These days when I hear the news of the latest black murder-by-cop I rarely say anything and push forward through my day. It pains me greatly to say that I’m used to this type of news and the anguish that accompanies it. It’s no longer a matter of what but rather when will it happen again and how will we cope. All of us, every one, need people in our lives who, if they can’t offer advice, will at least listen and make it known that they care. This is Therapy 101.
For black people, more intensive measures should be taken as the images of black men, women and children being gunned down in American streets are undoubtedly wearing on us mentally. We handle the mental wear and tear in different ways. Some people internalize it. Some people invest in the people around them. Some turn to bad habits such as drugs and alcohol or violence. Some pray the pain away. As for myself, I go numb, but only temporarily to lessen the rage that I feel in the moment. Once the numbness fades I generally prefer to talk through the issues to process my feelings, to reaffirm that I’m not alone in my grief. In times of mourning most people turn to family and friends for this kind of comfort, and since all of my family lives in other cities my friends are my first line of defense against the blues. This is a perfectly normal practice, but here’s the gag:
I am black.
A lot of my friends are white. Like…a lot.
This is not necessarily of my own design, but rather a condition of being a minority in the United States who attended a predominantly white institution (PWI) for college or elementary and high schools with similar demographics. I’m not mad about it. We enjoy each other’s company (at least I do) and I love them…but God bless the black child whose white friends don’t acknowledge the plight of the black American community.
Most people would argue that those aloof or apathetic friends aren’t really friends, and to be honest I can’t put up much of an argument against that. What kind of friend isn’t concerned with your lived experiences?
I believe this is a testament to the concentrated insidiousness that is racism. Born from ignorance it is capable of stealthily penetrating and dissolving, however slowly, one of the holiest of human relationships: friendship. And, because at its core it is completely devoid of compassion and empathy, it often shutters off any chance of authentic bonding. In the black mind it renders a great number of white people, most of which are otherwise decent folks, insensitive or even hostile. It defines and widens the chasm between black and white communities. What is a friendship that doesn’t allow room for your pain? What is a friend who isn’t sensitive to your unique human condition?
So when it happens I don’t find myself wondering how a cop could shoot a 12- or 13-year-old black boy to death. I don’t worry about trying to understand how a cop shoots and kills a black man while he reads or is having a seizure. I’ve already come to terms with that evil. What I do find myself pining for is an opportunity to petition my white friends who remain silent. I crave the conversation that would liberate both of us. I wrack my mind over how the white community can sit idly by without so much as a supportive tweet or Facebook post. I know there are some here and there, sure, but when racism affects all of us, black and white alike, “some” isn’t enough. We should all be on one accord. I find myself, time after time, wanting to calmly sit down with all of the white people in my life and ask them the same thing: why?
Why do you feel okay not knowing black victims intimately, but are quick to presume that their deaths-by-cop are justified and above scrutiny? This is an unfair deduction of black people’s character and it denies them due process of the law.
Why does challenging police brutality and instances of systemic racism anger you more than racial injustice and the ending of black lives? This is callous.
Why do you seem to only support black people when they’re on the athletic field performing for your favorite college or professional team? This seems disingenuous and self-serving.
Why do your clergy and spiritual leaders remain silent? This invalidates the credibility of your religion, especially if it’s centered in the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Why do you quote sermons about love and compassion and never acknowledge or seek to directly remedy the grief black communities regularly experience on a national level? This renders you spiritually fruitless.
Why is praying the only thing you do to address racism? Faith without work is dead, is it not?
Why do you get angry when someone points out a racist microaggression you may have committed? This makes you appear unreasonable and unapproachable.
Why do you only talk about modern injustices in hushed tones amongst yourselves instead of speaking out to help end them? Your full public voice can make a difference.
Why do you sit on the sideline and watch black people struggle without using your privilege and status as the majority population to push America forward? This impedes progress.
Why do you demand compliance from black people, innocent or guilty, and never demand that cops follow their own guidelines to deescalate hostile police situations? This is a huge, egregious double standard.
Why, when faced with the realities of modern racism, do you hide behind scripture and MLK or Gandhi memes rather than denounce it for the evil that it is? This makes you disingenuous.
Why do you ignore expressed narratives of black experiences with injustice and discrimination? This further oppresses the black community and denies black people their humanity.
Why do you ignore history and refuse to acknowledge the similarities between past struggles for civil and human rights and the struggles we face now? This makes you willfully ignorant.
Why does your brand of patriotism not allow room to protest or share grievances that would inform the betterment of our nation? This is liberty and justice only for a few.
Some of these questions may seem a bit harsh, but they are necessary. The gap has to be bridged. Trust must be built. But instead of continuously placing the onus of racial reconciliation on black people and their ability to “forgive and forget” it is high time that this country makes a true effort to address one of its many sicknesses. Though it seems I only ever have negative critiques of America to offer most people will probably find it ironic that I am, in fact, a proud American. However, you will find that my pride does not come solely from reflection on America’s achievements past and present, but also from my dreams for America’s future based on its immense potential for true greatness. Recognize that my patriotism is not of the brand that breaks when someone doesn’t stand for the national anthem, but the kind that is sorely impacted by a betrayal of the altruistic American values that our country likes to proffer. My brand of patriotism is painfully embarrassed by every unjust killing committed by a rogue cop. My brand of patriotism causes me to weep with every cop that evades conviction because of the demonization of black people and the zealous glorification of the badge within our nation’s ineffective justice system. My brand of patriotism acknowledges the breaking hearts of my black friends and family as they contemplate the fragility and perpetual endangerment of their lives. Can the same be said for you, dear white reader?
All too often jaded or self-preserving folk in America defer to the “there’s no cure for racism” line and I’ve always thought that was an asinine position to take. Rather than honing in on the roots of America’s problems, some of which are black Americans’ harsh realities, white Americans and their apologists deflect or blindly defend. Try this. Instead of casting the issues to the wind start asking questions of your own. Investigate the “why’s” and the “how’s.” Dig deeper and find out why things are the way they are, how they came to be. This is where the seeds of redemption can be found.
Let it be known, I don’t expect these questions to be answered overnight—the pursuit of racial reconciliation requires patience, determination and careful thought, but there is one question of which the answer I believe we should all be able to quickly agree on, especially all of the white people who have ever claimed love for their black brother, sister, lover friend:
Question: When would be an appropriate time to begin this quest for real solutions in order to save our country from an even more painful future?
Answer: always a resounding “Now.”