A Decade.

All week I’ve been trying to figure out what to write. While waiting for the verdict in the Chauvin case, we found out Daunte Wright was killed and before the end of the week, Chicago released video of Adam Toledo, a thirteen year old, being shot in the chest. It’s been a lot. I’ve oscillated between escapism and obsession, but never quite stop digging for words to explain, express, do… something. Anything.

I could write that

“The deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castlie are not isolated. They are not isolated from Rekia or Sandra or Eric or John or Walter. They are also not isolated from civilians using force against Trayvon or Jordan. These deaths are not isolated from the Charleston Massacre. Nor are any of these isolated from Trumps candidacy, the rise of white supremacist groups or the never ending calls for "calm" and "peace". Black bodies dont have the luxury of taking things in one at a time. These are compounding insults that feel a lot like warnings, weighing on our hearts and minds. It is not blackness that is weight. I love my blackness. We love our blackness. It is whiteness that works so hard to turn blackness into a thing to be feared and killed or commodified and discarded. On a systemic level and in the individual decisions that shape and maintain systems, black bodies have yet to be humanized.

But we are human. Regardless of what the state does or what the {white} church preaches, regardless of what hate groups declare or the apathetic remain silent about- black bodies matter.”

but I already wrote that in July of 2012.

After the verdict in the Zimmerman case came down, I was distraught. Not surprised, but absolutely distraught. And thats when I wrote this:

As hard as I tried, I just couldn't get myself to see Trayvon Martin's death in isolation. In my mind I can see slave ships unloading black bodies like cattle. I see families torn from one another on the auction block. I see the terrified faces of black men desperately trying to out run a lynch mob. I see burned bodies floating above dying campfires. I see the hatred of students screaming at Ruby Bridges, and I hear the shot that killed Medgar Evers in his driveway. The image of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin bleed into one face, one story. And as if these pictures of history aren't overwhelming enough, the faces of the men I love loom before me. If I could quantify the history of injustice in my own family, I wonder if the scales of justice would fall over. How many beatings? How many lynchings? How much police brutality? How many false accusations? How often has the fear of America overtaken justice in my own lineage? How many times did injustice crush the hearts and minds of the men who produced me? I probably don't want to know. But I wonder.

That was in July of 2013. And it was beginning to feel like our kids were just becoming target practice for white men. When Jordan Davis was shot to death over loud rap music, I wrote this:

I know no child saints- black, white or any other color. I know kids who make mistakes, who experiment, who get into trouble. I know kids who speak out of turn, who are disrespectful, who are angry. I know kids who get suspended and expelled and go to rehab. I know kids who get bad grades and make the day hell for teachers. I know kids who take a long time to mature, to learn from their mistakes, to make better choices. In fact, I hear there are a lot of adults who have these same struggles. But black kids don't have the luxury of immaturity.

Black kids must be saints. Must be angelic. Must be Jesus.

I want to scream to the world tonight, that black kids are precious. They are beautiful. They are full of life, of creativity, of soul. Black kids are bursting at the seems with potential, with possibilities. Black kids are made in the image of God. Black kids are made in the image of God. They carry within themselves the capacity to love deeply, to give generously, to hope eternally. They could change the world, if only we would let them live. Black kids laugh. They LAUGH. They cry. They scream. They smile. Black kids experience emotion because they are human. They.are.human.

February 2014. And just 6 months later, I sat glued to my phone, scrolling through twitter and periscope to be a witness to the aftermath of Michael Brown’s death. While the NYT was declaring “he was no angel” I stared in disbelief as a tank rolled passed the McDonalds to intimidate Black protesters in shorts and tank tops. I thought I might lose my job over what I knew I would write:

Many of the white Christians who changed their profile pictures to stand in solidarity with Christians on the other side of the world, were absolutely silent while black Christians right here in America were in turmoil.

I am quite used to there not being enough room in the soul of the white church to care about black bodies. There is not enough room in the service, not enough room in the prayers, not enough room in the leadership, not enough room in the values, not enough room in the mission statement, not enough room in political stances, not enough room for lived experiences of African Americans.

