Disregard for human life is sin from a realm other than our own. And to he that hosts this evil, let it be known that who lives by the sword shall die by the sword and curse his family tree for generations to come.
“How many black people have to die before you realize the injustice which is going on in this country? What video needs to come out? What more do you need to see?” These words came from an unhealed heart after the death of Ahmaud Arbery. And then George Floyd died on camera.
Something about George Floyd’s death left me at a loss for words. Words mean everything to me; they’re how I best communicate, my love language. Words have carried me to different cities, brought my name into rooms I never thought I’d be, and allowed me to make a masterpiece out of thin air.
And I don’t know what to say to this—how to communicate the tiredness, devastation, sadness, and anger that I am feeling—and the frustration kicks in when I can’t even explain it myself, and the frustration continues as I feel more misunderstood than ever.
The petition, the donating, the posting, the reposting—no matter how much money, no matter how many posts, no amount can fill the sorrow that is here. But that’s the thing; time to grieve and heal is a luxury which has not been extended to us. Instead, we wake up every day and fight. In the mist of our most devastating losses, hurt, pain, and gravitational disregard for black life, we get out of bed and we fight for our lives. Who else is doing that?
It feels like being inside of a deflating balloon, losing air, losing time as the world is closing in on all sides. The pandemic is the backdrop. COVID-19 is disproportionately killing black people, partly because the majority of essential workers are black and therefore leave us at increased risk, and subsequent increased death. As Chris Cuomo put it, black people are mandated to “help people,” and then the centralized government—which demands we continue to “help”—is the same entity that births the police force which is killing black people.
As Trevor Noah put it, societies run because people agree to universal rules, or “society’s contract,” to behave in a certain way. That’s why everybody isn’t running around killing everyone or walking into other people’s houses—because there is a collective agreement that this behavior is not okay. Likewise, when the contract towards black people has been destroyed and police are looting black bodies, it is unwise to expect those who recognize that this contract has been broken to act in accordance with it.
On top of that is the outrage toward individuals who use their white privilege to deliberately harm black people—it’s Amy Cooper in Central Park, who knowingly used her white privilege to push her agenda and put Christian Cooper in harm’s way. It’s Gregory and Travis McMichael. It’s Derek Chauvin and so many more found in everyday life.
But to black Americans, to us, this is no new reality.
For a long time, I thought that open conversations with white people, especially white friends, were a way to make eyes meet in some way. I love Joyner Lucas’s song “I’m Not Racist” for that reason. That’s why I think Jane Elliott’s exercise where she says “every non-black person who wants to be treated like a black person in this country, stand up” is so powerful; no one stands up, which shows that nonblack people are aware that black people aren’t being treated well in this country. Many times in these open conversations, white companions have told me that they don’t think racism exists. Every time this happens, I kind of wonder where I went wrong. What does this say about them, and what does it say about me? After recent events, I feel more and more like a lot of white people just don’t get it—and choose to just “not get it.”
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither was America. It took 250 years to provide a thriving economy for the white man, all while black people were enslaved. The 246 years of slavery and the 89 years of segregation were executed by those who believed themselves to be entitled to use black bodies—a mentality many passed down to their kin. Here we are today.
It is so that with every injustice inflicted on blacks from the beginning of time, we haven’t been offered the time to heal and grieve. So to those who don’t understand why Minneapolis and other cities around the country are burning right now, it’s obvious that you don’t understand what it is like to be black. When a loved one dies (and in the case of many black Americans, it is many loved ones who have died and been treated as less than human, and there is no space to heal because we are simultaneously fighting for our own lives), how can you not understand why the grief is manifesting in other spaces?
As Stephen Jackson said, “To my white brothers, I love you. Every race here, I love you. But it comes to a point now, where if you love me and you are not standing on the side of me, then your love doesn’t mean shit.”
It’s difficult to explain feelings, universally, so it’s conceivable that it’s also difficult for nonblack people to understand what it feels like to be black in America; but, at a bare minimum, what is easy to understand is that racist practices are deeply threaded in our history. What brings about such heavy pain right now is knowing any of us could be George Floyd. It could be our brother, our father, a member of our community—our community which has been under ambush in America for centuries. I would go so far as to say that I even find it somewhat insensitive when white friends see black people killed and don’t check in with their black friends—because they don’t realize how much of an effect that this has and therefore don’t even think to reach out. That’s the issue.
A young black man made a post saying “wtf is this ‘your silence is anti-black’ going around. Nigga shut up. Everyone wanna be pro-black now and gonna forget about it in two months. Nigga I’m in this regardless.” His post somewhat missed the essence behind the anti-silence movement, the sentiment that silence equals compliance, but I also saw the point of the post to be true. While to some extent, I appreciate the posts and condolences of many white people, companies, and organizations, I think it’s also more important to recognize those who are fighting for black rights day in and day out versus those who are doing so now to be politically correct.
I always thought it was a talent in a way to be able to recognize the realness of a person, and now more than ever I invite you to think about who is fighting the good fight and who is riding the justice train just like their favorite celebrities are. Who sticks around when the camera cuts and who goes back home, screaming the n-word in their favorite song. Who is just here to take the things they like—the music, the hair, the language, the wisdom, the bodies, the good dick—and then some.
This fight is nothing new for black people. Having to work twice as hard to get into the same positions as white people, having to be graceful and palatable to sit at the same table—this is something we know too well. Twice as good. Obama could have never been Obama if he’d had a Stormy Daniels in his closet. Twice as good, always.
We needed Martin Luther King Jr. and we also needed Malcolm X, just as we needed Angela Davis and we also needed Toni Morrison; just as we needed Lebron James, we also needed Colin Kaepernick. Each joined the movement in a different way and sometimes contrasting ways, but have promoted the advancement of blacks. Just as we needed Beyonce to be her glorious self and do things like be the first black woman to headline Coachella and break those barriers, we also needed N.W.A. saying “fuck the police.”
This is all to say that I need you by my side, just as so many others do. Your spirit, voice, and vote are needed. Some will fight by shouting from the rooftops, and some will fight by making others tremble—but however it is, we need each other.
If you can’t ride with me on this, this is farewell.
By Anna M Erickson