#BlackLivesMatter at a crossroads

After the grand jury acquitted Darren Wilson for murdering Michael Brown, I wanted to punch someone in the face.

I’ve been pissed off since Trayvon Martin, no, since Amadou Diallo. No wait, I’ve been mad since Rodney King. I don’t know when grief and rage became a normal part of my experience of what it means to be black in the U.S. It’s just something I live with.

But since the verdict, I’ve found myself at the bottom of a deep and silent depression.

It’s not like this is the first time or the second or the hundredth time that someone with my skin color has been denied justice while their murderer walks away at least half a million dollars richer.

That verdict and many of the subsequent racist commentaries in the media confirmed for me something I already knew: I am not safe.

Despite being theoretically protected by the constitution and by our laws, if I were shot today by the very people we are supposed to entrust to uphold justice, it is likely that my death would be meaningless, just something that happened that no one would have to take accountability for.

This is our America. This is what our collective consciousness has created and allowed to persist.

I love protest rallies. As a community organizer, I was the go-to yeller, the one with a bullhorn in hand. Yet lately, it’s been really difficult to even want to be near people, especially white people — even those who are allies.

Dear white people: I don’t want to talk about your feelings or hear your condolences. I certainly don’t want to stand next to you at a protest and listen to you say, “Hands up, don’t shoot.” No one is shooting at you. These are the words I haven’t said. This is what lies within my silence.

I have withdrawn from friends and deliberately avoided having this conversation because I really do know in my heart of hearts that the white people in my life are doing the best they can. I also know it’s not good enough. I know that whatever activism I have done up until this point has also failed. Collectively these travesties of justice state clearly that whatever we’ve been doing is not working. It’s almost 2015 and we are still not free, not equal, not protected under the constitution. We are still three-fifths human.

One of the few things I’ve taken solace in have been the Facebook reports of protests overseas, people in Madrid and Tokyo standing in solidarity with the people of Ferguson. Those pictures have meant more to me than I can fully articulate.

(Photo from Juventudes Socialistas de Madrid / #MadridConFerguson campaign)
(Photo from Juventudes Socialistas de Madrid / #MadridConFerguson campaign)

The protests here have left me sad and feeling isolated, yet somehow knowing someone an ocean away is moved to stand up for my human rights gives me hope.

I was 16 the first time I went abroad. I traveled to Senegal with my mother, and though we were only gone a month, being in a black country after growing up in Madison, Wis. was like taking a deep breath after being underwater. I didn’t know it could be like that: that I could be anonymous, look around and see only black people in every direction.

It gave me an inkling of what it must be like to be white, to be the norm: to know that when someone follows you around in a store, it’s probably to help you or if they do think you are stealing, it’s more about ageism or classism.

When I’m in the States, my color is the first thing everyone sees. Depending on where I travel, color is still in an issue. But there is no racism quite like the racism I experience here at home — perhaps because it is my home.

So the question is still where do we go from here? I can’t pick a new country out of a hat to start a new life in, nor should I have to. Moreover, who is to say I would fare any better anywhere else. What I have come to realize is that these verdicts not only compromised the civil rights of black Americans, but have also put the U.S. in violation of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights.

By my count, we are failing in Articles 3: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”; Article 6: “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law”; and Article 7: “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.”

While protest pictures are nice, my request is that the international community step in to support us to do what we seem to not be able to do for ourselves. We are at a crossroads. Help us to create a climate of human dignity and accountability.

During a conversation with a friend, I was reminded of how all of humanity has benefitted from the existence of Black Americans, that even through our most dire trials, through the Civil Rights Movement, abolition and fighting to end to slavery, who we are and our struggle for liberation and equality has elevated not only our own consciousness, but the consciousness of our nation and in fact, the consciousness of our world. He reminded me that these very injustices occurring today might be the catalyst for our evolution as Americans.

As I meditated upon his thoughts. What occurred to me is that if all of humanity is going to benefit from our suffering, then all of humanity is also responsible for helping ensure that this never happens again.

Never again. That’s what we said about the Holocaust, that is what we said about Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In order for those words to apply now, it is not enough for us to act as U.S. citizens, in this age of globalization we must act collectively as human beings, as global citizens to change the course of our future so that our great grandchildren aren’t still dealing with this bulls–t.

1 Comment

  1. I 100% understand why it bothers you to have white people standing next to you with their hands up. For most of them it won’t be something they have to deal with, and they can end up in the limelight as the faces when they have no place to be. However, it’s worth noting that having Caucasians as part of the visible spectrum can help sway the most… set in their ways… And while it’s a comparatively nice problem to have, many are stuck in a catch 22, where they’re damned for helping and damned for doing nothing. It might be smart to point in a direction for the “Capitol Citizens” who want to do something productive.

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1 Comment

  1. I 100% understand why it bothers you to have white people standing next to you with their hands up. For most of them it won’t be something they have to deal with, and they can end up in the limelight as the faces when they have no place to be. However, it’s worth noting that having Caucasians as part of the visible spectrum can help sway the most… set in their ways… And while it’s a comparatively nice problem to have, many are stuck in a catch 22, where they’re damned for helping and damned for doing nothing. It might be smart to point in a direction for the “Capitol Citizens” who want to do something productive.

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