SO today is a guest post, written by my dear friend, Kazehana, who addresses this topic much more eloquently than I ever could.
I will be honest, this is the first time I've attempted to tackle this topic in writing. I think thoughts, I talk to my husband, my friends, verbally about the things happening in our country, in our society. But I have a hard time writing them because I get angry. I get so angry that I lose focus. I fear I will not know where to begin, or how to end. But right now, I think I can rein in my emotions long enough to form a narrative.
Let's start with some history and the nature of consequences.
Black people in America were brought here involuntarily, stripped of names, origins, and rights, and then forcibly given the names, religions, and customs of their owners. Even if they were free (there were many such in the French territories), they were still stripped of their original names and given less rights than those of free whites. Enslaved blacks were subject to breeding the same way prize horses, cows, or dogs were subject to the same. And as with those livestock, their children and partners could be and were sold off to the highest bidder.
White American media so often portrays the conditions of African American families as being in a deplorable state for which only we ourselves are responsible ...and yet, how did our families get in this state? To have your family ripped apart by slavery and to SURVIVE THAT CONSTANT LOSS, coping mechanisms and adaptive behaviors must and did come into play. Our men could be sold or killed at the drop of a hat. As black women, what good could come of our relying on them for support of any kind? If you had a man you loved, you couldn't keep him. Why try to keep him? You would learn to let him go and raise your children on your own. And those children could be taken from you, too. So you would love them as best you could while they were yours, but you would raise them not to need you. Not to rely on you. Not to be weak or fragile or soft because the life you gave them would be hard, bitter, and fraught with danger. A child that you spoiled would be a child that wouldn't have the tools it needed to survive after you were parted. Our women were often raped or kept for pleasure. Why try to marry a woman you can't keep? Why claim her children as your own when their father is the master you fear? Our men were conditioned to keep their distance, and now that they have learned how to do that, they are held up as deadbeats for not unlearning it fast enough.
So many ignorant people look at what is happening today and say, "Slavery was 200 years ago, get over it." But what is 200 years in terms of generations? The parents of my grandparents were slaves. Do you realize what that means? My generation is literally only one living generation removed from bondage. The coping mechanisms which we learned over the course of that enslavement cannot be magically undone by time. Especially not when the societal structures in which we live demand essentially the same set of necessary survival skills. We are held up in the media as being devoid of virtues. Unless we speak, dress, act and completely blend in with white cultural norms, we are thugs, social parasites, low lives. When we are killed, there must have been some reason we deserved it. And then our lives and lifestyles are held up to scrutiny as though we are all guilty automatically because we didn't conform well enough to the American standards that we were always told we weren't actually meant to participate in anyway. Why are we being punished for not welcoming ourselves into a culture that was built on keeping us out of and beneath it? Last time I checked, schools in my city were desegregated BY LAW 40 years ago. My oldest sibling is 46. She was 6 years old when the ruling came that made it necessary to integrate black students into white schools. Mandatory integration didn't come to an end until she was nearly 30. I was 17 and in high school. People are trying to paint a picture in the media of blacks having equal access to all the benefits of living in a free society and then hand us a full bag responsibility for not making use of those benefits, but how in the world can one make use of and benefit from a system that was from the start created to exploit your labor, profit from your pain, and grind you into reusable dust?
My parents raised me to know that I could be killed at any time for any reason and that my efforts to excel would have to be not twice, but three times as excellent as my white peers in order to gain any respect. My parents weren't cynical. They didn't lie to me. I knew every word of this warning to be true from personal experience.
I have seen my family members incarcerated for years for the same types of crimes that my white peers were never even charged with. I dated not one, but two drug using/dealing white males who never saw a single day in a jail cell. But 80% of the men in my family have done time for similar and less severe offenses.
The first time I heard of a cop shooting an unarmed citizen, it was an Hispanic man in my city whose house was raided by the SWAT team for a drug related offense. They swarmed his house and shot him in front of his kids. The second time in my life that it happened, it was my 15 year old neighbor Paul. A developmentally disabled boy whose single mother often had to turn to police in order to find him because he had a habit of escaping and wandering far away from home. The police would bring him back, give him candy, reassure his mother they would watch out for him. He had a rocky puberty. He threw tantrums, especially on days after school when his classmates were unkind. One day he threw a tantrum and threatened to harm himself with a kitchen knife. His mother called the police, thinking these people would help her son again the way they had helped his entire life. They shot him dead on the front lawn. These same people who gave him sweets and rides home shot him to death in front his mother and his sisters. There were no charges brought. There was hardly any news about it at all. If I hadn't lived next fucking door, if I hadn't watched that child grow up, if I hadn't watched him dance to my music on my front porch, I would never have known how he lived or how he died.
