For the Black People Still Breathing…
This is What We Do:
I am still working from home, somewhat, so for me, there are still deadlines and meetings, classes for which to prepare, a campus to prep for pandematriculation, collaborations with colleagues, and quick trips up to campus to procure something or other. For me, this past Tuesday was no different, except George Floyd died at the kneecap of an ignorant cop a few days ago.
The project I had due while processing these images was a collaborative effort, and one of my colleagues was late with her part. I was excessively rattled and annoyed by the ninth hour submission, but I finally got it, dropped it in and the show went on. My colleague apologized, ‘cause that’s what professionals do, but she gave me more context, George Floyd, who died at the kneecap of an ignorant and arrogant cop. In her words, “it rocked her in a way her body and mind can’t handle.”
I overstand that rocking, the kind that ends in paralysis. I can see how she was and still is shut down by the whole ordeal, cause frankly I’m shut down too. I can’t tell you how many times I sat down at this computer to write and stood back up, like some crazy Jack-In-The-Box popping up and reeling myself back in again. I have so much other stuff to do, like cook breakfast, wash clothes, do my job, the one for which I get paid. I ain’t got time to be . . . I mean, I got shit to do…
… but here’s the thing, Black folks have watched these scenes play out for a long time. Since slavery (and yes, I’m going back to slavery—and I’mma go back to it again, so if you don’t like it, stop reading), people of African descent watched black bodies swinging from trees and were dared to take their eyes off the end of the row of cotton, were dared to look back, were dared to cut the bodies down and mourn and bury their dead, not until the workaday is done, not until Massa gave them permission to do that natural thing called grieving.
As the swinging, burning, bludgeoned black bodies of the Black American slaves breathed their last breath, those left behind, those left breathing kept on working, cause that’s what Black folks do. And we still do it. We do it through the Rodney Kings to the Castilles, from the Blands to the Briyonas up to the Arberys, and on the pavement with the Floyds, you know the last one who was hung by his neck using a knee instead of a rope, the grown man who was calling for his momma while the world watched him take his last breath.
We keep talking to our white friends, the ones who don’t talk about it, the ones who can’t talk about it, the closet ones who only talk to us because we are not “that kind of Black person,” the woke ones who want to help and are helping but who will still never understand in totality what it feels like to be a Black person in America. We still love those woke White friends, but that love “hit different,” after watching a Black man die on the concrete, body bored into the ground, with a white cop’s knee in his neck, posing with his hand in his hip pocket like he just felled a deer.
Here is what happens. Mothers stare at their Black sons too long. Wives squeeze their Black husbands a little tighter as they leave for work. Sisters dream of their sisters hanging from prison cells by bin liners. Truthfully, we once thought it was just the men, the men they wanted to kill, but it’s the women too. It’s all of us. No one is safe. We are STILL trying to explain the phrase Black Lives Matter, because it doesn’t look like they do.
And somehow, we walk out of our homes—we work our row—we don’t look back. We move purposefully in the world minutes after we’ve witnessed that same world reject us. Moments after we’ve seen a knee on one of our son’s necks, we keep pushing in unsafe spaces, toward terrorists, marauders, and killers who are paid to protect us but somehow end up murdering us and getting away with it.
Why Y’all Don’t Do This Kind of Protesting
When All the Black on Black Killings Happen?:
This is the question I heard a black cop ask a group of marching protestors here in Memphis. There were hundreds of folks of protesting down in Midtown, right in front of where I work. There was a protest side and an anti-protest side. They were screaming back and forth, but it was, generally, a peaceful nonviolent event. We behaved. And when that question came up, the question that black people can’t answer, and privileged white people want to ask, “what about Black on Black crime,” no one had an answer, not a real one. They knew the answer would take too long for the 3-minute segment the Memphis news needed.
For those of you who ask that, read Daniel Black’s novel “The Coming,” watch Duvernay’s masterpiece, “13th,” take my class in African and African American Studies over at the University of Memphis. White folks and Black folks too, but especially white folks. For as long as I have taught African American Studies, I’ve not had one White male student come into my class… and stay. Not one. I remember distinctly three young white men swaggering in. They were on the baseball team. They came in together, spread their books on the front table. Sprawled their legs out in front of them, like a dare. Smirked at me. Hmph. I eyed them, slowly, deliberately, and went on with the syllabus, no more attention did they get from me, for the entire week but for to engage a question, the question I ask every student who enters my class, “Why are you here?” They all mumbled “come back to me.” After that, I didn’t see them again. Funny how they look just like some of the white policemen who kill black folks for no reason, but I digress.
Let me address the question. Here is one answer. Black on black crime is a by-product of slavery (I told you I was going to bring up slavery again). A spin off. Like slavery was the big show that everyone watched, and then black-on-black crime came afterwards, a microcosm of the big show of slavery, but no one really caught on. It is the residual of the racism perpetuated in America since the very moment an African person stepped foot on the soil of the Native people who occupied the land, not as an explorer, but as a slave.
