On Feeling Foolish in the Wake of Ferguson

At two separate moments Monday night — first as Bob McCulloch, the prosecuting attorney in Ferguson, Missouri, used entirely too many words to say “No indictment” and later as I watched hurt and anger and disappointment boil over on the screen before me — my eyes welled with tears. None spilled either time, but the emotions that created those moments were visceral. For weeks I had a sense that there would be no indictment, yet in the final hours, when news broke that the grand jury had finally reached a decision, there was a small part of me that suddenly became optimistic — that this would be the time that, yes, members of a jury would say simply, “We believe this merits a trial.”

When that didn’t happen, I only had thoughts of all the ways I assert my existence as a Black woman and all the ways it can be denied. What occurred in Ferguson Monday night was a system denying the existence of Blackness. Denying its complexity, its rawness; the right to be fearful, the right to be optimistic; denying our humanity.

And that is why I feel foolish. I know how this country works, and yet for the briefest of periods I thought, “Maybe this time, yes.” Maybe human suffering in Black form would be acknowledged by the system that caused it. What I’m seeing now, though, is that I’ve talked myself into being an optimist.

James Baldwin once said, “I can’t be a pessimist because I’m alive. To be a pessimist means that you have agreed that human life is an academic matter, so I’m forced to be an optimist. I’m forced to believe that we can survive whatever we must survive.” Though I recognize that for so many, the color of my skin denotes trouble or worthlessness, I have to be an optimist out of necessity. It is the way I choose to remain sane, to express love for myself, to use my existence as protest.

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