The New York City grand jury decision not to charge the cop responsible for Eric Garner’s death has snatched away a lot of the hope that I’ve held on to about race relations here—my birth country—that I now see is still clinging tightly, in many places, to its white supremacist ways.
Reading that, you may think one of two things: 1) That’s harsh and 2) Only now?
For those who think the former, what’s harsh is the blatant miscarriage of justice, even after individuals vying for the right thing thought that there was no way—not with all the evidence, not with the video—there would not be a trial.
For those thinking the latter, bear with me.
You see, I’ve only lived in this country, experienced this country fully, for about six years. My birth certificate identifies me as African American, born in New York City’s Bronx borough. Everything else about me—from where I was raised, to the language I use, the food I prefer, the music I listen to, the place I envision from all my childhood memories, filled with peace and ignorant bliss—is decidedly West Indian … Antiguan, to be precise.
I grew up, for 18 years, in an idyllic sort of world, where people who looked like me were the majority; people who looked like me policed me; people who looked like me taught me; people who looked like me filled the parliament; and so people who looked like me made the laws that governed me.
As an early disclaimer (because I can already hear the rebuttals), I’m not saying that there’s no racism in the Caribbean. What I am saying is that in the country where I was raised, I never had to wonder whether the police were targeting me based on my race. I don’t have to worry about my ridiculously tall and muscular 15-year-old brother—who still lives in Antigua—running into a cop who will judge him solely on the color of his skin.
When Darren Wilson was not indicted for Michael Brown’s death … I hate to say it, but I accepted it. Not willingly. Not without anger. But there was too much doubt, they said; no real evidence showing that Brown wasn’t an aggressor, they said; not enough trustworthy witnesses to go by.
The figurative and literal demonization of Brown by some media and Wilson himself made it almost impossible to hope that the outcome would be any different.
However, in Garner’s case, I held on, desperately, to the hope that this country would do the right thing in light of all the evidence, recorded evidence that was laid bare: Garner getting upset for being harassed by the police. Garner being forcefully apprehended in a banned choke hold. Garner saying repeatedly, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe,” until he took his last breath … over nothing more than potentially selling loose cigarettes. How could charges not be brought?
New York’s grand jury showed me how. I was furious. I felt as if I had been spat on and kicked. For the first time in my life, for the first time in my six years here, after every case that resonated with me and my lifetime here, from Travyon Martin to Tamir Rice, I felt a deep-rooted connection to the black American experience. I always understood it in theory, but now I feel it with every fiber of my being. Black rage. Black anger. Black erasure.
I jokingly told a black American co-worker that the last bit of that island girl in me—that last bit of that person who thought that justice would prevail, despite the systems so meticulously put into place over hundreds of years of oppression—had hoped that something would be different this time.
My American co-worker told me succinctly, “You should have known better.” I was naive—I underestimated America’s virulent anti-blackness. Never again.
So the only thing I have left to do now is join my fellow Americans in protest and implore my fellow Caribbean folk to add their voices to the outcry. If protesting isn’t your thing, find some other way to mobilize.
We can be, and self-identify as, Jamaican, Trinidadian, Bajan, Kittitian, Vincentian, Lucian, Grenadian or Antiguan till the day we die. I know I will be. However, once we set foot on North American soil, once we step outside the safe haven of unpoliticized Caribbean blackness, we have the bull’s-eye on our backs just as much as the next black American. Our skin color transforms from simple descriptor to social and political defiance.
If, regardless of our origins and actions, we're going to be seen as the enemy, we should add numbers to the forces calling out for justice in black America, and demand change.
To quote Caribbean-American activist Audre Lorde, “I was going to die, if not sooner, then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.