A Toast to the People

by Adam Balm

Last night the grand jury let Darren Wilson go. All day yesterday I talked tough about how I knew they were going to. But the truth is that a little bit I was hoping. That’s embarrassing to admit, because that’s stupid. But the ritual is so elaborate.

Once, maybe 30 years ago, I was outraged by the latest lynching, and I was telling my mother about it. I was following her around the house with the newspaper in my hand, sharing lurid details. She didn’t really seem that interested. Finally she turned around and looked me in the eye and said, “Adam. I know.” And I opened my mouth to argue and then I looked at her face. Oh.

I’m about the age that she was then. Now I know. Back then, I saw each blatant unpunished murder as an incident, an event. But really all of them are a single feature of the place where I live. It was like becoming outraged each time we turn the clocks back, or each time it rains.

Even on the days it doesn’t happen, it always could happen. We all know this. The illusion of equal protection is pretty convincing, but people aren’t stupid. We are all walking around every day knowing that people do not consider black people’s lives to be worth very much.

Every day, since I was a baby, I have been out here surrounded by people who would be fine with me dying. Who revel in their fake fear of me in a way I can only liken to masturbation. I often think that I have no idea how my ancestors survived — their souls, I mean — but a little bit I know. There’s a lot less of that today, but a little goes a long way.

And yet I am still here. In a place where I am supposed to be murdered and/or go to jail, where I am supposed to be marginalized and frustrated and unrealized, in a place where I do not matter, I do matter. I laugh and I love and I thrive. Despite the world. Somehow. Every day. A lot of us do.

If my swagger could talk, that is what it would say. I’m still here, motherfuckers.