Around 430 am, while at work, a few of the nurses were looking at a video of someone who had been shot on their phones. Black, Hispanic and White gathered around the phone gasping and clutching their chests in terror, though I had been reluctant, I went to see. I was appalled, but then an immediate clip showing Alton Sterling’s son bellowing for his father, triggered the water works. After a long shift I got home Thursday morning and could not sleep. Instead, eyes red with anger and exhaustion, I spent almost the entire day angrily trolling the internet, watching and re-watching, reading, then re-reading about Alton Sterling and Philando Castile’s murders. I cried most of the day, texting and calling people, “What are we gonna do!?! They are killing us! We have to do something!”
Friends would send me messages to look up this article, or that video. I went to Facebook’s trending topics, assuming that would be the best way to see the most recent content, but neither deaths were trending. I was feeling such sorrow and outrage that I naively assumed this would be a trending issue. To me, this was such an atrocious act, of measure with the murders in Paris and Orlando, that it had to be what everyone was talking about. But no, the new poster for Beauty and the Beast and a naked model on a horse were among the top trending on the list…
I grew up in Kingston, Jamaica. My mother, originally from St. Catherine, was a teacher and my dad an engineer. Much of my mom’s family resided in rural Jamaica. When her nieces/nephews and distant cousins came of age, they would come to live with us at different intervals. The notion being the start to a “better” life in the city. I imagine it was a promising and frightening feat for them, leaving home to come somewhere new. As we all adjusted, they would come to understand that there were rules in our house and city life was quite different from the rural. Some assimilated to the changes, others butt heads with my mom and were all too pleased to go their way. The story of U.S. immigration is a mirroring tale. Immigrants leave comfortable to less than comfortable lives for the hopes of better; chasing dreams, vaguely aware of the pressures of assimilation. Cowering to rules and customs or facing the paling option to go their way.
In major time of happenstance, it can often feel like we’re in someone else’s home, watching shit go down. Even as citizens, our mentalities are that of residents, watching the “owners” of the house rip each other a part, and somehow convincing ourselves, “this has nothing to do with me.” Racism isn’t cloaked on islanders. Lessons on how not to get shot, or a constitutional history that depicts one as almost a full person is not our creed. Despite issues of colorism and socioeconomic restraints, we are not racists. We are not brought up to see one person of being more worthy of life than another. Our history is prefaced with stories of slavery but countered with many tales of uprising and revolt; of reclaim and security achieved by Afro-heros. As with any human being we have individual prejudices but the notions of minorities do not exist and wherever they do, that does not leave them up to slaughter.
Racism is an institutionalized entity in America. No matter how much progress or change is achieved both nationally and in individual thought, as sure as the skies must and will be blue, racism will bring forth it’s dark cloud. Migrating into such an environment, where every time a human being who bears your characteristics is shot dead because a police officer claims to fear for his life, etches away at ones psyche. Chizzling away at ones naivety. Bursting ones culturally diverse, all accepting melting pot, bubble. It is a psychological transformation that in turn can awaken some to harsh realities and in turn make others racist. When young black men are killed, there is first, an irrational anger, plagued with thoughts of vengeance and a drawing of blood. A senseless anger towards an entire race that screams, “Beware! You can’t trust any of ‘these’ people!” After some time comes an attempt to be objective. An attempt to view the scenario from they eyes of law enforcement and Caucasians, to place oneself in “their” shoes and ask what would you do? Perhaps you would be scared, perhaps. But even if you were (doing your best to play devils advocate), you are a civilian, you are not trained to deal with criminals and/or delinquents. You know nothing about identifying or disarming dangerous persons, or deescalating potentially dangerous situations. That’s not your job. If I were held to the same expectations in my practice as a person with no medical background were, that would be deemed ludicrous. I am a civil servant and it comes with the keeping of oaths and making sacrifices to care for others. Sacrifices not called upon by civilians. It is a job I chose, and if I am found negligent in my practice, I will be punished and/or my license revoked.
