The toll of Black death…the aftermath

“I’m crying a lot and trying my best to feel safe, make my friends and family feel safe. I hope you tell the people of color in your life that you love them before they are murdered by police.”– My 22 year old son’s Facebook response to the St. Louis grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown

For several days now I have sat down and waited for the words to come but the truth is that the only thing that comes is rage and sorrow. Sorrow at the pain that Michael Brown’s mother, Lesley McSpadden, must be feeling. The collective rage of all Black parents and the sorrow at yet another dream deferred. A few days after the announcement that Darren Wilson would not be indicted in the death of Michael Brown, I attended a local vigil in Portland, Maine, and was struck by the collective pain in all the brown-skinned faces. A tired, bone-weary pain as I saw a young Black woman break down in tears.  The tears and sorrow on the face of the local NAACP chapter president as we embraced as Black women and mothers knowing that while we were mourning the loss of Michael Brown and the callous disregard for his life we were also mourning the hope that so many of us have had that one day we might be beyond race.

Ferguson has shattered us, and while we are a resilient people, we are also a people in pain. Yet it was in talking to my own beloved son that the pain became personal because unlike when he was a small child, he knows now that my words and promises are no longer guaranteed. I cannot keep him safe in a world that sees a 6’4 Black man as suspicious just for being tall and brown-skinned. He is a former philosophy major who is now an up and comer in the music business, garnering national attention and making his way in the world. A rising star, yet every time he is pulled over (which as of this writing was less than a week ago, and he’s been pulled over just for being Black so many times before that), he knows at that moment he could lose his life.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. We are the children and the grandchildren of Jim Crow-era parents and were raised on hope that things had changed, that racism was a thing of a past, that we could go further, do more and live at peace with all. Yet that isn’t true, not when 12-year-old Black boys playing with toy guns on playgrounds are shot dead by police officers without a moment’s hesitation because a bystander can’t tell the difference between a child at play and a threat and the police somehow see a man instead of a boy.

I look into the face of my 9-year-old daughter and with each passing day realize that like my father before me, it is time…I must shatter her illusions and talk openly about race and how her skin coloring makes her suspect and how she must learn to navigate this dual existence. To raise Black children is to take a piece of their being and essence and crush it in the hopes that the ugly truths being imparted will keep them alive until adulthood and even with this crushing of the soul, there are no guarantees that they won’t end up taken too soon.

These are interesting times as I navigate racial justice work in my professional life yet feel the weight of racial oppression in my personal life. Wondering if the work that I do in my day life will manifest and create lasting justice for all…only time will tell. But I do know that for all the discussions and media buzz in the aftermath of another Black death, there is a yet another weight tied around the collective souls of Black people as we struggle to stand tall in the midst of pain and continue the fight as our elders and ancestors did.

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Black bodies in white spaces during times of Black crisis

Note: This is a deeply personal post and as a result it’s written in a stream of consciousness to say what I need to say, there is no point other than to give words to my truth.

“If you’re white you don’t have to live in our world. You can if you choose to. You can choose to visit. You can choose to completely ignore it and us. You have a choice. We do not. We do not have any choice over where we live. We, paradoxically, have to live in your world.”– A Black Bluesman in Maine

It was over 100 years ago when W.E.B. DuBois coined the phrase double consciousness, the state that the average Black American lives in. This past week I have never more been aware of the dual nature of the Black experience in America. A state that leads to what at times can best be described as a half lived life, a life where Black bodies are always aware of the space they exist in and how at times we wear the mask to conceal the depth of our sorrows and our pain, knowing that no matter how well we perform by the standards of whiteness we are never fully viewed as human.

 

Years ago when the decision was made to move to Maine, I knew there would be hard days, days when for my own safety and protection I must stay barricaded in my house.  Because the depth of my emotions would not allow me to wear the mask that is common amongst Black people who inhabit white spaces. How can we ever take our masks off when the very experiences of life in America are so very different! White lives and bodies exist in the silo of privilege where one can trust in the goodness of the world around them. Black bodies learn early on that the goodness that is part of the white experience in America  does not necessarily cross racial boundaries. Our worthiness as humans is measured against the white experience and if we fall short we are deemed to be very bad.

