When Your Apartment Feels Safer Than The Outside World
For a Black couple, the outside world feels too dangerous
Every morning, I watch my boyfriend leave the apartment and feel my body tighten up. He is going out there. Beyond the door of our apartment, where the world is waiting for him. Every time he leaves, my mind races with terrifying questions: Will this be the day he is speeding, the day a cop pulls him over? The day that some White man who feels heroic will point a gun at him? I find myself overwhelmed by these thoughts and try to push them aside. But they remain there, through the whole day until the door opens and he walks in.
The reality is, that the door of our apartment does not protect us from violence. If it did, many Black people would still be with us. Breonna Taylor was killed while sleeping in her bed. A few years back, Botham Jean was shot in his own apartment when a police officer mistook his home for hers. At any moment, the door that I cling to as protector could be broken down and our names could become a hashtag.
Still, I sit here and hold onto that naïve thinking because it comforts me. If he comes through the door, nothing can hurt him. White anger does not know how to get through that door, as if there is some kind of magic wood that only allows goodness to enter our home. Inside feels safe. Outside feels like the hunting grounds.
When we are out, my boyfriend and I will do everything within our power to be less threatening. I remember staring over a fence at a beautiful garden while walking in our city. I began telling my boyfriend how that was exactly how I wanted to do my yard in the future. But instead of joining me, my boyfriend quickly and gently pulled me close, moving me forward. When I began to complain he reminded me, “Nikki, we are Black. You can’t be looking into people’s houses like that.” Now, I only glance at the gardens and houses from a distance as we quickly walk by. There is no reason for stopping and standing too long in front of a home. We can’t risk being suspicious and having the police come talk to us. Not in this environment. Instead, we keep to ourselves, smiling at people and nodding all the while moving forward.
My boyfriend and I are not allowed to function in this world in the same way as a White couple. When we are out, we must be forever aware of how the world perceives us and how they may interpret our presence as a threat. In a moment when we should be enjoying ourselves, we are always focused on the world around us. Like rabbits, watching carefully for moving tall grass that may conceal a fox.
The world has never been pleased when it sees Black joy and often seeks to destroy it. The stories to prove this are numerous, but one that always comes to my mind is that of Tamir Rice. A little boy, playing in a park with his toy gun. When the police arrived, they did not even ask Tamir questions, they just started shooting. In another case, a 15-year-old girl in Texas was violently assaulted while enjoying herself at a pool party. Both cases caused outrage, but highlight an important reality for Black Americans: public Black joy could lead to suspicion and violence. It does not surprise me in any capacity that in the past month both of us have slowly become more homebodies than usual. There is perceived safety within these walls. If they cannot see our laughter and movements. Behind our door, inside our apartment we remain hidden from anyone who is out looking for a good lynching.
These past months have made us protective of each other; against a world that has never seen value in our love. Reginald Cunningham once proudly declared that “Black love is revolutionary,” stating in more detail:
“They tried to destroy us through slavery, yet black love persisted. Through Jim Crow, more of our families were decimated. Black mothers and fathers were taken from homes and killed/hanged. And yet, black love persisted. Through the New Jim Crow era, over-policing and targeting of black men for lengthy jail sentences, black love has been tried again. And yet, black love persists. Through the forced survival of black love, it has become a juggernaut. It can’t be stopped. Black love has become an avalanche: Each time something was thrown at it, it has grown greater.”
Cunningham was right: our love is stronger than what is happening outside our door. However, that chronic stress is taxing. It is hard to realize this will be a part of our love forever. That we will, in our future, while trying to navigate the trials of life, also be carrying with us the fear of White violence and hate. Black love is not only revolutionary; it is a marathon.
There is a lot happening in the outside world and both of us are hopeful for the changes occurring. However, videos and pictures of the outside strike fear into our hearts. Videos of protesters being gassed, new names becoming hashtags. The violence continues even in the middle of a global pandemic. We do our best to fight the anxieties.
We hold close to each other and talk about what is happening. We smile as flags representing our ancestor’s trauma are removed from state capitol buildings, we grin as statues of Confederate leaders crash to the ground. Other times, we simply gaze at the videos and news in exhausted silence. We watch the police run people over, deploy tears gas, and laugh about beating protesters. While we see progress, there are constant messages being fed to us: The outside world is not safe for Black joy, love, or people.
I think a lot about what would make it safer for us to go outside. What would make me feel free to laugh loudly with my boyfriend on the corner and admire the beautiful gardens of my neighborhood without fear of retribution. The reality is, the only thing that would make me feel welcomed in public spaces would be a complete reorganization of our judicial and police system.
Earlier this month, Amy Cooper who called the police on Christopher Cooper (no relation) was charged with falsely reporting a crime. Four states are considering legislation that would criminalize the act of calling the police when crimes are not occurring. While I appreciate the acknowledgement by state governments that there is a problem; mainly, White communities are using the police to control Black people, I want more.
Criminalizing false allegations is a step forward, but must be considered carefully. Will White Americans face the same justice for reporting crimes as Black Americans? Or will their actions be carefully written off by police and prosecutors? While I may feel safer entering a public space knowing that a White person could be punished for falsely accusing me of a crime, all of that means nothing if I or my boyfriend become a hashtag on Twitter.
The change must be focused on addressing the causes of Black death in public spaces: criminalizing false reporting of people of color, prosecution of vigilante justice, and judicial system/police reforms. The reason these deaths keep occurring is because there are systems that allow them to continue. If we truly wish to see less Black death, we need to do more than arrest White women who call the police. We have to assure the system does not favor them or the police in allegations of wrong doing. Black love cannot thrive in public within our current system.
For now, we will stay in. Away from crowds and away from prying eyes. We let our love be revolutionary in a space where we feel safe. Black love is beautiful, but it is always under threat. We can’t risk losing each other to a world where a virus moves through the air and hate moves through people. We will stay behind our door, running our marathon together.