You won’t believe this, but…it’s OK to take time before you speak on something. Some issues, some people, and some pasts are nuanced. It doesn’t sweep things under a rug, it doesn’t paint a different light on those involved, but in times of mourning or celebration, it’s totally fine to not bring up the complexities or demons of someone who has passed.
Within minutes of the announced death of basketball legend Kobe Bryant, many of you were quick to say things like, “why would you mourn a rapist?” or “there are other heroes you should mourn.” The why is because a lot of Black men in particular don’t have the types of heroes that you all are keen to accept- but I think you prefer to call them “spirit animals”, especially when it’s a woman of color. There’s a quote from John F. Kennedy, Jr. — “…But it does seem to me, as I read these biographies of great men through history, they were not particularly great at home. Even my father was no model — and I think it would be a much more interesting challenge to see if I could make myself into a good man.”
But how do we seek out the goodness in greats? Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lead the Civil Rights Movement but also cheated on his wife. Malcolm X committed a series of burglaries that left him incarcerated prior to his stint in the Nation of Islam. Michael Jordan gambled, Mike Tyson went to prison for rape, Tiger Woods had issues with infidelity- the list goes on and on of prominent Black men whose names you’ll probably spin through the shit cycle of social media in the immediate wake of their death while you stream Ted Bundy biopics and listen to another murder podcast about John Wayne Gacy. A lot of great men work to be good. And they should be remembered as much for the good as the great. Beyond that, they should be remembered as human. Humans make mistakes. Humans do dumb things. Humans do bad things. And for whatever reason, when the humanity of Black men come into question, you seem to forget the balance of a moment and a lifetime.
New York comedian Neruda Williams said it best, “In my opinion this all stems from the fact that America can’t see Black people as human. Humans can make mistakes, humans can be redeemed, humans can be exonerated, and humans can be forgiven. Monsters and beasts cannot.”
We understand the difficulties there are in living on this planet as a woman. It sucks and I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m sorry you go through that. The fear, the pain, the harassment. Black men and women live it too. We’re sexualized, demonized, and not believed. We’re the Emmett Tills, the Central Park 5, the Walter McMillians. We are guilty at birth. We are forced to fight for our names, our rights, our lives, and our truth. We have to fight for our humanity, in life and in death. Our highlights will constantly be mowed by our lowlights. Our successes will always be co-opted by our failures. Our times of strength will always be marred by our moments of weakness. Our work to be great will only serve to you as a reminder of the times we weren’t good. We don’t want you to fear us. We fear you. We fear what you can do to us from a whistle or a jog or an event we weren’t even at. I’ve seen the muddied waters of even making a white woman uncomfortable. I’ve been that Black guy who going to Starbucks at work is reported to HR for “walking aggressively” and seeing that mold into a falsification of me bursting through a classroom door and yelling at someone or stalking them. But I get why you do it. Because words aren’t as effective as narratives so the stories grow and change. That’s the power in being uncomfortable for you. I get uncomfortable being around you as well. I don’t know if this is the moment you call the cops. The moment where you get scared. I sincerely try to walk past any white woman I see in public so she knows I’m not a threat. So I don’t become a viral video or a hashtag. We know each other’s dangers but your fears get amplified. The world listens and believes because there were so many times where we didn’t and it was awful.
But we ask that you listen and believe us when we tell you who we are and who we’re trying to be. We can be sexual without being predators. We can be angry without being thugs. We can be dumb without being stupid. We can make mistakes, we can make bad decisions, we can misread situations, we can stereotype, we can have poor judgment, we can be sorry, we can be regretful, we can be terrified, we can face consequences, we can be redeemed, we can just be. And honestly, that’s all we really want. It’s not a pass. It’s not an excuse. It’s not forgetting our troubles and wrongdoings. It’s just the acceptance of being flawed humans in life when we move on in death. And if you need to scream it into your pillow to face your traumas, then please do it. Maybe one day we’ll be able to scream with you. But for now we want to live and mourn our heroes and legends. Because beyond their greatness, beyond their goodness, they were human.
Martin Mandela Morrow is a writer and comedian living in Los Angeles, CA. He can be followed on Instagram and Twitter at @martinMmorrow