The next etching is that of comparison. Comparisons between how white men in similar scenarios are treated, and the obvious truths that time and time again despite the nature of their actual crimes, they are rendered the opportunity to live. You recount instances of mass murderers who are given the benefit of being deemed mentally unstable, not vile criminals who should be executed and left for hours in the street. A Rapist who was caught on camera violating a woman but received probation, while men of a darker complexion with less zeros behind their parents names are accused without evidence and wrongfully sent away for years.
Just as one’s mental begins to repair itself, comes the bellows of ignorance. The distinct, frequent displays of ignorance that counter #blacklivesmatter with #alllivesmatter. The ignorance that is always quick to ask what he did to warrant being shot 4 times, 8 times, 9 times, in the chest or in the back. Never to wound an assailant or incapacitate him but to assassinate him instead. The ignorance in the bias of media that quotes a rapists swim times, but digs to defame the character of teenagers and men with less than sordid pasts. One that points out crimes among black delinquents as an excuse for why any of us should be shot dead. The ignorance that never gives credence of any kind that maybe the black man gave the white officer no real reason at all to fear for his life. The willful ignorance that chooses to ignore reports that these were children or that weapons the victims were claimed to have were no weapons at all. The ignorance that disallows the ability to view them as victims at all. The ignorance that won’t even allow the other “side” to play devil’s advocate, even though you do.
Next, is the assessment of reactions. The reactions of friends of the opposite race. Their display of care or lack there of becomes quite telling. Despite efforts to think or know better you begin to speculate if things are truly as black and white as your Black American friends say. Are your white friends even truly your friends at all. On a recent Facebook post, in response to one of my rants about Thursdays murders, a gentleman commented, “there are Caucasians who love us, but not as equals, more so in the way you love a pet.” And so I considered this. I know what it is to love a pet, it is a real love, One that renders care and aptitude but is conditional. With all one may invest in this kind of love, there lies the obvious truth that I am a human being and it is a dog. Our lives are not equal, they do not hold the same value. I wouldn’t hesitate to approach a strange Yorkie, or shiatsu, but regardless of the nature of a pit bull I want nothing to do with it. My first instinct will always be to assume it is dangerous. I sadly pondered if this is how we are reduced, as dogs of different caliber. In moments of fresh brooding anger one cant help but wonder is this true? Are we acknowledged, even subconsciously, as different kinds of black. The same way blacks joke that a person isn’t really white because they’re so “down.” Perhaps educated, prissy blacks are seen as not really black, perhaps, among your friends, you are the yorkie of the blacks. Perhaps those with gold teeth, dreadlocks, hoodies and long beards are regarded as pit bulls. But why are we viewed as dogs, why do officers approach us as pit bulls. Is that how my friend sees me…as a gentle adorable DOG.
Finally, is the destitute sense of hopelessness. The helplessness an entire community feels when despite the grief of a robbed life, there is no justice served. There is no one speaking up for you or against the wrong doing. Despite your commander and chief being black, despite progress, and despite change, nothing is done. Nobody cares. Persons are sent home with paid leave and are never, despite video footage, or eyewitness testimonies, found guilty of wrong doing. It is a hopelessness that renders the obvious truth that despite progress, not much has changed here. It is a hopelessness that perpetuates an us and them. One that urges a wish for separation, a wish to be exiled and left alone. To build your own communities, fund only your peoples initiatives and remove yourself from the false harmony. A hopelessness that discourages unity and encourages divide. One that harshly says “WAKE UP! When it’s all said and done, in America, there is an us; and there is a them.” And despite the cleanest of hearts and the best of intentions, there simply aren’t enough mobile thinkers to bring forth true change.
It is a hopelessness that with each injustice etches away at ones mindset of equality and progression. It is a hopelessness that with each injustice can make a person just a little more racist.