucent shadow of a man that haunts me every day. You do not know this man but I promise you that he once lived and breathed and walked and talked among the living. And goddamn was he a human being.
One day, this man whom you do not know, walked into an Alabama church to protest a “bus situation” (It’s an obscure thing, you wouldn’t know anything about it) and remind the congregation of the words of another long-forgotten poltergeist, who went by the name of Yeshua, who, according to one of his homeboys, supposedly once said:
Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
Then, this man, this agitator, this hating-ass hater of evil, injustice and bus seating rules, delivered a sermon called “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious,” saying this.
Whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated between the old and the new, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. I come to declare war over injustice. I come to declare war on evil. Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force—war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force—justice, goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God.
I had a long talk with a man the other day about this bus situation. He discussed the peace being destroyed in the community, the destroying of good race relations. I agree that it is more tension now. But peace is not merely the absence of this tension, but the presence of justice. And even if we didn’t have this tension, we still wouldn’t have positive peace. Yes, it is true that if the Negro accepts his place, accepts exploitation and injustice, there will be peace. But it would be a peace boiled down to stagnant complacency, deadening passivity, and if peace means this, I don’t want peace.
- If peace means accepting second-class citizenship, I don’t want it.
- If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.
- If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace.
- If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.
Oh, beloved Mr. Arbery, they transformed that man into a ghost, too. They fired a bullet into that man’s head and turned his memory into a remnant of the thing he once was. Then, they made him into a martyr who sacrificed his life. As if he wanted to die. As if he had a choice. You may recognize the gossamer, whitewashed residue of our warrior as Martin Luther King Jr...
But I see ghosts.
No, Ahmaud, if—as that unknowable ghost said—peace is the presence of justice, then you cannot rest in peace. You cannot be entombed in something that, for you, does not exist.
Haunt us. Allow us to haunt them for you. Do not become another dead black thing. May your death give us strength and perseverance. And life. Be a ghost.
If you’re wondering why I am making this request, I have a confession to make on behalf of many of us. I only share this confession because they have already stolen you from your family and turned you into something that is no more. A former human. A man who once was. But, because I believe in ghosts, I beg of you not to tell anyone this secret:
We do not know what to do.
As beautiful and resilient a people as we may be, we still have not figured out how to access the humanity that has been withheld from us. We do not know how to access the humanity of the withholders. Our backs have shown their strength and spirits have proven themselves courageous but we still cannot slay the beast whose hands have tied our nooses and borne our bruises for 400 years.
We sang songs. We tried complying. We worked our asses off. We built a whole country for them and, after 400 years, asked for a sip from the fountain of freedom and they still refused our repeated requests for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We even tried love, Ahmaud. But even that was not enough.
Our feet are tired from marching. Our voices are cracking from the incantations and prayers. Goddamn, have we prayed. To our gods. To their God. To his son. To them. We have begun to wonder if our supplications are sufficiently loud. Can He not hear our pleas or is this soul-stealing behemoth too treacherous even for God’s terrible swift sword?
Even our attempts to impress upon them the value of our lives was met with disdain. We are so much better than them that we have refrained from collectively considering reciprocity or vengeance. Yet, there is no respite for our weary souls or our aching feet.
We have also tried hope, change, climbing Jacob’s ladder, sitting in, standing up, kneeling, believing that we shall overcome, rocking the vote, running for office, fighting the power, passing the plate, riding blue waves, dying in, walking out and even waiting on the Lord.
None of it has worked.
We do not know what to do.
There is literally nowhere we can run.
Maybe we’ll find refuge one day. Perhaps a time will come when America will truly offer liberty and justice for all but I have found that the existence of ghosts is a much more believable prospect. Especially when this country keeps churning out ghosts who whisper in my ear that peace is not the absence of conflict, it is the presence of justice.
So, Ahmaud, if peace means stumbling across random posts of high-definition murder videos on social media, I do not want it. If peace means being OK with white people who will appropriate every hip-hop dance on TikTok but will also scroll past the sight of a black life being extinguished without budging an inch to do something about it, I do not want it. If peace means breaking into a light jog makes me “suspicious” to an armed lynch mob, I do not want it.
And, if peace means a white man can steal the life from someone with black skin and not be deemed a racist but me pointing out the long history of white men who kill people with black skin somehow makes me a racist, then I do not want it.
So, no, Ahmaud Arbery, do not rest in peace.
Deliver unto us a sword.
And, for God’s sake...