For my white friends who ask if I am OK, the answer is, “No, I am not OK.”
To ask that question of me right now—amid this COVID-19 pandemic that is disproportionately killing Black and Brown people in the United States and the trauma resulting from the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd—comes off as potentially insensitive.
The unrest across this country and the globe is bigger than George Floyd. Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about the parallel plagues of American racism and COVID-19. What it means to deal with American racism in all its insidious forms, police brutality, human loss and suffering cannot be captured in media sound bites.
So no, I am not OK, and I am not alone in not being OK.
I am not OK when my 2017 call for white allies to step up after Charlottesville applies to Minneapolis now and could potentially apply to Anytown, USA.
I am not OK when I know that jogging in the “wrong neighborhood” can lead to a young Black man’s death in Georgia, my home state, or that allegedly forging a check can lead to a Black man’s suffocation at the hands of Minnesota police while other police stand by doing nothing to intervene.
I am not OK when I recall being told by white police to stop jogging in a “white neighborhood” in Birmingham, Alabama, because my presence made the home dwellers nervous. I am not OK when I realize I could have been a newspaper headline or crime statistic when I tried to explain the purpose of our Saturday morning community homeless outreach to a police sergeant who became more and more agitated.
I am not OK when I am stopped in Sierra Vista, Arizona, for speeding but asked three times by the ticketing officer, “Where are you from?” as though my answers—Phoenix, as my driver’s license shows, and Georgia before Arizona—are not “exotic” enough to explain my locs and skin color.
I am also not OK when I see so many Facebook posts and threads of alleged white allies asking Black folk to give them a blueprint of how and where to direct their alleged anger and outrage.
I’m not OK with an alleged ally asking an already vulnerable and justifiably angry Black woman to organize a panel of other women of color to “brainstorm on solutions to American racism.”
I’m not OK with complaints about the destruction of property during protests and contentions that “peaceful protest” and “civility” are all that’s needed to address this plague of American racism. What has Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest against police brutality done? How did the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s steadfast fight for justice end? His was the same end as that of an “angrier” Malcolm X.
“Don’t act like everyone loved my father,” Bernice King tweeted last month. “He was assassinated. A 1967 poll reflected that he was one of the most hated men in America. Most hated. Many who quote him now and evoke him to deter justice today would likely hate, and may already hate, the authentic King.”
To be clear, I do not legitimize violence as a principle. But I ask that concerned individuals—Black, white and otherwise—measure the impact of destroying property as compared to killing people. Nor am I in any way minimizing or advocating for the destruction of property, potentially the source of another’s livelihood. What I am keenly aware of, however, is the legitimacy of expressing anger, hurt and pain and responding viscerally to serial injustices in our “land of the free and home of the brave.”
Property can be rebuilt. Dead bodies cannot be resurrected.
No, I am not OK with so many stories of innocent Black men who spend years in prison for crimes later determined they did not commit. I am not OK when Michael Donald is hunted like an animal, beaten, shot and hung from a tree by white men in Mobile, Alabama, as a symbol of the illusion of white supremacy in the Deep South. I am not OK when Sandra Bland is pulled from her car by a police officer and perceived as a threat because she has a lit cigarette and dares to speak back. I am not OK with Carolyn Bryant admitting that Emmett Till did nothing years after he was killed by her husband and brother-in-law and the world grieved with his mother, Mamie.
This moment’s unrest is not just about George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, Tamir Rice, Oscar Grant, Kathryn Johnston, Alberta Spruill or Botham Jean. It is about 400 years of tragic moments like these since the first Africans were forcibly brought to this country. This moment is about the reality of Black American identities in this country, a clamoring to declare our own humanity.
Lest we also forget: I am not OK with the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the Atlanta Child Murders, the Scottsboro Boys, Amy Cooper’s faux fear of a Black male bird watcher, Susan Smith’s bigger-than-a-little-white-lie that a Black man kidnapped her two small children when she herself drowned them, or the recent tsunami of “White People Calling the Police on Black People” for just living. How is anyone OK with the individual and collective stories of American racial injustice?
I fully understand singer Lauryn Hill’s laments in “Black Rage,” which she dedicates to Michael Brown’s death in 2014: “Black rage is founded on two-thirds a person. Rapings and beatings and suffering that worsens/ Black human packages tied up in strings/ Black rage can come from all these kinds of things.”
So, no, I am not OK. If you are paying attention to what’s happening in this country, and when you know our American and world history regarding our inhumanity to each other based on race—and all other systemic -isms that oppress and dehumanize—how can anyone be OK?
How can anyone be OK when people are pushed to the edge from decades of having their humanity denied? How can anyone in the United States with their humanity—their empathy, respect, integrity and compassion—intact be OK with racial violence in what we call the U.S. since the colonial era?
If you are OK, perhaps your commitment to fundamental humanity as it fundamentally connects to social justice is not as deep as you believe. We are not all in this together. All lives do not matter and never have.