When Whiteness Rears Its Ugly Head, or #KeepItIn2015

“Tamir Rice was lynched and everybody knows, every black body felt it and every white body dealt.” -Tabias Wilson

to not be safe on the earth. simply because of the color of your skin. how does a being survive this? -trayvon martin

-nayyirah waheed

There are things I cannot leave behind in 2015 even if I tried. Fear that 2016 will look frighteningly like 2015, and what some have always known to be there, will only increase as the State reaches out to silence dissent. The feeling every time I already knew what a grand jury would bring back in the case of an indictment.

And then there are the things I plan to leave in 2015. The anger that bubbled underneath my surface each time a man barged into my conversation and patriarched his way through meaningful dialogue with no substance. And every time when I said to leave me alone, that request turned demand was never respected. The people who are quick to say that the slaying of a black body, that we have become all too familiar with, is a ‘murky’ situation, in which the one lying dead held responsibility for their own extinguishing. 2015 has been a year of shedding, and these people have had the last year of trying to force my gaze upon them, for making me defend the humanity of those who look like me, and then admonishing me for not taking this in silence.

My mother reminds me to leave those people behind. That they are the kind who cannot take a look at facts and people’s lived realities if they are not their own and declare that some things are not subjective. They are the kind who will wait until you find yourselves on your knees praying for a way out of this system, and press your face into the earth they have marked their own.

I start my days simple enough. I wake up and have some breakfast. I open up my computer to read some news, and my breath catches. “Mom, they did it again,” I’ll say, as the familiar words form readily on my lips. And she instantly knows what I mean.

In a review of the last month we had a mistrial for the first officer tried in connection with the death of Freddie Gray, no indictment in the lynching of Sandra Bland, and no indictment for the execution of Tamir Rice

I was reminded of this point today with the decision to not indict anyone for the murder of Tamir Rice, a 12 year old young black male, who went out one day to do what we all wished to do as children: play. As an older sister, I can’t help but think about my younger brother in these situations. How at any point someone with State sanctioned impunity will end his life in 2 seconds where they believed their duty was to do so. With my heart heavy–a feeling so familiar when it is light I wake suddenly at night from the shock of breathing easy–I sent a message to a friend of mine. This friend is a white male who I had dated briefly while I lived in Philadelphia and had really respected his work, so in this trust I sent him a message saying that the Tamir Rice ruling was weighing heavily on me today. Without even a shred of empathy (which is seeming to be hollow in itself) for those like me or those who loved Tamir Rice and those who worry their children will be the next Tamir Rice, he responded:

“eh that case in particular is kind of merky
the kid had a replica gun with the safety tip removed and was pointing it at people, and pulled it on the police”
 This was later followed by stating that “the kid was being a first class dumbass pointing a realistic fake gun at people”

“Eh” as if we are discussing whether or not the last book we read was good or not. As Sandra said, “Show me in American history where ALL lives have mattered.” I was slapped so hard in the face by this response. No one ever has to agree with me, but there are facts to situations that are only distorted and ignored when whiteness needs to be exonerated for its crimes and its complictiness in racially biased systems bent on executing black bodies. To refer to a dead child as a “dumbass” for playing a game and put the blame for his death on him is beyond comprehension. It is callous and it is the heart of forcing black children to be adults who must die for the crime of trying to be children who enjoy their lives. I have been in numerous homes where children ran around with toy guns pretending to be officers or ‘bad guys’ chasing people. They have all lived to tell the story because no one would dream to call the police on a white child and say they saw a white MAN with a gun. If the police officer wanted Tamir Rice to give him his “gun” would he not need to touch it also? There is nothing to support that a gun was being pulled on a cop, just a cop believing 2 seconds should decide the life of a child. Black bodies are not dangerous when they have weapons; black bodies are dangerous when they exist in spaces. And while anecdotes cannot suffice as evidence, they cannot be ignored, as we see in this similar situation. In addition, when this same person claimed that a white boy who did the same thing would have been in just as much danger, I reminded him that Dylan Roof went to Burger King, the Planned Parenthood shooter will have his day in court, the ‘affluenza’ kid fled the country after being told his money made him incapable of taking responsibility for killing others, and all he need do is Google to find the number of white children being killed by police officers.

