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Category: Black Lives Matter

A Letter to Jordan Edwards

A Letter to Jordan Edwards

It was the cashier at the grocery store who made me weep. Even though I had already shed tears for you in the morning, my evening encounter with this young man- this young black man, who could not have been more than 15- made me think of you. He was quiet but polite; the seriousness with which he performed his task revealed a slight edge of nervousness, so concerned was he with doing his job well. Undoubtedly this is his first job, something to prepare him for adulthood, the real world. But how does a black boy in America really prepare himself for that? I had the urge to take his hand from the box of pasta he was scanning, hold it in my own and tell him, “You are absolutely perfect and deserving of every good thing in this world.” Of course, I could not do that. That’s not what we do to black men and boys. We pretend. So I stood there, silently, letting him perform this service for me, pretending things were the same for him as they were for the white man who had been in line before me.

I thought about him leaving his job, after dark, in this city we live in that is so progressive, so full of good liberals, that just the night before a man had been publicly taunted for his brown skin in our beloved Fenway Park. I wondered how this young cashier gets home from work. Does his mom wait, counting down the seconds until his arrival, knowing for every minute he is late the unthinkable may have happened? I suppose all parents do this, but I won’t pretend in this area. It is not the same for me and my white child as it is for this boy and his mama. It is not the same as it was for you and your mother.

The thing that haunts me most is that you simply wanted to get home, to retreat to the place where you felt safest. It’s the cruelest of ironies that you were attempting to flee gunfire only to be gunned down by someone who should have protected you. It’s not a surprise, of course. White officer killed unarmed black man, white officer killed unarmed black man, white officer killed unarmed black man. The act is so routine, the words so familiar they could be imprinted on our currency as a more honest reflection of what we hold dear.

When I forget my humanity, I wish for evil upon the person who took you from this world. I want him to feel excruciating pain, to be weighted down by the collective rage and sadness from those of us who keep having to be reminded that our lives are not valued. I forget that so many of these men put on those blue uniforms only because they feel they have something to prove; that they are so trapped in a web of toxic masculinity and white supremacy, there is no possible way to avoid disaster. Regardless, I am unable to offer any amount of sympathy when the solution seems clear and simple: just stop shooting black people.

I read about your life, how you were a football player, well-liked at school, and treasured by your family. No one could call you anything but a “good” kid. This matters not, of course, in terms of right and wrong, but I take some solace from the fact that unlike the ones who came before you, you are not likely to be blamed for your own death. It’s a pathetic measure of progress, but it is all we have right now.

I want to tell you I am sorry. I am sorry your life was stolen from you, that you have had to become another name on the list of all the ways we have failed our black brothers. I am sorry for the times I have been complicit, the times I have not spoken up when I should have. It matters and I vow to do better. I will do so in your name.

Rest in power.


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What Kind of Racist are You?

What Kind of Racist are You?

Last week it was Terence Crutcher and Keith Scott. I don’t have to tell you what because you already know. If you’re trying to keep track of the number of black individuals who have fallen victim to their skin color in recent years, that brings the total to…hmm…I’m pretty bad with numbers so let’s just say it’s around too fucking many. This time, the news left me feeling even more defeated and hopeless, and perhaps that’s what led me to read the comments on everything that was posted about the death of these two men. It’s not that I haven’t been sucked in by internet comments before, but this time it was a deliberate move on my part. I’m not sure why, exactly. I guess part of me thought maybe, just maybe, I would read something that would provide insight and clarity, something that would help me begin to understand how we keep finding ourselves in this situation over and over again. The only thing that was made clear to me, though, is there is no shortage of ways to be racist.

I have written before about some of my own racist behavior. And I have written about people who are so deep in denial they can barely acknowledge racism exists. It occurred to me, though, as I was trudging through the rants disguised as commentary, “denial” is too vague a word because it doesn’t do enough to explain the myriad of racist personalities. Plenty of people have written on the various types of racism, and I am grateful for their work. I decided to compile a less scholarly list, though, something more of a layman’s introduction to racism, based on my own observations.