Over a week ago, a young Black man in Ferguson, MO was gunned down by a local police officer.  The town of Ferguson itself erupted under the weight of decades of mistreatment and systematic oppression yet in the mainstream narrative that is framed by non Black people the inhabitants of Ferguson are deemed dangerous and unruly. I have lost sleep and cried many tears not just because my heart goes out to Ferguson (it does) but in knowing that for my Black body and the bodies of my kids, at any time we can meet this fate. Blackness in America is knowing that our lives at any time can be snuffed out. Yet in more diverse spaces in America, one can find comfort in communion with other Blacks but when living in a predominantly white space, we are denied the fellowship of others like us. This hit home for me a few days ago when a young Black person reached out to me on how to navigate life in this very white state.

To be brutally honest the past few days have been hard; hard conversations have been had as my very white husband and I admitted to each other that if we knew almost 20 years ago what we know now, we would not be. Not because of a lack of love but because life is hard enough when living as Black, and to bring children into the world who while technically biracial will be viewed as Black will test the boundaries of love. These children have to navigate a world where in many ways there is no place for them. To love and live across racial lines is harder than anyone can ever know. To live in a space where few can understand is hard under the best of conditions but to add active situations with strong racial overtones is to be a person who goes above and beyond and sadly I am not that person.

My heart is broken and my anger is quick, I am tired, I no longer want to be a sideshow attraction for well meaning whites. I no longer believe that justice is available to others freely because as Frederick Douglass said “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Yet in these tender moments when I see faces that look just like mine fighting to be treated like humans, I am tired. I finally understand why Blacks on average have shorter life expectancies than whites, our hearts and souls give up the good fight. Today I sit unable to go outside because to know that at best I am a curiosity is too much,even in writing this I wonder if I should hit delete. Yet after a week of being teased, taunted and ridiculed for my belief that Black bodies are worthy of inclusion into the human family, I write this to show that we are capable of the full range of human expression. To inhabit a Black body in America is hard and to inhabit it in a space where there are few people who look like you is hard and a continual journey where you hope and pray that you don’t step on the landmine.

 

 

Uncomfortable truths and dead Black boys

“History, despite it’s wrenching pain, cannot be unlived; but, if faced with courage, need not be lived again,”– Maya Angelou

As the inhabitants of the US once again face the uncomfortable reality of yet another dead, unarmed Black boy, it’s clear to me that we are all living in a warped version of Groundhog Day. We are all trapped in a cycle that we most likely will never escape because we as a nation lack the heart and courage to talk openly and tenderly about our ugly truths. Truths that exist because of people long dead, ugly truths that we all live with today.

Instead we tell ourselves that race doesn’t matter, we tell that brand new lie that we are “colorblind”; those of us who point out that racial disparities are real are told to “stop our race baiting bullshit” as a reader recently told me on the BGIM Facebook page. Or worse yet we are told that we as Black people are responsible for the ills that befall us, that our children deserve to be shot down in the streets and left out like roadkill because we did not govern ourselves accordingly. We weren’t acceptable nor respectful enough thus we bring this pain upon our own heads.

Yet how can we tell another mother, that her son earned his savage killing at the hands of the local cops in Ferguson, MO. On a week when Michael Brown should have been picking out classes, his parents will instead be picking out his final resting place and fighting the national media’s compulsion which frames Black men as either devils or saints. Never fully acknowledging the range of humanity that exists within all of us and most certainly the range of humanity that exists within Black people.

Police Shooting-Missouri

A humanity that feels so deeply, because we know that we are all just one or two degrees of separation away from this pain that Michael Brown’s family is feeling. A humanity that took to social media to hold each other and share space and yet found itself mocked. A humanity that met on the streets of Ferguson, MO to gather as Black people do in times of trouble only to be met with police in riot gear whose presence and demeanor was not one of comfort but of escalation of tense feelings which brought about the predictable script that shows Black people as savages.

Even now as I write these words, words that have become so familiar yet so painful; young men being shot and killed should never become familiar. But how can we not deny the familiarity of these scenarios juxtaposed with the uncomfortable truth that these uncomfortable moments only affects some of us?

Perhaps one day we will find the courage that Maya Angelou spoke about, a courage that will allow us to rip these tattered bandages off these seeping, raw and bloody wounds of racism. Our only hope for survival involves more than an urgent care clinic approach to a disease that has ravaged this nation for so long.

Blessings to the Brown family and to all affected in Ferguson.