In his own words, “It’s just not clear to me that there was a racially-biased threat assessment here.” This is a statement I hear too often. Why make it all about race? I saw a post today that reminded me that if people are so color-blind, how do they know that it is black people always making it about race? “Not seeing color” only benefits those who already benefit from the system; a way of making those oppressed guilty of creating the system meant to destroy them. When I hear someone say they do not see a racially-biased situation in police shootings, I have to wonder if they choose to look past the percentage of Americans who are black compared to the percentage of police shootings that are of black men and women…and children. When someone says they don’t see a racial bias, I often start trying to explain to them how systemic racism works, how it is written into every aspect from justice systems to education and it has been bred to work. But I find that this conversation is often met with deaf ears because that person has long convinced themselves that to allow their cornerstone of deception to escape from under their feet, their world as they know it would cease to be. In believing that its disappearance is a bad thing, is my knowledge that such a person has never truly worked to uphold my humanity. I don’t need the reminder of my worth, but the system as its written does, and that work is not mine.

I reminded myself of my mother’s lesson, and I asked this man to not message me again. Not because I could not hold my own in the conversation, but because I had no reason to, nor any desire to use the little energy I had on this. I had already gotten all the information I had needed, which was a stinging recollection that whiteness will rear its ugly head when we least expect it sometimes, and from the very people we had entrusted with a bit of our inner circle.

But he could not let this be. He continued to send me messages, even after I used a string of strong, choice words at him, to keep telling me that I somehow did not understand how our laws in America work (I have had a front-row seat to this legal system, as well as know more than enough to justify a statement that it is doing precisely what it is meant to do against black bodies), and then said I was emotional and was reading into everything because of my emotional state. This latter statement I read as ‘You are an angry black woman, and such anger is making you say things that I will now dismiss because I have branded you as irrational.’ But I have long since embraced the angry black woman trope. It does not cripple me, nor does it dimiss the truths of my life or what I have said. And later when this man said that I was seeking revenge not justice, it did not make me doubt that the right to hold those accountable for what they have done is something that is somehow beyond my people’s grasps–that we should accept our bodies on trees and in streets or behind prison bars. If we were to ‘know justice’, perhaps we could begin ‘knowing peace.’ The first half of that equation is only the beginning, but it is a beginning we cannot even see the starting line for.

In his last statements to me, as he continued to disregard my request to stop messaging me, he said that there was just no evidence to indict anyone on criminal activity. Every damn grand jury and every part of America needs an indictment for Tamir Rice–especially complicit white America. This is reality–this is the norm. People like this man need someone to time travel to the moment and see it to believe that anyone could be responsible. Maybe in your world 2seconds to kill a child with a toy is acceptable, but in mine it is not. But yours is our reality. Yours will place a black man in prison for far less and not even return an indictment so that we can all hear more on what happened. But do we even need to hear more? The conversation ended with him saying he wanted to end the conversation. Again, this was a reminder that when women want to get away from men, they remove themselves from the situation. However, when men encounter women they find issue with, they continuously harrass them and try to enter the spaces that they have created without them. They cannot handle that. This white man demanded control of the situation. He wanted things done only when he said they were done.

I did not stop him from leaving.

Perhaps the lesson is that black children do not get to grow up. That when America declares that children should not grow up in fear or in want, they do not include our own. The bigger lesson though–and one that is learned time and time again until there it is so engrained there is no need to learn it again– is that when they come for us, there is an entire culpable section of society that will not come to our aid. They will like our statuses, tweet in ‘outrage’ but they will not engage in the ways that one must when they benefit from such a system in the conversations that must be had, nor will they lift their fingers to force consequences upon the system, as my friend Hari Ziyad points out. If that is an “ally”–a term I have come to see as meaningless–then we are better off without. Allies who need cookies for stating the obvious or demanding our attention for every topic they raise on black matters need not enter our spaces. Protection is needed from those that would pose as friend and work towards our demise. They will call on all aspects of their privilege to sit on the throne of white supremacy and patriarchy and cast down decisions.

In a tweet Kiese Laymon reminds us that they will ridicule us for killing our own and exonerate themselves for kiling our children. “They will call themselves innocent and Christian and call other murderers terrorists and thugs. We know who they are. We know what they do. We can love ourselves better than we imagine. We must love ourselves better than we imagined. Tamir Rice was 12 years old. He was murdered outside for using his imagination.” I once asked in a poem about where could blackness survive if it is hunted down in broad daylight on streets, on front porches, with bags of Skittles, and any spaces of daily movement. It does not matter if one raises their hands, begs for life, or pulls up their pants. They will come for you. They will come for us. 

In my imagination I see red. I see red and I hear a voice repeating earnestly that they cannot breathe. I see a sister running to say ‘I love you’ to a dying brother and being tackled, held to the ground. And then I remember that this is real.

Thankfully I have always had writing. Writing helps me expel the wasted emotions and time on those who would need proof of my humanity. It allows me to put it away, giving me back the energy they stole and reminding me–warning me–to not let them near it or me again.

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