Black on black crime is the result of self-hate which is a by-product of slavery (see, you can’t get away from it). Black folks kill other black folks because they don’t love themselves; they hate what they see in the mirror, so they kill it. Listen, I know it sounds far-fetched but it’s true. This self-hatred was taught to Black people right here on American soil. And guess who taught Black folks to hate themselves? White oppressors.
Daily, on the plantation, in the newspapers, with the trumped-up studies on black folks, we were taught that we were unworthy simpletons who needed white folks to help us with the basic needs of life, (Ironically, it was Black folks helping white folks with the basic needs of life, but that’s not a discussion that’s being had often.) to whip us into shape, to give us a religion that many black folks already knew about, to tell us that the way we sing, celebrate, cook, drum, worship, adore and adorn ourselves was spectacle-worthy, but not worth a damn.
Anyway, that self-hatred, which was initiated and perpetuated into the lives of Black people by White oppressors, sits on our DNA just waiting for its moment on the stage. It’s true. Consistent, constant, repeated, trauma changes the DNA, and DNA is passed down through the family, and sometimes that link looks like Black-on-Black crime (and other things, but you should really pay for a class to know about THAT part of American history).
And let me say this. Stop putting Black on Black crime up against police brutality. Policemen are PAID to protect and serve folks. They are NOT paid to terrorize, maraud, and murder folks for passing off a counterfeit $20 bill. This doesn’t excuse it or make Black on Black crime okay. Sometimes Black folks choose to kill the thing in the mirror that makes them hate themselves, the selves they see in other folks like them. I hate to see us killing us. It’s ridiculous. It gives folks who haven’t given black folks a second thought a chance to put all of our trauma back on us. This is not all us, black people, it’s them too… and…
Yes, White People Should Consider and be Responsible
for the Behavior of Their Ancestors:
Rich white folks don’t say that shit when their parents leave them money. They don’t say, “I won’t be responsible for the gazillion of dollars you left me, because I didn’t do anything to earn it.” Hmph. So, if they can understand that regarding wealth and inheritance; they should accept this other issue and understand why Black folks look at them sideways when they hear the words, “I shouldn’t be held responsible for what my forefathers did,” fall out of a white person’s mouth.
All of us in America are being held responsible for what White forefather’s did, whether we like it or not. And… because Black people are on the receiving end of all of it, we should not be asked to fix a problem we didn’t make. I mean, haven’t Black folks done, suffered, been through enough? Haven’t we fought, marched, bled, been spat upon, sat in, wrote in, taught in, spoke in, gathered, sang, and served enough. Black folks have been in recovery since they got to America. Let us try to pull ourselves together. We shouldn’t have to fix Black folks AND White folks at the same time. You get me? White people, YOU do something. YOU read a book. YOU teach your kids. YOU teach your cousins (as Dr. Cicely Wilson says)–you know the ones you don’t invite to your fancy brunches–how to act. YOU take a required course in African American Studies. YOU rewrite the history books to distribute the guts and glory among ALL Americans, fairly, equally, equitably, justly.
I call myself a Christian
And I believe in a revolutionary Jesus. An activist Jesus, A table-turner-over. I believe in the word of God. I understand that whatsoever you do to the least of these, THAT you also do unto God. That’s why I’ve been over in my spot on chill, cause I don’t want to do that to the Lord. He’s been exceptionally good to me, and I don’t want to bring Him to an open shame.
But I was a member of captives that Jesus came to set free, and honestly, my ancestors were held captive by folks who look just like those white cops. As a believer, I am admonished to help others move toward freedom, by any means necessary. Cause that’s what Jesus did. Don’t come at me with that, “I thought you were a Christian,” stuff. I am, and Christianity does not deplete me of all melanin. Just because I read my word does not mean I don’t feel. If I didn’t feel anger, I wouldn’t be moved to act. Just because I worship God does not mean I don’t have a heart for my people, because I do and what kind of Christian would I be if I didn’t? I have a heart for White folks; I really do.
I feel sorry for them, that so many are debilitated by this dis-ease called racism, that they suffer with the mental illness of it, that they don’t even know how sick they are, that they are missing out on all that is good and wonderful about being Black, that they don’t see that it takes some damn resilient genetics to go through and get to where Black people have, that they don’t love and honor our heritage as much as I do. God Himself was all about honoring lineage, heritage, ethnic traditions, history. That’s what the ENTIRE Old Testament is about. But it didn’t work out to well did it, and so we got the New Testament and by the grace of God, there go I. And I go in Black, because God made me Black for a reason. I believe my Blackness can work together for my people’s good and God’s glory. There is power in knowing this.
And don’t play me soft. I believe in Jesus, but I’m certainly not Him. I am tired of knees on my people’s neck, and it’s time for other folks to be tired too. Amen