A child is dead and I am angry

A child is dead and no one is responsible; instead, it’s deemed a perfect storm of human error. A child is dead and instead of accountability, the dead child is blamed for his own death. A child is dead and his mother is judged for her “bad” judgment in allowing the child to go outside to play at a playground. A child is dead and people want to ignore that this child’s death is not an aberration but is really part of an ugly legacy that for hundreds of years has prematurely taken the lives of Black children and told us that no one is responsible. A child is dead and I am tired, I am gutted, and I am scared because I know that this cycle of premature death and sorrow is never-ending. I am mad that so many of my sisters raising Black children are grappling with keeping their children safe in a world where we cannot keep them safe. A child is dead and I told my child why that child is dead and once again saw the fear and shame in her eyes as she looked at her skin and mine as she asked me if her lighter skin would keep her safe. No, baby, it will not keep you safe.

We are mothers, fathers, and caregivers raising children that we cannot keep safe. Our degrees won’t keep our children safe, our good jobs and suburban homes won’t keep our children safe. All the money in the world will not keep Black children safe. To be honest, it won’t even keep us safe.

Should they safely reach adulthood, even then they are not safe. We send them off to “good” colleges that will attempt to strip them of their humanity through a battery of microaggressions and sometimes outright cries of racial epithets and threats. Hopefully they will make it and find the joy but we cannot assume this and we most certainly cannot guarantee it.

A child is dead and I am angry as hell. A child is dead and knowing that many of you cannot understand the depth of my rage and my pain makes me even madder…knowing that to those with the white hue, your children are safe. Your children are valued, your children are allowed to make mistakes. Your children are seen as humans and the brown and black babies are seen as beasts.

A child is dead and I am so angry and so tired, knowing that we will meet again in this space and that all I can do is write these words.
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Blowing Towards Justice, Albeit Slowly

Thank you to all who have left comments or reached out directly to me after my last post. It really meant a lot to hear your words of support and encouragement. Having been married previously, I can’t say this is my first time at this particular rodeo. Though, after spending 20 years with someone, it is an adjustment and while adjustments aren’t always bad, human nature and ego grapple with change much like a petulant child. Yet I continue to trust that things will unfold as they are meant to unfold and that the best days are still ahead and that through the uncomfortable and even dark moments, it’s those moments that make the good ones even sweeter.
The theme of change figures heavily in my life, both personally and professionally these days. While I have spent years commenting on racism and race related matters both in this space and in various publications, it’s only been in the last two years that matters of race went from the personal to the professional. In my role as the executive director at Community Change Inc., I spend a lot of time talking and meeting with people who have spent far more time than I working for racial justice.

It is far too easy to read the daily news and feel that the wheels of progress on race won’t ever turn, especially in light of the news that experts found the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice at the hands of law enforcement was justified. Then we add in the countless numbers of named and unnamed people of color who have died unjustly in recent years or the data that economic injustice lives at the crossroads of racial injustice, and one might concede that we won’t ever have a racially just world.

Yet today, on this day in the United States where legally we celebrate Christopher Columbus and his “discovery” of America, it is clear that the winds of change are indeed picking up. When I was a little kid, I remember thinking that Columbus didn’t sound like a nice guy. After all, how do you discover land that is already occupied and call it your own? In my family, that was called stealing and was rewarded with a swift swat on the butt. Yet Columbus and his “discovery” changed the lives of many and we live with the legacy of his work even today.

However, while we still legally celebrate this man and his heinous actions, increasingly in communities across America, people are asking that we end the practice of celebrating this man and instead honor our indigenous brothers and sisters. It may take time before we fully do away with Columbus Day and instead celebrate Indigenous People Day, but we are heading down the right road.

Twenty years ago, our gay, lesbian, bissexual and transgendered brothers and sisters were still heavily closeted and while transgender men and women are still facing numerous hurdles, the fact that Janet Mock and Laverne Cox are household names and Caitlyn Jenner was just named woman of the year speaks to the progress we are making.

When you are on the receiving end of injustice day in and day out, change can’t come fast enough. As a Black woman with Black children, I want change yesterday. I want to know a world where I don’t have to worry every time my son gets in the car. I want to know that my daughter won’t internalize the silent but somehow all too loud voice that still lingers in the air and tells her that she is not as good as white girl. Hell, I want a world that when my family goes out and we don’t fear being called niggers.  