  1. The Captain Obvious Racist– A lot of people are really scared of this kind of racist, and often for good reason. But I actually kind of respect their honesty. This is the kind of racist that doesn’t pussyfoot around. They straight-up let you know that if you’re not white, they don’t like you. Period. Hobbies include: building walls, buying white sheets on clearance.
  2. The Amnesic Racist- This is the kind of racist who loves, LOVES America. They get high on freedom and (parts of) the constitution. There is no possible way you care about your country more than these people, trust me. The thing is, they tend to forget that the American principles they cherish so dearly also apply to black people. This means they lose their shit when they see…oh, I don’t know, a black person refusing to stand when the national anthem is played. Hobbies include: complaining about how politically correct our society has become, listening to Lee Greenwood.
  3. The Mr./Ms. Fix It Racist- Don’t be fooled by this title, it’s not as good as it sounds. This is the type of racist who already has the solution to ending racism. It’s simple really. Black people just need to get over slavery, obey the police, get a job, and stop playing the race card. Hobbies include: posting Martin Luther King Jr. quotes on their Facebook page.
  4. The La-la-la I Can’t Hear You Racist- These racists, in my opinion, are the trickiest to deal with. It doesn’t matter what you say, or what experiences you share with them, they are quick to tell you why it’s actually not about race. They will tell you it’s the media’s or race-baiting-Obama’s fault you feel the way you do.  They love to invoke the names of the few black celebrities who deny racism, while somehow totally ignoring every other black person. Hobbies include: watching Fox news, researching the benefits of slavery
  5. The I Want to be a Victim Too Racist- These are the people who think it’s just not right they don’t get to be the victims of racism. They seem to understand things are unfair but are very confused about how that unfairness plays out. (Don’t even try to explain systemic racism to them.) They love to share news stories of whites being victimized by blacks just so they can point out the fact that whites aren’t protesting. Hobbies include: going before the SCOTUS in affirmative action cases, tweeting #alllivesmatter.
  6. The I Need a Nap Racist- This is the type of racist that’s just tired. Not tired of racism, mind you. Nope. They are just tired- tired of talking about race, tired of “everything” being about race, tired of being called out for being racist. They will often ask, “How is that racist?” but that question is rhetorical. They don’t really want to know the answer because the answer will exhaust them. Hobbies include: dressing up as Pocahontas or Pancho Villa for Halloween, having hit shows on HBO or Comedy Central
  7. The Dust Yourself Off Racist- This is they type of racist that gets it. They know they will mess up, say offensive things, be insensitive, etc. What makes these racists different, though, is they somehow resist becoming one of the aforementioned racists. Instead, they get up and start over again, courageously standing up to friends and family members, and consistently checking their privilege. Hobbies include: weeping every time they hear the words “unarmed black man killed,” taking down the system.
For Alton Sterling & Philando Castile

For Alton Sterling & Philando Castile

“And there seemed to be no way whatever to remove this cloud that stood between them and the sun, between them and love and life and power, between them and whatever it was they wanted.” -James Baldwin

Today I woke up confused. In my foggy, sleepy state, I turned on NPR, as I do every morning, and I heard about cops killing a black man under (to put it mildly) questionable circumstances. But this was the same news I woke up to yesterday; this didn’t make any sense. Then it dawned on me: this was a different story. Different, of course, only because the names and location have changed. Otherwise, yes, the story was exactly the same.

I know it’s important to speak out. I know silence is acceptance and I refuse to accept this. My level of helplessness, however, increases every time I hear the words “black man fatally shot by police.” It’s a terrible exchange, this fear and despair that is given life anew for every black life unjustly taken.

I think I don’t know how to speak out anymore. I wanted to write about these two men, Mr. Sterling and Mr. Castile, to honor them in some tiny way, to voice my outrage and sadness.  But there isn’t anything new for me to say. The story is exactly the same.

Last year, while grappling with my feelings over another murdered black man, I wrote this piece. I’m reposting it today because I can’t figure out what else to say.


