I have struggled to write anything coherent in the last few days. I’ve started and choked on a few posts that never made it off the ground. I’ve become self-conscious as a writer and made the mistake so many writers, artists, entertainers, and performers make — I worried more about pleasing my audience than telling my truth.
A few nights ago, out of nowhere, I found myself in an argument on Facebook with someone whose friendship I had recently been questioning. This person sent me a private message regarding a post I’d put up earlier in the day about the Tamir Rice shooting in Cleveland. Without thinking that someone might take my comment in any way other than what I actually said, I posted that his death hit me close to home because he was 12 and my son was almost 12. Apparently, that comment was a problem.
The message to me said, and I’ll paraphrase, that I didn’t have to worry about my son because he looks white and the police wouldn’t shoot him.
Gobsmacked. Completely. Gobsmacked.
I’m still not really sure where this came from, but I know it floored me. Is Tamir Rice’s shooting supposed to matter less to me because my son is light-skinned and therefore “safe”? Is the racism I face, or the racism my kids face, somehow less valid because of the lightness of my skin? The conversation that ensued left me feeling damned if I do and damned if I don’t. All my life, I’ve dealt with people of my own race pushing me aside because I wasn’t Black enough, or saying that I was turning my back on my race if I didn’t say or do things in a way that met their approval. Somehow some folks with darker skin assumed two things about me: that I thought I was somehow better because I was lighter, and that my experience in the world was so different that I could not possibly understand what really being Black meant and that I should just keep my mouth shut and enjoy the privileges my skin color bought me.
Bullshit. I’m calling bullshit. And the bullshit is flying from all different directions, from people of all colors, and hitting me square in the face. I’m sick of this shit and I’m tired of having to deal with any of it from anyone. Enough is enough.
Will my son experience the world the same way that boys with brown skin will? No. I never claimed he would, nor should I. Does this mean I can’t be upset that young Black boys and men walk in fear in this country? Does this mean that I think my son is somehow at an advantage to these other boys? Black lives don’t just matter to me because I’m Black. They matter. Period. All of them — mine and my children’s included. Black people’s experiences of racism are different based on skin color and I would be a damned fool not to acknowledge that. However, just because it is different doesn’t mean that it’s better for me.
Here’s a news flash: White people say dumb shit to me too. In fact, I think they say dumber shit to me because to them I don’t look, talk, act like, etc. the Black people they think of as Black. So, in acts that they either think of as compliments or don’t think about at all, they strip me of my Blackness, absorb my identity into their own, and assume that the lives of my darker brothers and sisters are meaningless to me. Then, when I bristle at this or say something that pointedly reminds them of who and what I really am, I am branded: angry, defensive, sensitive. I become confusing to them because they, like so many people, make the assumption that lighter skin, “good” hair, education, and exposure to “culture” make me less Black. So, I gain the world and lose my soul and become a part of the white wash and I should be happy to be a part of this little club of acceptable Negroes.
In short, I’m not Black enough to be Black, but I’m definitely not White. I am clearly losing the race on both sides.
Black people, haven’t we been divided long enough? Isn’t it time we stopped making assumptions about each other and came to the understanding that our experience of racism is multi-faceted and deeper than most people know and understand? Isn’t it time we stopped invalidating one another’s experience of the world based on skin color? Surely, we need to put down the color distinctions imposed on us from the outside with the express purpose of separating us and causing dissent among us to weaken us. Surely, we need to stand together because we will all surely hang separately if we don’t. We need to listen to each other. We need to be able to speak our truth to each other freely. We need to stop blaming and shaming each other. As Wanda Sykes puts it so well, “White people are watching us.” And they are laughing. We are the same to them — NOT White. The distinctions we draw for ourselves don’t help us. They hurt us. And our pain doesn’t matter worth a damn to anyone else if we don’t make it important to ourselves.
The loss of any one Black boy or man should matter because a life has been taken. I wish the world were that simple, but I’m not naive enough to think it is or ever can be. The loss of so many Black males is a tragedy, and it should be everyone’s concern regardless of color. White mothers don’t worry that their sons are targets for the police because of the color of their skin, but I am overjoyed to see that some of them are standing up for the value of the lives of the sons of their counterparts of color. Their concern is no more or less valid because they are White. It’s important because Black lives should matter to us all. Because Black people — men and women, boys and girls — should matter as much as anyone else to everyone. All our children should be precious to everyone. This is why I get pissed off watching the news about yet another (innocent, sweet, etc.) little white girl who’s been abducted, raped, or murdered, but all I see of my own people are criminals who are big scary monsters to the “respectable” world. Where are all my little sisters who’ve been abducted, raped, and murdered? Why don’t we hear about them? Why don’t we see their parents clutching photos and pleading for the lives of their precious children? Why? Because we don’t matter. How do I know that? Because the media tells me so.
Blacks lives matter is more than a cause and far more than a hashtag. It’s the truth. Our lives have always mattered. They didn’t begin to matter when White people came around to believing it. If we think that way, then we will cease to matter as soon as we are no longer the cause that is en vogue. We must not lose focus on what is really important: the importance of Black lives is about human rights. This cannot become a fad or a fashion. We are fighting for our lives. That is serious business.
For Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and all the other boys who will never become men, I say enough is enough. None of us win this race as long as we see it as a competition. Either we all win, or we all lose.
Lord have mercy.