I don’t want to be eloquent today; I don’t want to code switch or tone it down or be the diluted brand of Black that is easiest for you to digest. I don’t want my safety or acceptance or respect to be dependent on how well spoken I am, how well I assimilate, how well I find the right lighting to make my skin a little more golden, a little less Black, a little easier for you to relate to. Christian Cooper was well spoken, Ahmaud Arbery was jogging, George Floyd was cooperating, Breonna Taylor was at home, Tony McDade was walking down the street.
I had a friend tell me today that one of the most important things we can do now as a people is teach our Black children to deescalate the situation and how to deal with officers in order to stay alive; but how do you stay safe when your skin is a weapon? How do you teach someone not to kill you when they refuse to acknowledge your humanity? Why do we place the burden of our own murders on ourselves when we are not the ones pulling the trigger? While there is a lot more we can and should be doing as a community to educate ourselves on what serves us best (and I will address that), we are not responsible for the brutality with which we are constantly met or for the white fragility that underscores their hate. It is not our jobs to teach them not to be racist or ignorant or oblivious because they have that option. It is not our jobs to calmly and tenderly explain our plight, choking down the bile in our throats while we force our voices to stream out in acceptable tones, careful to show no anger while we burn and mourn and twist inside.
“The power system in America tells us we are all treated fairly, but the video of George Floyd will show you that fair doesn’t mean equal.”
What was considered fair to George Floyd is not the same as what would be considered fair for the racist officer who murdered him in cold blood. Fairness is determined by the law, but the law cannot be a moral compass for humanity because history teaches us that many atrocities were committed under the approving umbrella of the law. What is legal is not always what is right, but how do we change that and who determines what is legal?
This is where education of the system is paramount and it is where our communities have failed. Legislation is used to maintain the status quo and if we want to end it (to truly tear it down and start again, not simply make adjustments) then we need to become politically literate. We need to teach our communities about the power of their votes and that showing up once every four years to elect a president is not enough; the people with the powers to make immediate differences on the ground are your mayors, city managers and district attorneys. In the time it takes a member of Congress to garner enough support and votes in the political chambers to change legislation, your District Attorney (who is almost completely autonomous) can charge and prosecute. Your mayor is single-handedly picking the police commissioner who determines the conduct of the officers of that city. But it is not enough to simply throw votes away because they announce themselves as Democrats; their party affiliations should no longer hold weight. Look at their political track records, their prosecution history, the funders of their campaigns (to whom they will owe favours upon election) and challenge them at every turn. Make them work for your vote, because right now you are expected to put them in power as a sign of your gratitude that they are not as openly racist as their political opponents. It is no longer enough and it is up to us to hold them to a new standard. Still, make no mistake that this is not only an American issue but a global one.
To all of our non-Black friends, partners, family members; we are watching and taking note today. We are observing which of you speaks up and creates space for our voices to be amplified, which of you takes action and speaks to the injustices against Black bodies, which of you speaks from the soul instead of copping out with a repost of your Black friends’ words.
To all of our non-Black friends, partners, family members; we are watching and taking note today. We are observing which of you speaks up and creates space for our voices to be amplified, which of you takes action and speaks to the injustices against Black bodies, which of you speaks from the soul instead of copping out with a repost of your Black friends’ words. You want to break bread with us, to make love to us, to learn to move your hips like us because you love the feeling of swaying to the rhythm of our drums but when the beat falters and the party stops, your absence fills the room; your silence crashes into us, loud and deafening. It is complicit and it reminds us that we are simply for your consumption, undeserving.
You use our deaths to trend and polish your liberal image, always careful to do enough to be lauded for your progressiveness, but not so much that you alienate the other side and while you play this elaborate game of straddle, our blood runs red in the streets. You no longer have the option of getting by on the bare minimum or using tokenism to prove that you are not racist. Having a Black friend, raising a Black child or having sex with Black people is not an antidote and you are no longer exempt simply because of your association with us. You are not welcome to eat at a table where you brought nothing to add to the meal because your presence is not enough. If you cannot handle these simple truths, then unfurl your hands and let go because we no longer serve at your comfort, because it is never more consequential than our lives.
And to my people, my elders, my brothers and my sisters; I am sorry and I am angry and I am afraid for your mental health. The constant stream of brutalised bodies that look like you as you scroll online inflicts a trauma that only we understand. As a Black, Muslim woman, the despair I feel at the resounding silence of the Arab Muslim community is overwhelming. The people with whom we have marched, for whom we have fought against occupation in the Middle East, against the genocide in Palestine and the stereotyping and persecution of Arab bodies in America have seemingly abandoned us in our time of most desperate need and it is a deeper betrayal than the others because we share something deeper than race.
So when you are drowning and the water fills your lungs with the weight of the silence of your friends, learn to breathe underwater and then hold them accountable. I need you to have those difficult conversations and unveil the truth of those relationships. And if you find that their ‘brand’ or their other relationships or the opinions of their followers prevent them from standing vocally beside you, ask yourselves why you share everything else but your outrage is yours alone. Their feelings are not more tender than your skin when it is pierced.