The Thing About Black Men In This Country

The thing about black men in this country is that you were taught to be afraid of them. It’s the best kind of teaching, the kind where you have learned something when you weren’t even aware you were being taught. You didn’t know that every time you saw a black man playing the villain in a movie this was part of your lesson. You didn’t know you were learning when your mom, while driving with you in the car, made sure the doors were locked when she saw a black man nearby. You didn’t know when you watched Cops on TV, sometimes even laughing at it, that you were telling yourself, “This is how black men act.” You didn’t think, when you saw them rioting, that they damn well had something to be rioting about. No, by this time you had already learned what they were: Uneducated. Lazy. Thugs. Gang bangers. Drug users. Scary.  Sure, it’s fun to watch them play basketball, but you better cross the street if you see one when you’re walking home at night.

The thing about black men in this country is that they were kidnapped from their homes. Enslaved. Beaten. Sold. Names stolen. Kept from being educated. Kept from their families. Kept from earning wages. Hanging from the trees with less concern than the morning’s laundry hanging on the clothesline.

“But that was over 100 years ago,” you say.

“They need to get over it,” you say.

“If they would just stop harping on the past!”

The thing about black men in this country is that even when we told them they were free, that was a bald-faced lie. Freedom came in not being allowed to vote. Freedom came in being told where to live. Told where to work. Where to eat. Where to shop. Even where to shit.

The thing about black men in this country is we made sure they knew their place. We made sure they knew they were worthless. Made sure they dare not have the audacity to pretend they possessed any dignity.  “You keep your head down when you’re talking to me, boy.” We made sure they knew they could be falsely accused of the most mundane crime, and would still be handed over to the white man like some first place trophy from a catch-the-darky game.

“But, oh, that was so long ago,” you say.

“Things are different now,” you say.

“We have a black president!”

The thing about black men in this country is that they start out like the rest of us, loved beyond measure by their mamas. They turn into those cute little boys- you know the ones who prove how un-racist you are because you couldn’t possibly find them so adorable and be prejudice- then they grow up and get killed by the police. Or chained to a truck and dragged down a road in Jasper, Texas until their head snaps off. Or they get shot up by some white man because they invited him in to pray.

“They should just cooperate with the cops,” you say.

“You should see the statistics for black on black crime,” you say.

“But those white men were mentally ill!”

The thing about black men in this country is that we gave them the lowest possible standards for living and the highest possible burden for proving that their lives mean anything.

The thing about black men in this country is that we will continue to fail them over and over again, and then force them to take the responsibility.

The thing about black men in this country is that they cannot continue to live like this, stuck in this world of seemingly never-ending racism.

The thing about black men in this country is that we can, we must, do better by them. This country will not be whole until we do.

Tamir Rice Was a Child

Tamir Rice Was a Child

Those cheeks. They were the kind that invited kisses and pinches from relatives, so round and prominent, a part of his body that revealed he was not so far from infancy. A baby face, still, even at 12-years-old. I wonder if his mother still stroked those cheeks while he slept? This is what mothers do with their babies. We have to know every inch of our children, commit every detail to our memories because these details sustain us, our own existence suddenly dependent on being able to know and love a child. We cling to these memories like we are building up reserves before adulthood swoops in to steal our children away. Adulthood did not come for this boy, though. Later, the boy’s killer would be able to hide behind the excuse that the boy’s size made him look like a man. He wouldn’t have thought that, though, if he had looked at the boy’s face, seen those cheeks. But why bother to look at his face when his skin color defies the possibility of innocence?

This boy was playing with a toy gun in a park, in a country that loves guns so much a mass slaughter of children was not enough to stop our lust for them. How quickly our lust turns to terror, depending on the color of the hand that holds the weapon. The boy’s toy looked like the real thing. A real gun. A man-sized body. Black skin. Two seconds. BAM! There were no orders to drop the weapon. No orders for hands up. The assessment had been made: A real gun. A man-sized body. Black skin.

When we took to the streets after Michael Brown died, we demanded things change. We won’t stand for these abuses of power, we said. Stop killing black men, we said. Systemic racism has to end, we said. But it didn’t work. It wasn’t time. Not yet.

Eric Garner? Not yet.

Freddie Gray? Not yet.

Sandra Bland? Not yet.

Tamir Rice? Not yet.

Not yet.

Not yet.

Not yet.

Tamir Rice was a child. Not old enough to have a “real” job. Not old enough to drive. Not even old enough to buy a ticket to a rated “R” movie. Just old enough, just black enough, to get gunned down by a police officer who will suffer no consequences for his actions. This is, of course, how the game is played.

