Last week's spate of murders by cops is the latest reminder that Black suffering has always been part of the American experience. But many White people would rather not talk about it.
When Alton Sterling’s murder by cops in Baton Rouge surfaced online last Tuesday, I was packing for a trip to Japan. I had promised myself that I would do no more social-justice work for at least a little while. It seemed fruitless, endless, and absolutely time consuming. All I wanted was to reclaim my weird and carefree Black girlhood, but as soon as the video popped on my newsfeed, I watched. I watched him die over and over. I combed through the frames and in between, looking for a supernatural sign to tell me what the fuck I was looking at.
And while I was trying to make sense of Sterling’s murder, Philando Castile was shot to death by a police officer in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, in front of his fiancée, Lavish “Diamond” Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter. Once again, I found myself hitting the reset button, marveling at Diamond’s magic and strength as she volleyed a cell phone in her hand, telling anyone who would listen what had happened. She did so as a man with a badge and a gun screamed at her, a gun pointed to her head. His voice kept breaking like a spoiled child with a toy and Castile—wounded, mangled, jittering involuntarily, goldfish gulping—until his body could not take it and fell into shock Reynolds’s cries are seared onto my brain—the wailing of her and her 4-year-old child, on an endless loop in my mind: Don’t let him be dead! Don’t let him be dead! I can never un-hear that. Not in this lifetime.
By the time the 12 Dallas officers were targeted, five killed, at what had been a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest, I was on a plane. When I landed, my friend and I were huddled over a phone, connected to the Tokyo airport Wi-Fi, the only Black folks in the terminal as the Japanese bustled along mercilessly.
The death of their comrades had apparently caused Dallas Police Department to evolve into some sort of Mega-City, Judge Dredd, Jury-Judge-Executioner force and they used a drone to bomb the suspect. No detainment, no right to be tried in a court of law, just death by bomb—do you hear me? BOMBED. BOOM! And just like that a large faction of White America celebrated, spreading these Johnny Five Is Alive memes and the like, with such vigor and fury, all this spite for “the Blacks” bubbling under the surface of the WE SUPPORT BLUE LIVES banner.
Let’s put some things into perspective here. Do you know how many times America has been bombed by a foreign entity?
TWICE. Pearl Harbor and on 9-11, wherein the planes were used as makeshift bombs.
Do you know how many times America suffered a domestic terror attack via bombing?
Depending on your criteria, there have been somewhere between six to ten known incidents of domestic terrorism involving explosives. We wept together as a nation for those lives lost.
Do you know how many times America has bombed its own citizens?
Three times to date. And each bombing targeted Black folks. Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was leveled to the ground in 1921 because it appeared that a Black man made a White woman uncomfortable in an elevator. The MOVE bombing in 1985 in Philadelphia, which escalated after the city’s Police Department was involved in an altercation with a Black liberation community that allegedly resulted in the death of a police officer.
The prior two incidents have largely been erased from America’s psyche, while the bombing in Dallas—celebrated.
It has become abundantly clear to me that this is the American system at its best. Name a point in our history where gruesomely murdering a Black person in front of an audience was not sanctioned and/or ignored by the state. Before the Civil War, it was okay because we were property. Then it was okay because there was always a White woman being sexually affronted or some “values to protect.” Then it was okay because all-White juries would fail to indict while Black folks could not even get on a jury because they didn’t have the right to vote. Then it was okay because our dead bodies were found with crack sprinkled on them, and our nationwide response to that was to create a massive crime bill that armed the police even more. Now it’s okay for really a combination of all those factors, except now throw on the “probable cause” or “feeling threatened” part, or maybe consider that after so many decades of this, our abuse is normalized, ever-going, and so ingrained in our system people who consider themselves fair and just pull the trigger on our destruction without a second thought. The USA does not understand its existence without Black suffering, I see that now, and to continue to wait for this country to suddenly become less racist is just downright delusional.
Days have gone by as I’ve struggled to write this piece. I feel a strange form of privileged guilt as I travel from city to city, treated so well by foreigners while so many of my friends and family (of every race and gender) are out there right now with signs, in handcuffs, being called terrorists by White America—or “Real America” as they so happily refer to themselves simply because they are loud and unhappy and loudly unhappy.
And let me tell you, as much as I weep for us, I’ve never been prouder to be Black than I am right at this very moment. Black folks are the product of muscle tearing, skin scarring, teeth grinding, salty, sweaty, almost fantastical endurance. We are powering a movement that will in decades only be remembered through poem and song. We are the rebels you idolize from Star Wars. We are the Patriots you celebrate every Fourth of July. We are the Mockingjay. We are Captain America in Civil War, Atticus Finch pre–Go Set a Watchman. That’s who we are.
Black folks tell you about yourselves, you ain’t trying to hear none of it. It makes strange sense. We’re the terrorists, so you bomb us. You bomb us while revising your own atrocities, as there is no other community more responsible for actual domestic terrorism than White America. Has it not always been this way?
To White America, I say the question you need to ask yourself is:
Who are you?
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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