I felt inadequate for having no words.
Then I realized there are none.
There are no words for the loss of young life. There are no words for a mother’s grief and a father’s stoic pain. There are no words for a town’s outrage, a system’s flaws, a nation’s division and a world’s complacency.
The aftermath of the decision by a Ferguson jury to lay no criminal charges against officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown can only be described as an explosion. Social media exploded. Emotions exploded. A town, quite literally exploded as misguided protesters and a few opportunists incited a violent backlash. Ferguson was aflame, and news outlets ran teaser footage of police clashes, buildings destroyed and reporters fleeing for their safety. Brown’s family and attorneys pleaded for peace, encouraging the masses to turn their energies towards changing the system that failed young Michael. Of course, as a quote falsely attributed to W.E.B. Du Bois says, “a system cannot fail those it was never designed to protect.”
As a writer, as a black woman, as a social commentator, as a human being, I felt compelled to lend my voice to the social media maelstrom. However, all I felt after reading the news was a profound sense of exhaustion. I think I experienced an epiphany of sorts: a realization that I am profoundly exhausted with being black.
Don’t misunderstand me. I love my blackness. I love my Jamaican heritage and culture. I love all the musical stylings and literary expressions that have their roots in the black experience. On a superficial level, I love rocking my natural hair and the way bright colors look against my brown skin. I love being black, and all the goods that come with it.
For all the good, there is a burden in being born black. As a black woman, I have to constantly exert and restrain myself. I have to work harder to overcome and shatter stereotypes, yet reign myself in in the hopes of not reinforcing them. I have to worry about being too loud, too excited, too “urban,” too sexual. On the other hand, I have to try not to appear too well-read, too educated, too quirky, too eclectic…or in simple terms, too “white.”
Yet for all this, I still have it better than the black man.
As Ferguson demonstrates, if I were a black man I’d have to worry about simply being. Despite all the deflective arguments that Michael Brown committed a crime, or resembled someone who did, or assaulted Darren Wilson first, the sad truth is that none of it matters. Michael Brown could have been a Harvard student or a platinum recording artist or a Buddhist monk: the simple fact that he was a young black man means that the same could happen, regardless of his circumstances. I have a younger brother who is just four months shy of eighteen. He loves theatre and classic literature and Fleetwood Mac and cardigans. He is profoundly intelligent, thoughtful, witty and kind. He wants to study International Relations at the university level and dreams of being a corporate lawyer. He doesn’t wear baggy pants or listen to Wiz Khalifa and I don’t think he could pick a pair of Jordans out of a lineup. He is the anti-stereotype.
But he is black. He is a male. And so, his life doesn’t matter.
That’s what this verdict says. Or rather, that’s what this verdict reinforces. The lives of young black men don’t matter. It is bad enough that the George Zimmermans of the world can be tried for a crime and found not guilty. It is another for a jury to make the statement they did today: that this is not a crime. There is nothing wrong with killing a young black man. There was no alternative for a trained professional with a deadly weapon in the face of an unarmed teenager brandishing his fists. Those who are meant to serve and protect should think nothing of shooting first and asking questions later. Black men are a blight and you’re doing society a service by making sure there’s one less walking around. Officer Darren Wilson, America salutes you.
It is from this that my exhaustion stems. It is from being on constant vigilance for myself and my loved ones. It is from having to justify my tastes and my preferences. From having to distance myself from the stereotypes. From the tragic and brutal past that resonates into the present. From being told time and again that young black men have died and no one will have to answer for it. From defending my perspective and arguments against those who don’t understand the genetic lottery and that they’ve hit the jackpot. From understanding my own privilege and trying to use it towards some greater good. From the Emmett Till, Amadou Diallou, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and now Tamir Rice. Tamir Rice, who on November 22nd, was shot and killed at the ripe old age of twelve by police. My father asked, “is he black?”
I asked, “is that a question?”