The string of high profile murders of unarmed blacks by police this past summer hit all of black America hard psychologically. Viewing the destruction of black life every other day on video and in our newsfeeds by public servants and citizens alike, without justice or accountability, followed by white America’s urge to justify these murders, triggered PTSD in the collective Black psyche that took various forms. In each fallen victim we saw people we grew up with, our family members, ourselves…
One summer afternoon after the 3rd or 4th videotaped black death in a week, I came home from school to find the love of my life sitting on the floor, in tears. I didn’t even have to ask what was wrong, I already knew. A part of me had felt the same way today, this week, this month, and for my entire life. Fear for my loved ones, fear for the millions of black souls who I don’t know personally but I shared my blood, history and ancestors, with. I sat next to her on the floor, and embraced her. Her tears were the same tears shed by parents whose children were thrown overboard to the sharks during the middle passage, so many that it caused these apex predators to alter their migration patterns, each wave a tombstone over an unmarked grave… the same tears of our great-great grandparents whose children were ripped from their arms and sold to faraway plantations, never to be seen again, the songs of sorrow sung by the parents and relatives of those 4 little girls blown to pieces in a church in Birmingham, the Charleston 9, the mothers of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Sean Bell, and Philando Castile.
The fear in our hearts for our unborn children and what kind of world they would face was the same fear that drove Toni Morrison’s heroine in Beloved, Sethe, to murder her newborn child in order to save her from a life of slavery. The many blessings and privileges of my life are far removed from the plantation, but the institutions and ideas that birthed and facilitated Black oppression are written into the DNA of America, and I face them every time I leave my house. As I sat down to hold my love and comfort her, I searched for words to make her feel better. Words that would ease her sadness, fears and worries about us bringing children into this world to face this reality, this vulnerability of blackness that is a fact of life for us, an intense vulnerability not unlike what civilians in a war zone might feel.
We are refugees of a 400 year old war, raging within the borders of our own home, a nation that we built and have bled for in every war since its inception. Each police murder, the inevitable coverup, and white america’s rush to justify black death is a betrayal that murders us once more. Each miscarriage of justice that follows virtually guarantees that it will happen again, and again, and again, and reminds us that we are to accept this state of affairs with silence, obedience and docility, as a fact of life. We are told that we are “getting too demanding” in our quest for equal rights. Yet, in spite of our relative privileges, wealth, social mobility or status as black people, our vulnerability remains. This is what it means to be black in America.