Black Power and Police Brutality: Where Does Black Rage Go?

Written in July 2016 for “Decolonize The Mind” blog.

Another person was killed by the police yesterday. A black person. Selling CDs. Shoved to the ground. ““You f — — -g move, I swear to God,” a cop yelled at him. Five shots rang out. Two struck him.

His name was Alton Sterling. He was 37. He is now gone.

Today I went to lunch in the middle of my work day. I walked through the circular tables occupied mostly by white faces. People were smiling, laughing, asking each other their names and talking about mundane things. I ate my food, went back to work, and cleaned rooms. All the while I was breaking apart on the inside.

Sometimes I feel myself going numb. The hashtags and names and news stories and “Oh, that’s sad.” from white people or the periods of silence from white people pile up. They form a mountain on top of my heart, getting higher and higher until they reach my throat. I can’t speak anymore. I find myself staring at the television, staring at my laptop, a notebook; unable to really say or think or write or do what I really want to.

Montana has punched me in the gut. I often excuse the sexist or racist comments of my peers because I am so tired. I’d rather allow them their comfort and privilege than to speak up, than to be ostracized, than to be what I consider one of the most admirable qualities — confident in my humanity.

When I see a black baby, a part of me cries. I fear the violent world they will enter. A world where I know that some people consider me too dark-skinned, too smart, or too sensitive for my own good. A world where, to some, I am considered me too alternative, too respectable, too well-mannered to be “black”. I know that a small boy was shot in a park in the city that I grew up in most of my life and I am disappointed that we haven’t burned the city to the ground, taken weapons to arm ourselves against the state and find a way to live out our best humanity.

Photo Credit: Stephen Shames

As I sat at lunch surrounded by countless white people who probably didn’t know the name of Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, or John Crawford, I knew that there was a big question in my head waiting to be answered,

Are we really a country, a people, a nation that forgets so easily?

What about the slave ships, the shackles, the salt water and the rats gnawing at dead bodies piled on top of each other in those seaward vessels of wood? What about the Japanese internment camps? The bombings? The drones?

The corralling of indigenous people to schools meant to “civilize” them? The police raiding gay bars, shoving women to the ground, ripping wigs off of people in drag, spitting on them in jail cells? What about the conversion therapy programs? What about bringing Christian fundamentalism to an island that my family calls home and teaching homophobia?

I look around and I see people sitting in their homes, quiet and gentle and numb as they watch the news and I fear that will be me one day. I don’t want to sleep walk through my life, working job after job for my own benefit as the world continues to turn.

So where does black rage go?

If I had to guess, it would start with a quote by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me,

So I feared not just the violence of this world but the rules designed to protect you from it, the rules that would have you contort your body to address the block, and contort again to be taken seriously by colleagues, and contort again so as not to give the police a reason. All my life I’d heard people tell their black boys and black girls to ‘be twice as good,’ which is to say ‘accept half as much.’ These words would be spoken with a veneer of religious nobility, as though they evidenced some unspoken quality, some undetected courage, when in fact all they evidenced was the gun to our head and the hand in our pocket. This is how we lose our softness. This is how they steal our right to smile.

It’s in the same vein as Assata Shakur, Malcom X, Angela Davis and so many other freedom fighters.

Angela Davis at Black Panther Party rally in West Oakland. Photo Credit: Stephen Shames

It’s easy to believe in your right to love, life, and longevity when the entire world seems to validate it. But what do you do when the world does not? What do you do when your people have been shackled, whipped, raped, lynched, permed, renamed, spit on, shoved into barrels, had crosses burned in their yards by white terrorists, cry after shootings in their churches, read books about false histories and stay silent, silent, silent, quiet, timid, afraid?

How do we escape this labyrinth of suffering? Acknowledge our rage and use it as a means to dismantle the very systems that we were forced into building? Another quote by Ta-Nehisi Coates for that thought,

But all our phrasing — race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy — serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this.

We must acknowledge that this suffering is systemic and real. It kicks down the front door, shots tear gas into a living room and murders the little girl sleeping on the couch. It’s me confiding to a room of mostly white people a week ago about the racism in Montana and being told, “But Prince sometimes you’re too sensitive.” It’s the kink in your neck when you wake up from a bad dream and realize that life, this reality is part of the nightmare. It’s in the grief of Alton Sterling’s family:

It’s starts with the acknowledgement that the struggle for freedom is going to hurt, but would you rather let the suffering go on?

There is no magic potion or formula to fix the havoc that humanity has unleashed upon itself. At times black rage brings us to the edge of frustration and abandonment of all hope. Sometimes we throw ourselves over their cliff, waiting for the choppy waters to take us. Or it teaches us how to live, gives us The Ten-Point Program from the Black Panther Party, nourishes us when the fangs of capitalism/racism digs in too deep and it takes us to the streets.

Black rage has taught us how to love so deeply that we continue to exist in a world that has branded us criminal. It allows us to find beauty in the darkness, where all things are created. It emboldens us to believe that we deserve “a better forever”. Maybe black rage never went anywhere. It’s just a matter of how we use it.