Every time I watch the news and someone else's beloved child, husband, father, sister, mother, has been killed by a cop while white media heads bemoan how 'black on black crime' isn't being paid attention to by the black community and how if we stopped killing ourselves, cops wouldn't think of us as a threat, I want to fucking scream. When the movie theater in the city next to mine was shot up by a deranged white male, no one called it white on white crime. When he was apprehended, cops took him in without causing him ANY BODILY HARM despite the fact that he MURDERED a dozen people in cold blood. In the media, he was shown with a sympathetic air of concern for his mental health and wondering where he (not his parents, not his neighborhood, not his whole race) went wrong and whether his self-esteem played any role in his rampage*. When a black child is shot, the assertion is that he was in the wrong, he was influenced by his parents shitty parenting, he was listening to rap music a lot and acting out his gangster fantasies, he was a burgeoning criminal. When serial killers are discovered with multiple victims, the media never asks, "how did white suburban culture play a role in turning this person into a killer?" but when Trayvon Martin was killed on his way home, they asked if black culture played a role in making him look or act like a thug who was worthy of being harassed and killed in his own neighborhood. In the meantime, Michael T. Slager has a support fund on indiegogo.
And simultaneously as the media dismisses and demonizes black culture with one hand, it robs black culture blind to help corporate types make money off of it by marketing** it to those same white, suburban youths with the other one. We are not good enough to deserve justice, but when we invent something cool, those same people who won't protect us will be there to lay claim to our creation.
It is the most infuriating thing in the world, when everything you are is called low class, unattractive, trashy, worthless... until an edgy, white celebrity embraces it and then suddenly the thing you've been doing for years is a hot new trend. It's like being told again and again that all you are worth, all you are good for, is to make someone else rich. Nothing you are, nothing you make, nothing you have belongs to you. It can be taken from you, along with your life, at the discretion of those whose ancestors dragged yours here in the first place.
The way we are made to feel unacceptable for everything we are, nappy hair, dark skin, big lips, big butt and then asked to praise others for not being like us (thanks for nothing Oscars) on a daily basis is enough to make you lose your mind.
Despite all of this grievance, we are expected to behave with civility, with elegance, with grace. To act nicely and negotiate calmly. To maintain our cool. To quietly request things like justice. Because we're outnumbered.
I remember very, very painfully how it felt the first time I got accused by a teacher of plagiarism. How it felt to have a teacher get in my face and tell me that I represent the one type of student she just could NOT get through to. The burning of my ears when classmates told me to go back to Africa when I said freedom was relative. How humiliating and unfair it was to be pulled out of my white drug dealer boyfriend's car and sat on the curb for what seemed like forever while they interrogated him NOT about the drugs in his glove box, but about whether his parents knew he was with me, whether they knew I was black, whether they thought it was acceptable for him to be out late with a black girl, whether or not he had their permission to be with me. My eyes are burning right now as I remember that moment. I was so terrified that they would find his drugs and somehow twist them into being mine that I sat silent and cold with my hands behind my fucking back and said not a single word in my own defense while they loudly debated his life choices for being out late with me and then wrote me a ticket. THEY WROTE ME A TICKET. Ostensibly for breaking curfew even though I was a day away from turning 18. And for what? For being black in a white boy's car?
I've talked in long ago entries about Gargomel and how she said she couldn't recall why I ended our friendship all those years ago. And I usually simplify it into the basics of breaking friend code and fucking the guy I loved and then fucking the guy I dated to get over that guy. But the truth was that I could forgive all of that, but when the second guy came to me and told me his conscience was killing him because of the racist remarks she made about me, about my skin and body and hair, behind my back...when he told me that this girl was not my friend because no friend would say such awful things about you EVER ...it broke my heart because the reasons she had slept with those guys was not out of your garden variety internalized misogynist competitive spirit, rather she thought I shouldn't be loved by those guys because I was black. She didn't want them. She just didn't want me to feel that I had a right to really be with them.
It made me hate her. More than I have ever hated anyone in my life. Because it made me feel that there was no one with white skin that I could be safe with. That I would have to put up my guard again, be isolated emotionally again, because apparently I couldn't tell who underneath it all was still really racist. I hated her for making it harder for me to accept anyone white as being genuine. It took me years to get over it and back to trusting my intuition, judging people as individuals, not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. But before I got over it, I severed ties with anyone I suspected might be anything like her. Anyone I thought was fetishizing me. Anyone I felt might secretly classify their time with me as 'slumming', I kicked loose. And eventually I reconnected with her, but even now, I look at her and feel I don't actually know whether she's changed or if at the core, she would know how to be a better friend to me if I were white.
Which is maddening, you know? Because to a certain degree it is like being gaslit by your entire country, every day of your life. You encounter all these micro-aggressions and aggressive-aggressions and there is no recourse for fixing them. I am reduced to my ethnicity on a regular basis at work (for instance when a department supervisor I work with jokingly called me a 'trap star'***. EXCUSE ME?), but if I make any kind of complaint about it, then I'm playing the race card. I am told by mainstream media that I am the one who is sensitive, misunderstanding, misconstruing, misreading, over reacting. But just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you're wrong.
It's enough to make you want to burn a city to the ground.