I am convinced that the soul of the white church has yet to be ashamed. It is not ashamed of slavery- it only dismisses it. It is not ashamed of Jim Crow- it only claims credit for ending it. It is not ashamed of incarceration rates- it only excuses it. It is not ashamed of ghettos- it pretends to have nothing to do with them. It is not ashamed of segregation- only silently benefits from it. There is no shame for who America has been. I believe that until there is collective shame for who white America has been to people of color, white America will not choose to be something else. If it is fine with who it is, it will continue to do what's always done.

Far from being offended by its own actions, instead white America- Christians included- remain offended by black bodies.

I wrote that in August 2014, and hate mail was sent to my job.

I desperately wanted to close my eyes when the footage of Walter Scott’s murder was released. The cool casualness of it made me want to double over, sit in the fetal position. And you know what the response was? People who knew the officer couldn’t believe it, because he was so nice. So I wrote this:

And its traumatizing. Every time. Every story. Every callous murder recalls the ones before it, the millions who have died at the hands of white supremacy. And it all feels so hopeless.

If you watched the video, did you happen to notice something in the demeanor of the officer? Did you happen to notice the care he took to cover his tracks? Did you happen to notice him yelling at the man he just shot five times to put his hands behind his back? Did you happen to notice how long it took for him to check Walter Scott's pulse? And according to news, do you know what people who know the officer said? "He was so nice. I cant believe it."

He was so nice.

And here I sit, once again screaming at my laptop, "Your politeness will not save you from the dehumanization white supremacy wreaks on yourself and the world".

That was April 2015. Later that year in June 2015, we would all watch the ways in which Black girls are also considered a nuisance, a “danger”, disrespectful, and in need of being taught a lesson. I cried watching how Miss Bechton was treated by an officer:

She never expected.

She never expected to have a violent encounter with an officer as she grabbed her towel and shimmied into her bathing suit. She flipped her braids around, enjoying them more now that the pain has disappeared.

She never expected that she and her crew would walk barefoot in the street, wrapped in towels to get away from the startling discord of the party atmosphere and the racially charged words hanging in the air.

She never expected that the officer would grab her arm. Her feet no longer stable, she is completely confused. Her reaction is to fight. The only time she has ever been treated like this was that one fight with that one girl years ago over some silly stuff. Her body is yanked again. She is trying to talk, to yell, to demand her mothers presence. She can hear her friends calling out to her, she hears in their horrified voices the confirmation that this isn't right. Her body continues to fight as he pulls her braids, yanking her tender scalp. Her body falls. She kicks her legs still trying to regain some measure of dignity. She feels the officer press one knee and then two onto her small frame. She cant breathe. The weight of him and all his gear is too much. She wants her mother. She wants her mother. She cries out, unwilling to let this treatment go unnoticed. She will be heard.

Her long brown legs. Her braids covering her face. Her cries for her momma. That is what I saw when I watched that video. I saw myself. I saw every black girl I know, but I also saw myself.

For a moment. For a moment I didnt care about the officers barrel roll or all the white people standing around watching this horrific behavior. For a moment I did not see the houses or the cars or the other teenagers helpless but defiant. For a moment all I saw, all I felt was her. I felt her shock and humiliation. I felt her fear and terror. I felt her outrage. Her sobs exploded through my own body.

This is what its like to be a black girl in America.

But I wasnt done yet. Because in November of 2015, I knew it was time for me to name the other ways officers inflict violence beyond the use of guns:

When we talk about police brutality against black bodies, we cannot just talk about gun violence. We have to talk about the little girl who are thrown around at the pool party, the little girl who was tossed across her classroom, and the women who are being sexually violated. When we talk about violence, we cannot limit our discussions any longer... I cannot limit my discussions any longer. Because to limit the conversation is to not have the opportunity to name it, to fix it, to heal those who have already been hurt. 

