Protest violence has surged in cities across America, fueled by the racist brutalization and attendant mental traumatization of black people in this country that has continued unabated even during a deadly pandemic.
Racist white people, Republicans, and the racist white Republican president have predictably responded to the not-so-peaceful protests with feigned disgust at violence—which they revere when performed by white people and in the name of “freedom”—and more outrage at the harm being visited on brick and mortar buildings than they’ve ever shown for the innumerable black lives lost due to racism.
But black people have also joined the outcry against protestors, with some like idiotic Shameik Moore positing that black people can save ourselves from the fate of being hunted by being better-behaved, like him.
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Moore also had harsh words for black people who are contributing to what she described as “chaos” in the city this weekend, after rioters set fire to a building where a police precinct and the CNN Center are located.
“You are disgracing this city. You are disgracing the life of George Floyd and every other person who has been killed in this country,” Mayor Bottoms chided the protestors. “If you want change in America, go and register to vote.”
There’s a lot to unpack in the Mayor’s statements, especially the false premise that racism in America—an organized terror visited upon black bodies for centuries by people benefiting from institutions and systems built solidly on white supremacy—is something that can realistically be ended by those most trodden by it, and that it is the marginalized’s responsibility to navigate those same systems to do so.
In presenting this false premise that black people are responsible for ending racist violence and that violent responses to brutal bigotry are not the “right way” to fix the latter, black people who share these sentiments are being complicit in the negation of black people’s humanity—the very thing that undergirds anti-black racism in the first place.
On Wednesday night I cried harder and deeper than I have in a long while, and I wasn’t able to find sleep until the wee hours of Thursday morning. I didn’t know what to do with myself after a day of reading about George Floyd’s killing and seeing screenshots of a knee upon his neck in the moments before his death all over social media.
Earlier that day, a friend of mine called me distressed. She said she had so many feelings in response to this latest police killing that she didn’t know what to do with them, and one of the feelings was anger.
“Not just at this, at everything,” she added, referencing the racist microaggressions she’s been swimming in ever since she was a little girl attending grade school in Chicago.
The only advice I had for my friend was that she should give herself permission to feel the rage, sadness, grief, and every other emotion that she had been hiding politely for however long.
I told her that I’d made a commitment to myself to do the same as an affirmation of my own humanity as a black woman, after an incident last year that left me feeling disquieted with myself.
I was in the elevator of a building in downtown Chicago having a conversation with two of my co-workers at the time (who were not black) on why I believe immigrants like me don’t have a place in the conversation between African-Americans and the U.S. Government about reparations, since the historic and systemic barriers struck up against the former means they have a unique experience as black people in this country.
Neither I nor my colleagues were paying attention to the couple who was also on the elevator with us, until the woman—who was white with frosted, blond hair—turned to me as they were getting off at their floor to point in my face and shout, “You’re lucky we even let you into this country.”
The elevator door closed before I could answer her.
My colleagues in the elevator with me couldn’t believe what had happened and asked if I wanted to report the incident to the building security. But I said no and laughed, telling them it wasn’t a big deal. I kept laughing about it that entire day at work whenever anyone asked about it, though embarrassment, shame, and anger bubbled under my skin as the woman’s cowardly attack replayed through my mind.
I kept laughing because by then, living in America had taught me subconsciously that reacting the way I instinctively want to in response to racist aggression is not okay.
I’d learned to suffocate my feelings in silence during my first job here as a flight attendant, when I would hear the casual racism that shot from the mouths of my white coworkers and those who were non-black people of color at absolutely no provocation. I shamefully kept quiet in the face of these indignities whenever I was the lone black member working in a given crew, scared of being iced out or accused of “playing the race card.”
My first few years living in this country as a black person forced me into a crisis of identity. I’d grown up in Jamaica learning about Marcus Garvey and singing reggae songs of anti-racist rebellion and have never been one to keep my mouth shut about issues of justice and fairness, even as a little girl.
But nothing can prepare you for the lived experience of anti-black racism in the USA.
Bigotry—big (like police brutality) or small (like racist jokes)—is America’s favorite pastime, and the people who enjoy it have always been outraged at black people who respond explosively when our humanity is denigrated and our very bodies are being blotted out, because they don’t think we are human.
What is black people’s excuse?
Why do we shame the brutalized and disenfranchised for reacting erratically to trauma? Why do some of us believe that black people’s reaction to racial abuse should primarily be judged by the rubric of whether it can be the “solution” to our external oppression? Why do we tacitly accept the idea that black people don’t get to feel?
I cannot even begin to imagine the deep well of trauma felt by the generations of black Americans whose blood drenches this country’s flag, in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer.
What I can imagine and empathize with is the injury to self that comes with denying one’s own humanity.
And I won’t condemn any black person for affirming their humanity by feeling their justified rage and using it to set fire to capital built on the bodies of their unpaid ancestors—rather than letting it burn them alive.