As it always happens, we will be told to get over it. We will be made to feel like our anger is unwarranted, our tears unnecessary. Look how we all overreacted to this officer just doing his job! We are in the goddamn United States of America, and we believe, we must believe, that putting on the uniform, the Kevlar vest, and the badge transforms a common man into a hero. And heroes are always infallible.

Tim Loehmann murdered Tamir Rice. Officer Loehmann, with his sketchy professional past, took the life of a 12-year-old boy, and his own life remains intact. We have to take it again. We have to accept that what’s right and just is not ours to have. We have to accept that ours is a country that says it is ok for police to kill black men and boys, to leave them lying on streets, and sidewalks, and in the backs of vans, their requests for help, their final words ignored. I want to believe we can do better than this, that we are better than this. But I am just not sure anymore.

We Still Need Black Lives Matter

We Still Need Black Lives Matter

His name was Darren Goforth. He was a deputy in Harris County, Texas, beloved by his family and community, and he was horrendously gunned down by a stranger as he pumped gas into his patrol car. Sit with that for a moment, if you will. While he engaged in a completely mundane and routine act, an act that is routine for most of us, he was executed. There was no time for him to defend himself, and no time to call for help. His death, without question, was tragic and terrifying. I can’t begin to fathom how the people who loved him can go on; their anguish must be so overwhelming.

Less than 24 hours after Deputy Goforth was killed, a man who is believed to be responsible for the murder was taken into police custody. I can imagine that this news, at least temporarily, provides some sort of relief to his loved ones. I imagine there must be some sense of justice for them, and perhaps it is somewhat helpful to have somewhere to focus their anger. What we know about this suspect is that he has a criminal history. And we know that he is black.

I want to be able to say that the races of these two men is inconsequential. I want to say with certainty that Goforth’s profession and whiteness had nothing to do with why the suspect chose him. And that may prove to be true. Yet already, the Harris County sheriff is speculating that the Black Lives Matter movement is somehow responsible. Already, social media is exploding with outrage, with so many people believing this murder happened because blacks have been picking on police officers. I want to be very clear, we should, indeed, be outraged over this murder. But it is only one thing in a long list of things that we should be outraged over.

I have seen the ridiculous comments making the rounds: Black Lives Matter is a terrorist group; this is all Obama’s fault; Notice how no white people are rioting? These comments, although certainly outrage-inducing, are easy to dismiss in their absurdity. What I have a more difficult time dismissing, though, is the large group of people who seem completely incapable of seeing any legitimacy to the claims of people who say they are suffering at the hands of the police.

I know that sometimes people will admit that there are “some bad cops” on every police force. Semantics aside, of course, that statement is true. And of course, it is also true that police officers have incredibly difficult jobs. They frequently deal with people who are putting their worst behavior on display, and I don’t think anyone would dispute that they have to put themselves in entirely dangerous situations. It is also true, though, that our gratitude for their service has been replaced by blind hero worship. We have placed their profession in such high esteem, it is no wonder many of us willingly excuse any and all behavior committed at their hands.

Regardless of why an individual decided to kill Deputy Goforth, I am saddened by his death. And I am saddened by the deaths of Oscar Grant, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, and the countless other black individuals who were unarmed, but still ended up dead because of the actions of a police officer. I know it is possible that some people, perhaps even the murderer himself,  may think Goforth’s death was deserved, believing it to be some sort of comeuppance. Frankly, that belief is despicable. Equally despicable, though, is not becoming angry or even questioning when an officer takes the life of an individual under questionable circumstances.

I am not personally involved with the Black Lives Matter movement, but I believe in its necessity. I also believe in the necessity of some type of law enforcement body. I don’t believe these two things have to be separate, and I am hopeful that someday there are enough people listening and acting so that real changes come about. For right now, though, we still live in a time when some parents have to tell their children that their skin color is a threat; their blackness automatically arouses suspicion. They have to teach their children how to grow up and not get killed.  If that fact is not upsetting to you, if you deny that it is a reality, then you very clearly make the case for why we need Black Lives Matter. Sit with that for a moment, if you will.