The Day After (Or how to carry on after yet another unarmed black man is killed by police)
His name was Terrence Crutcher. I had to look it up again because subconsciously I’d to begun to build this mental block, a wall of safety around my psyche that simply would not let another name in. This numbness that was forming was an act of instinctual self-preservation and a sign that I was breaking down.
It’s now Wednesday, September 21st. It took me two days before I could muster the will to watch the video of Terrence, father of 4, being gunned down by police in the street like a rabid dog. Because while I do enjoy reruns, this wasn’t a film I wanted to see again. These past years the same scene has been on marathon loop and the plot was predictable. The outcome always the same. Substitute a pack of skittles for a toy gun. Swap out the 12 year-old boy in the park for a young woman failing to signal a lane change. Chalk lines followed by rehearsed lines from commentators on why they deserved to die. Menacing images of the dead surface to corroborate the narrative that they were, in fact, a nuisance- a weed in the garden of society and were rightfully uprooted for the greater good. The outrage rises and falls. Another hashtag is created to the take the place of a person that should still be alive. And despite clear evidence, video footage, eye witness testimony, the smoking gun, or the fact they were simply a child playing in the park, no one is held accountable. And so it goes. On and on, plastered on every social media feed, being consumed, debated, exploited, mocked, downplayed and denied. And before the dust settles, before the news of no indictment hits, another name emerges.
Now I carry the ghosts of strangers in my rib cage. There is no language for this kind of pain, the trauma of reliving the unjustified murder of people that look like you on such a frequent basis. I can only liken it to a kind of PTSD, this fear of living in a country that has declared war on your very existence. And it was only after I found myself crying in the bathroom stall at work did I realize the depth of this grief. I had nightmares about Ferguson. I ate less and drank more. Weighted down by a feeling of helplessness, I often fantasized about taking my own life. Daily I feared for the safety of my teenage brother- a tall, handsome, outspoken boy who was quickly turning into a man, and therefore a threat. He looked so much like Tamir, with those bright eyes and that sweet smile. I even feared for strangers, those unknown Black men I saw pass me in the streets became the walking dead. Broken brown bodies seemed to be falling from the sky like geese and I was being crushed under the weight of simply trying to hold up a normal life, a normal job, a normal conversation while my heart was breaking.
When you’re the only Black person in a predominantly white run company, the feeling of isolation is normal. This was heightened by the fact that I worked in a media company whose primary focus is “building community,” even while our own make up does not accurately reflect the diversity in the community we serve. And while I recognized and appreciated that I worked with many white people that I consider to be educated, well-intentioned allies, what do they know of this bone-deep rage? What do they know of the insecurity of always being the other? What do they know of the hopelessness and depression that comes with having to wake up and reaffirm and justify your right to be alive? What do they know of fending off micro aggressions like swatting at invisible flies? What do they know of feeling like you have to be twice as good to be acceptable? What do they know of feeling like you have to speak for a community that has been hunted and divided for hundreds of years. What do they know of wondering if you are only there to meet the diversity quota?
It is a daunting task, this code switching, the exchanging of masks, the consciousnesses worn like choosing the right outfits for each occasion. It becomes most difficult the day after, when the veil between your soul and the public facing persona has worn paper thin. We are not afforded the luxury of being publicly angry, as it results in those looks from colleagues and friends dripping with a mixture of fear and pity. Mourning is perceived with confusion, a distraction for the work that needs to be done that day. So on those days, you hold it together and remember there are meetings to be kept, deadlines to meet, bills that must be paid and you cannot afford to be too Black today.
I still search for signs of mourning in the faces of Black and brown people I pass on the street. I wonder about the ghosts they carry and if we are all haunted by apparitions whose names won’t make the news. Have our ancestors passed down to us these spines fit for carrying corpses and bellies that house babies that will not make it to adulthood? Have we also inherited their legacy of resilience in the face of unspeakable terrors? Or are we simply expected to survive because the narrative of the strong black woman and the warrior black man is one we have dangerously swallowed, taking away our ability to say that today we are not ok.
But on the day after, I emerge from the bathroom stall, fix my make up in the mirror, and attempt to convince my own reflection that we gon’ be alright. And she stares back, unconvinced.