Do you remember the scene in Get Out where Allison Williams’ character Rose is talking on the phone, completely blank-faced and calm, making her voice sound more and more distressed and hysterical? She’s doing it to throw someone off, to make them think they’re mistaken about the truth, and to make herself sound like a victim. In the context of the film, it’s creepy. Really creepy. This is part of the intense rising action on our way to the crescendo, and this simple, silent, powerful scene says so much. The viewer knows exactly what’s going on as Williams’ Rose feigns fear, and so does the black man she’s talking to. The biggest take-away is that she knows, and he knows, and the viewer knows, that no one will believe the truth so long as she cries.
In short: it’s not hard to act scared. Distressed. Hysterical. To lie. It’s not hard at all to make someone believe you’re in trouble when you’re really not or, more dangerously, when you’re the aggressor and the abuser. If you’re a white woman, this can become a twisted superpower. If you’re racist white woman, it will become your twisted superpower.
You know where I’m going with this. You know what I’m referencing. And though I am absolutely sickened by what a white woman tried to do to black man mere days ago in Central Park, I am so relieved the black man, Christian Cooper, is alive today because he had the wherewithal to film what was happening to him. Because we all know how close he came to death.
Fear does incite lies, but what this woman did was not born of her fear. It was not her attempt to protect herself. It was, plain and simple, her exercising her privilege and unspoken right to exert her dominance over another person. A “lesser” person. A black person. If that’s too blunt, I’m not sure what to tell you.
This is nothing new. We saw this in 1955 when Emmett Till was lynched because of Carolyn Bryant’s lie. If you’ve ever read To Kill A Mockingbird you already know how the lie of a racist white woman can end a story and a life.
Thankfully, this time it ended with the black man walking away. But too often we know how it really ends, and if the hashtags of the last month have shown us anything, we must accept that nothing has really changed.
I’m so tired of reading, praying for, and writing about dead black people. But I won’t stop. I’m so tired of saying their names when they’re no longer here to hear the call. But I won’t stop. I’m so tired of “enough is enough,” because it is never enough. There’s always more. The incident in Central Park was disgusting, but before we even had a moment to process, another black body was dead.
I saw the video of George Floyd unsolicited, unannounced, and out of context. I saw someone being murdered via a knee to the neck on the 4-inch screen of my smartphone. It felt like something out of a dystopian novel—specifically out of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 where it was common for citizens to watch arrests and unjust executions on their televisions, to treat it like a show, entertainment. This footage was shared over and over again without warning. The space between what I saw and what I learned feels like a million years, but what is most tiring is how even this was familiar. “I can’t breathe” were the dying words of another black man just six years ago. Before George we were mourning Eric Garner. We were mourning Michael, Trayvon, Tamir, Sandra, Philando, and countless others. Ahmaud, Breonna, Sean, Tony, and George are now added to the list. *Since I first wrote this, more names have been added: David McAtee and James Scurlock – killed during the peaceful protests turned violent in Louisville, Kentucky and Omaha, Nebraska. They left David’s body in the street for 12 hours after they killed him. He used to feed cops for free from his BBQ joint. James was only 22 and used his body to save others. Each of their lives was snuffed out in seconds by the hands and knees and guns of white officers. People who are meant to protect and serve, right?
I’ve felt heavy every day since this happened. Weighed down and exhausted by the burden of the ugliness of America. I’m glad to see the outrage, the people calling for justice. I’m glad to see people who care and aren’t afraid to loudly say that this isn’t right—it’s never been right. But I’m disheartened by the racist comments, Tweets and opinions that call people who look like me animals. Thugs. Somehow, they’re so much louder.
Maybe George Floyd’s murder is the final straw. Maybe it’s the last drop before the levee breaks, the dam bursts and washes away this systemic oppression America was built on and continues to thrive on. Maybe these white tears will no longer work. Maybe those who call black and brown people thugs and animals will no longer be able to curse us and then insist they aren’t racist in the same breath. Maybe enough will really be enough.
But can I tell you something? I don’t think so. And that breaks my heart.
As much as it pains me to say this, I fear that when the protestors go home and the world moves on that this will happen again to another because the central problem will not be fixed. It will happen again and the world will reignite, and we will cry and call for change, but it won’t come. It is not because our efforts are lacking. It is not because we black people deserve this or that the natural order really is that we are sub-human. No.
America won’t change and can’t change until this country and the powers that be acknowledge her original sin: colonization, slavery, racism, murder. These things still persist though they have changed shape, changed appearance. We see it in the blatant racism towards Asians and Asian Americans at the onset and perpetuance of the coronavirus (side note: can we also take a moment to see how ridiculously comical it is that all of this is happening during a PANDEMIC? This is peak Laughing to Keep From Crying a la Langston Hughes). We see it in the way Latinx people—human beings—have been called “aliens” and “illegals,” how their families have been torn apart and their children kept in cages and detention centers. We see it in the Muslim ban, in the weaponization of what is truly a peaceful faith and people. We see it in Native Americans being met with violence while protesting environment-harming development on their land. We see it in the mass incarceration, the disproportionate access to healthcare, the physical and psychological racism, and the incessant murders of black people on this land we built for free, this land that claimed and claims our bodies even now.
If this isn’t already enough, I don’t know what will be. But I do know America cannot go on like this.
The country cannot afford to ignore these sins anymore, to leave them “buried in the past” when they are so rampant in our present. White people cannot keep telling black people to “get over” slavery. POC cannot keep getting the message that our pain and suffering don’t matter in this country, that we are lesser people. America is meant to be built on something better, but the truth is this country sits atop a rotting foundation and it’s about to give way. Even still, the broken foundation will not do what repentance must. The original sin must be acknowledged, dealt with, made right. If it isn’t, none of us will ever be free.
We will continue to be tired. To be heartbroken. We will continue to see hashtags and marches and violent people in power. How much blood has the earth drunk? How much more can she drink?
As I said from the start, I am so tired. I’m tired of writing about dead black people. But I won’t stop. Of saying their names when they’re no longer here to hear them. But I won’t stop. I’m tired of feeling afraid that someone in my family will be next. My father. My cousins. My uncles (one of whom is a retired policeman). I’m tired of shouting for change and being silenced by louder silence and time, by living under a system that doesn’t even try to hide that it favors them good ol’ boys over all and everyone else.
But change isn’t coming until we get to the root of the problem. America must look to her wound, point to it, touch it, feel it, draw out the poison, let it weep. And only once this has been done can we heal and begin to move forward. What hurts is that we know what we need to do. The question is if it will ever be done.
I’ve been asking this question my whole life. My childhood. My adolescence. Now in my early adulthood. It’s the central question of my book. When do we get an answer?
I feel close to despair, but I’ll leave you with this:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” — Corinthians 4:8-9
Rest in Peace and Power, George Floyd. Rest in peace Ahmaud, Breonna, Sean, and Tony. *Rest in peace David and James and the countless others we’ve lost but don’t yet know of, that we may never know of. You will never be forgotten. May God hold you in His everlasting arms.
Resources for Change: