Last week, a video was released of a police officer killing 37-year-old Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge. He was armed, but Louisiana is an open carry state. The same was true for 34-year-old Philando Castile of Minnesota: He let the officer know that he had a gun, and he was shot four times in front of his fiancée and daughter while reaching for his wallet.
Yet again, black people have to deal with the grief of watching one of our own murdered while knowing that justice will not be served. We have to deal with others blaming us for the deaths of our brethren — for somehow being too scary, for not making ourselves small enough. We must be respectful of others at all times, lest they literally kill us.
This is a fucking problem. That needs to be admitted. But admitting it is not the only step.
It's not enough for people to say "black lives matter" and then be silent. We need to do more than speak. We need to push for better laws to protect our people and to put pressure on police departments. Nothing will change unless the police system is completely stripped down and rebuilt. The fundamental problem is that so many American institutions were founded with only white people in mind — and they were never changed.
Ta-Nehisi Coates explains this well in his Atlantic piece "The Case for Reparations." He makes several points in this piece that profoundly resonated with me, but I'm still haunted by one in particular: America has racked up so many horrors done to black people without ever acknowledging them — like someone amassing debt on a credit card, then deciding not to use the card anymore, but being confused when the debt does not magically disappear. The thing is, this "debt" of crimes and violence committed against black people not only fails to disappear, it continues to build. It grows and grows and grows.
For so long, it seemed like black people were the only ones who could see this debt. Finally that's starting to change, and other people are realizing it exists. But those who are just now starting to pay attention, who have watched the videos of the murders of innocent black people and want them to stop happening, have to do more than merely admit that black lives matter.
The disregard for our lives is a heavy load for black people to carry, every single day. You see a cop staring at you and wonder if this could be the day that something happens. You wonder what picture of you they'll use. You wonder if you would've ever gotten the chance to make something of yourself.
I want to be remembered. I want to make art that people love and take in over and over again. Even more, I want security. I want money, enough to ensure a future for my family, for others, for myself. I want to have power. I want to bypass all the white gatekeepers who have so much power. I want to provide ways for other black people to do the same — to do anything else that seems unbelievable.
But then I look at the black people being killed in the street. I look at how things do not change. I look at how many times this happens. I see my brothers and sisters growing tired.
I also grow tired: tired of saying the same things, tired of respectability politics. I don't aim to earn the respect of someone who believes a black person must have a fully formed debate ready whenever we simply state that our lives matter. I know that my voice is just one of many, that it might not be heard at all. But I will use it on behalf of Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice and so many others whose voices will never be heard again.
I do not want to be too tired to be rich one day, to have a production company, to make movies and plays and books. I do not want to die before this happens. I fear that my dreams and goals will be stolen from me. I fear that I'll fall into the same cycle that so many in my family are in, that so many black people around the country are in, of being poor, of being stuck, of being unable to move.
I'm scared of being slaughtered in the street like an animal. I'm scared of the people who are supposed to protect me. I'm scared of white people.
But even more than being scared, I'm angry.
White people steal. They steal and steal and steal. They steal our bodies and our hopes and our dreams and our chances. This is gaslighting, it is abuse, it is murder. It is outrageous. It is disgusting. It is despicable. And adding insult to injury, it has to be proven, over and over again. It is ignored because white people benefit from the system that is in place, the system that holds the rest of us down.
Black Lives Matter is the bare fucking minimum. Don't act like you're doing something monumental for me by chanting a slogan. No matter how many times you or I say those words, black people are still being ridiculed and torn apart and killed. Nothing is changing.
What am I supposed to do about it? I will continue to call for systemic change — for the police to be held accountable, for the many systems that reiterate racism in this nation to be dismantled.
But should that fail to happen, should these systems continue to oppress us, I suppose that all that's left is to wait for everything to explode.
When riots happen, black people are called animals — the opportunity to have an excuse to dehumanize us is gleefully taken. If these things happened to white people, everyone would riot: It would be the humane thing to do.
Black people have exhausted so many options — protesting and ignoring and going through the legal system — that I wouldn't be surprised if riots are the next option. We want real change, but if it is continually denied to us, we’ll riot because we're in pain. Because we're ignored.
What else are we supposed to do?
A version of this essay was originally posted on the author's personal blog, Half Monster Girls.
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