I’m not sure what to write, honestly. I’ve started this post half a dozen times. And then I’ve deleted it. And then I’ve started again. Gambino said “‘Cause being black, my experience, is no one hearin’ us ,” and that’s felt particularly true this weekend.
- Last Thursday, September 6, 2018, Botham Shem Jean was killed in his apartment by an off-duty police officer. She walked into the apartment, believing the space to be her own, encountered Botham, and opened fire. This happened in Dallas, TX, the city in which I currently live.
- On Friday, September 7, 2018, Mac Miller died of an overdose.
- On Sunday, September 9, 2018, this racist sexist horrible caricature came out depicting Serena Williams during the U.S. Open, and received the unilateral support of the publishing body.
If you are not black these events might not mean that much to you. If they do mean something to you they are isolated occurrences, “crazy” and “unbelievable” and maybe you posted a pic of Mac on the gram. Maybe you made a tweet denouncing the caricature. Maybe you signed a petition against police brutality on Botham’s behalf. And then you moved on. Because if you are not a black person in America that’s what you’re allowed to do in the wake of tragedy–you’re allowed to express your outrage and disbelief, and then you are allowed to leave the unpleasantness in the corner of the internet where you found it.
If you are black, you had a remarkably different weekend. You were:
a) reminded of your mortality, and the complete and utter lack of control you have over your own life in this country. You were reminded that whether you literally live or die is determined at the discretion of the perceptions of those around you. You were reminded that you are seen as a threat before you are seen as a human being. Where someone not black would have been afforded questions, the opportunity to discuss, a laugh, a funny story, possibly a new friend, and an otherwise quiet evening, a black man was shot on sight. And there is nothing he could have done to prevent his death from occurring. Nothing. And that ladies and gentlemen, is what helplessness feels like.
b) You lost an ally. You lost someone who did not share in your experience and who did not pretend to. You lost someone who empathized if they did not always understand. You lost someone who saw your humanity, who didn’t befriend you as a punchline, who didn’t feel like your relationship required a qualifier. You lost someone with black friends because they like people, and holy hell would you believe black people are actually people?! You lost someone whose music succinctly described the feeling of being a KID in high school, who described the sweetness of being very newly 20-something and very much in love. You realize that he flew high, and there was no on to catch him when he fell. And now there’s another reason to mourn.
c) You got a very good look at what people see when they look at you–a black woman at the height of her field, infantilized, turned Jim Crow era distortion. You got a glimpse of how your valid, natural emotions are captured, escalated, repackaged. You are reminded that it is not enough to be the best. You must also be poised, polite, grateful even, for the “privilege” of enjoying the fruits of labor you have rightfully earned. To feel yourself deserving of your accomplishments, to speak out when you feel wronged, makes you entitled, makes you a child, makes the observer feel justified in denying your humanity, belittling your accomplishments, and ignoring your concerns. Play the game to win the game, you remember, and win. That’s important. You only get to determine your narrative if you win.
And that’s it. I usually end posts like this with some uplifting takeaway. Something about perseverance, and tenacity, and the strength of black people. But right now I’m listening to Fight the Feeling, and I’m thinking of lives cut short and lives afraid to be lived, and I’m sad. And I don’t have a solution. And I can’t pretend to.