On Friday night, I checked my twitter feed only to find that it was illuminated, literally, by the images of white men and women marching through the University of Virginia's campus with torches. Details flooded my feed. I saw videos of the crowd as it swelled and images of Swastikas wavering on flags continued to appear. T-shirts passed with hateful messages. I knew that they were there not simply to fight for their Confederate idol but to resist my very existence. Everything that I am and stand for is in direct opposition to every person that stood together in that bustling crowd of white terrorists. My blackness does not simply threaten their privilege, it exposes their mediocrity. Thus, they march. They spit. They fight. And yes, one of them killed. This is America.
There was a stark divide in the commentary that continued to evolve throughout Friday night and into the next day. While many of us have grown up in an America that tries to convince us that events like Charlottesville are aberrations -- isolated and driven by a dying group of hate-filled Klansmen clinging to their past -- many of us have grown up seeing this nation’s handling of race relations with less than rose-tinted glasses. As well-meaning journalists and celebrities responded to this terrorist attack with shock and calls for “kindness”, “unity”, and even attempts to popularize the hashtag #ThisIsNotUs, people of color across social media platforms promptly dropped reminders that we have been here many times before. Black people in this country are not shocked by what has taken place in Charlottesville because whether white supremacists carry torches or not, our bodies, our spaces, our freedom, and even our love has always been under attack. The simple fact is that America is no better than Charlottesville and never has been.
I can still recall the first time I was called a “nigger.” During my very (very) short stint as a basketball player at age nine one of my teammates hurled it at me.His complaint? He was bothered that I was going to be team captain for a single game. At that age he not only knew the word, but also recognized its power to inflict pain. I may have been one of a few Black kids on my entire team and I had no idea how to respond -- so I didn’t. I never spoke about it with my mom or my coach because this kid, in fact, was the coach’s son. I let the season play out and I never returned to an organized sports team again. That was one of my earliest lessons in what it meant to be a young Black boy in America. The lessons haven’t stopped yet.
As I grew up, it was more and more evident that race matters. Black lives just don't. There’s no putting that realization back. It’s the beginning of a cycle of heartbreak. these painful realizations come sweeping in time and time again as we turn on our televisions to find another Black or brown face was less lucky than we were that day: Trayvon. Mike. Rekia. Tamir. Sandra. Philando. The list continues to grow and you feel that sting with every new and again as we see their killers walk free. Settlements paid following a national outcry but not a single individual held accountable for their deaths. No justice. This is America.
"As I grew up, it was more and more evident that race matters. Black lives just don't. There’s no putting that realization back."
Just nine months ago, sixty-two percent of white men and fifty-two percent of white women in this country voted to elect Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States. That’s millions of white Americans who effectively told people of color with their actions that our fear was less important than their privilege. This also handed a man with a problematic history of discriminating against Blacks in his own business dealings and using inciteful rhetoric on the campaign trail control of critical, equality-ensuring positions for all Americans. One of those included the Office of the Attorney General. His choice in then-Senator Jeff Sessions, a man who himself was denied a federal judgeship in 1986 due to his own racist comments, who failed to satisfy any of us with an ounce of hope that advancements under the Obama administration in the Justice Department (i.e. proposals from the 21st Century Policing Task Force) would continue. After eight years with President Barack Obama and the incredibly intelligent and strong First Lady Michelle Obama in the White House, the election results cut deeply. Now, on the other side of a long and mentally arduous election, we were reminded that a large portion of White Americans - those that we work with, those that we teach our children, those that lovingly hug us after church - still don’t truly respect or value us. In the following weeks and months, there would be many attempts to rationalize this outcome due to the Democrats’ oversight of the “unheard” whites of rural America. Media would flood Coal Country and the Rust Belt looking for answers that Black Americans who grew up in the Jim Crow South already had. This was American in November and this is America today.
"Now, on the other side of a long and mentally arduous election, we were reminded that a large portion of White Americans - those that we work with, those that we teach our children, those that lovingly hug us after church - still don’t truly respect or value us."
Attacks such as those in Charlottesville are not a reminder that white supremacy is alive and well. The only people who don’t know that simply choose not to see the truth in front of them. No, this is only a reminder that most of White America still isn’t ready to stand up and do anything about it. There’s no time for creating inspiring hashtags that defer blame. Stand with us in action as well as word. Many white liberals have coddled their white guilt by constructing tight bubbles including other progressive-minded peers that dared to dive into selected readings from bell hooks, Angela Davis, or Ta-Nehisi Coates. They celebrated along as our coveted cultural icons like Beyoncé made a bold pronouncement her pride in her “negro nose” on the world’s largest stage while Viola Davis pulled away her wig and exposed her natural hair in front of the ever-charged (whew, and emotional) TGIT audience. But there’s still just one big problem: Black people were left out of those bubbles too. Rather than white people putting themselves in proximity to us by actually observing these experiences as you walk alongside us, our lives, our culture, and our talents are being cherry-picked. Our platforms to raise our own voices remain slim and instead we’re granted spots on panels and cable news shows where we must go to try and justify our humanity to the world. We are still left to fight for ourselves in a system that has told us for more than two centuries: You don’t stand a chance.
"Rather than white people putting themselves in proximity to us by actually observing these experiences as you walk alongside us, our lives, our culture, and our talents are being cherry-picked."
At least twelve U.S. Presidents were fully invested and owned slaves in an atrocious system that sought only to reap their Black bodies of every ounce of our energies before finishing our destruction. Many after them would fail to even acknowledge our rights or support the constitutional protections to ensure we could even utter the word “equality.” Even as our efforts proved effective and advancements under the law were granted to Black Americans, we saw more terror and more death. For every inch we gained, the desire of White America to return to a sense “normalcy” - meaning a dominance of whiteness - would result in powerful backlash; and here’s the thing, white people, your grandparents were there. A system constructed to benefit whites for generations has yet to fail them because even those who embrace the idea that race should exclude no individual are not willing to admit this system grants them the promise of superiority and power. Your grandparents were there, your parents were there, and you’re here now. Until even the most liberal-minded white Americans embrace that our equality involves their sacrifice, we will be Charlottesville, we will be Charleston, we will be Selma and Montgomery. Shake your Sunday dinner table with that one, America.