However, for all the criticism that I do have when it comes to how people of color and other marginalized people are treated, I know the needle is moving, albeit slowly.  But it’s not about the fantasy post-racial world that some folks claimed had arrived when we elected our first Black president. It’s about the fact that, increasingly, white Americans are starting to connect the dots and recognize that we aren’t all treated the same. It’s about the fact that mainstream publications are now acknowledging that the ghettos that far too many people of color linger in isn’t due to a lack of work ethics and loose morals but by schemes designed by those in power who created a two-tier system that allowed one group to thrive while the other barely survived.

Increasingly, even in the whitest of spaces conversations are being had about race and while there are still plenty of white folks happy to stay in the silo of whiteness and not look deeply, growing numbers of white folks are willing to look deeper. As the head of an organization that has existed with the goal of getting white people to look at racism, our work has become normalized as we field calls from folks all over who, in the wake of the legalized slaughter of Black people, want to know what can they do.

So while the wheels of change are going a tad slowly and the chances are that none of us who are currently inhaling and exhaling will see a truly racially inclusive world, the fact is that we are moving toward it and we need to acknowledge that the winds of racial justice are starting to pick up. Now we just have to keep that energy flowing by unlearning what is harmful and committing to doing all that we can in our sphere to shift the needle for racial equity. Change isn’t always easy but it does happen.
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The lies we live but do all lives really matter? Or no childhood for some…

In a perfect world, the color of someone’s skin wouldn’t matter but we live in an imperfect world where it very much does, despite the number of people who insist that it doesn’t. That stubborn insistence by many that race doesn’t matter is naive at best and dangerous at worst because it keeps us from working to create a system that for once wouldn’t condemn certain bodies from the very moment they arrive earth side.

Last fall, 12-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down in a public park in Cleveland, Ohio, because a bystander saw what he perceived to be a Black man with a gun and called the police. Despite saying that Rice might have been a juvenile, the dispatcher didn’t quite convey that part of the message to the responding officers and a young child with a toy pellet gun was murdered by the people who are sworn to protect the public.

This weekend a statement was issued by Cleveland officials in response to a wrongful death suit by  Rice’s family that claims that Tamir in essence caused his own death. “were directly and proximately caused by their own acts. . .,” and added that Tamir caused his own death “by the failure. . . to exercise due care to avoid injury.”

It would almost be laughable if there wasn’t a slew of dead Black and Brown bodies in recent years. Too many times the deceased victim is at fault for their own death, no matter what their age or circumstance. However we live in a time where there is a blatant double standard when it comes to race: a young Black child is perceived to be a menacing scary adult. Yet when a white young adult commits a heinous crime, they are painted with the fuzzy brush of humanity that almost excuses their acts of destruction. How else can we explain Boston Marathon suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev ending up on the cover of Rolling Stones magazine with an accompanying article that tried it’s best to humanize him? By the same logic didn’t Michael Brown deserve a cover too? After all Brown and Tsarnaev were close in age; actually Brown was younger and he didn’t kill anyone, yet far too many see Brown as a reckless thug who didn’t do what he was told.

Or let us talk about the young white child who on a family vacation in Arizona in the summer of 2014 accidentally shot and killed her shooting instructor with an Uzi. The accident was a tragedy but last time I heard, no charges were filed and the family was allowed to grieve privately. A few voices labeled the family reckless but overall the family which one might say exercised galactically poor judgment in allowing a 9-year-old girl to handle an Uzi was allowed to be imperfect in their humanity…just a mistake.

Having raised one child to adulthood, I am intimately aware of how Black and Brown children are denied their humanity, their innocence and their childhood. Too many of us feign surprise at these simple truths but this is a country that was founded on the stripping of Black and Brown humanity, where Black and Brown children were often separated from their families and made to serve and work. My own father was the child of sharecroppers in rural Arkansas in the 1950s and 1960s and the stories he has shared about the cotton patch and what the landowners expected of families (the whole family) aren’t tales based in the 19th century but recent history that is now lived as nightmares in the psyches of many older Blacks who are still upright.

When will enough be enough? How many tragedies must happen, how many think pieces and blog posts must be written for all lives to matter? Not as an empty slogan or the predictable “Ugh” or “Disgusting” that is the norm in social media spaces when these tragedies come to light but when will you be moved to take action? How will you do it or do you really care? These are the things we must ask ourselves if we believe that childhood and humanity is for more than just white bodies. Anything less is a form of mental masturbation and if that’s all we are going to do, we should just own that too.