Just a month before, we discovered that the officers who killed 12 year old Tamir Rice wouldnt face any consequences for their actions either:

This weekend, we found this truth once again at play when two independent reviews determined the killing of Tamir Rice justified. And we are not surprised. Because despite the lack of information, reports of mental instability of the officer, the false judgements, and the rash decisions involved- none of that was considered. You see the question in these cases is never, "Should the officer have used deadly force?" The question is always "Could the officer be justified in using deadly force?" The answer to this latter question is always yes when it involves black bodies.

The feelings are heavy trying to wrap language around what its been like to experience this over and over again, I want to scream:

We cant breathe and yet we speak back. We band together and raise our whispered voices to a shout. We gather together in public spaces both physical and virtual and shout that our lives do matter. When it is we who have long been the victims of violence are told to "remain calm" we will not. I am not calm.

I am many things: enraged, angry, saddened, frustrated, upset. But I am not calm, and I dont have any plans to be.

This disregard for black life is wrong. This disregard for black life is evil. This disregard for black life is rooted in white supremacy and anti-blackness and I will not be calm until both are uprooted.

But I already yelled this at the top of my lungs in July of 2016. After this I wrote a book. I wrote a book about life in my own body. I wrote about my cousin and I wrote about my father and I wrote about my spouse and I wrote about my child.

And then I started this substack newsletter and have written about Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor and George Floyd:

In February, two white men knew they would be given the right to jump in a pick-up truck with guns and hunt down a Black man with the singular defense that they thought he might be someone who had previously committed a crime against property in their neighborhood.

How did they know? Because of Henry Smith, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, William "Henry" Stewart, William Wardley, Sam Hose, Mary Turner, O.D. Henderson, and centuries of examples in which white people can destroy Black bodies for any infraction they deem important enough. And they were right.

For months, the law was used to protect them from even being arrested. No charges. The police called Arbery’s mother already framing her sons death as the result of him committing a crime. The victim was framed as being the aggressor which means the white men with a vehicle and guns had the right to protect themselves from the jogger. The white men were able to dance around a law that allows a citizens arrest during the progress of a crime. They had seen no crime, but if the person you’re arresting is Black, who needs an actual crime? An actual crime has never been necessary; all white people need is a story.

and

Ahmaud Arbery is chased by civilians and murdered in the street. No one is charged or arrested for months because the murderers have friends in key places in the justice system. Breonna Taylor is shot multiple times by police officers who barge into a home looking for someone else who is being detained elsewhere. Christian Cooper is a birder who asks a fellow civilian to leash her dog. Instead of complying she tells Christian “I’m going to call the police and tell them you are threatening me” which is exactly what she does. She expertly modulates her voice to sound hysterical, as if she is under a rising threat, when in fact Christian hasn’t moved. A store owner was suspicious of George Floyd, believing he had *forged a check [correction: possible counterfeit $20 bill]. Police met him with force, literally crushing the life out of him. Protestors are risking their health during a global pandemic, and are being met with tear gas, action that was noticeably absent from armed white protestors in front of state houses a matter of days ago.

I need to realize that the world is always on fire for us. Always.

Friends, this doesn’t include all the tweets, all the IG and FB posts, all the lectures and workshops and sermons… This doesn’t come close to expressing how many of these tragedies were discussed around the dinner table and by phone and text messages. This doesn’t account for all the blocking, all the hate mail, all the emails I received before anti-racism became so popular.

And today I need you to be aware that some of us have been in this fight for all our lives, have been screaming for a decade, have been writing from the bottom of our souls… I want you to have some idea of the compounding weight, not just for me but for all of your antiracism educators, for your Black co-workers, for your friends. We are tired, yall. And I just needed to give you a taste of the emotional, mental labor that has been happening for years in just this little corner of the internet- let alone the decades, the centuries of racial justice work.

The world is always on fire for us. Always.

***

If you get stuck on typos and my disregard for apostrophes, this is not the newsletter for you.