I have that feeling again. It’s a feeling of overwhelming emotions, thoughts and questions. Then again, I also feel nothing because neither my head nor heart can comprehend the last 48 hours well. How do you express loss, anger, confusion on paper? What do you do to help when you feel helpless? This feeling is reminiscent of the day George Zimmerman was found not guilty for killing Trayvon Martin. I don’t know why, but I thought for sure he would be dragged to jail. Instead, he sat in his seat wearing a huge smile across his face that I’ll never forget. It wasn’t necessarily a smile of relief because of the verdict, but one that said what he, the judge and many of the jurors knew all along: it’s okay to kill black people.
I didn’t write about it until months later. When 12 Years a Slave was released, I interviewed Lupita Nyong’o for EBONY. She mentioned the violence slaves endured, and I nodded in agreement over the phone because I was familiar with the story. I’d seen Roots a million times by then, had immersed myself in all things black since a young age, had seen photos of men and women hanging from trees with white folks pointing to them as if they were their personal souvenirs. I’d stored all of those things in my head and heart along the way, but like we do so well, I kept going. I sat in the theater and shook, wept fiercely—over a movie, because I knew the real accounts of slaves’ lives were even worse. I was numb.
Perhaps it’s true that you feel some of those same feelings because it’s in our DNA, similar to a Jew crying while visiting a Holocaust museum present day. Others are empathized with, even awarded for making it through such terrible times. They emerged as proud victors despite genocide and brutality.
Us? We don’t get those privileges. We have to keep it all in, and move on, as if slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow and countless beatings and shootings in the 21st century never happened. And if it did, it wasn’t that bad, right? We were well taken care of, had “jobs,” and helped make America beautiful, given a fair shake considering our social status. We’re to be happy we made it this far and be silent about injustice because in the grand scheme of things, we have it pretty good. Right?
Despite the hardship, we are the best at bringing ourselves joy and consequently, others. More often than not, we’re exploited for it. Our ability to move beyond past pain and crack a joke, grin and smile and “make the best of a bad thing” is matchless. And be clear, we do that for us, not for whites who want their guilt softened. Don’t let that fool you though. Inside, there is pain that we don’t speak about or show, but it’s there. Always ready to be piqued by another tragedy society deems as harmless. We’ve gotten so good at it over time, they really think we aren’t real. Did you know some whites still think that blacks don’t feel pain the same?
Dr. Joy DeGruy, researcher and author, gave a talk about how black people experience Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome here. No, it’s not a stretch. Similar to PTSD, trauma isn’t only related to war, but being exposed to death, images, scenarios that you can never forget that traumatize you. Imagine your race and culture’s entire existence being woven in that fabric, generation after generation. If you can’t, open your Facebook or Twitter app. The proof is there in the viral videos.
I purposely haven’t watched videos of Alton Sterling nor Philando Castile for my own sanity. You shouldn’t have to SEE that a person was killed to believe it happened. When you watch police compromise with a white boy after brutally killing nine black people in church, only to see black men shot dead in blood after NOT resisting arrest, what message does that send? What is it that you fear? What is it that you hate so much about us, that taking a life is your only option? What do you really see when you see a black person? Are we real to you?
So excuse us if we’re ANGRY, that we say #BlackLivesMatter, that we’re crying or even if we’re silent. We’ve been forced to assimilate into a society that never intended for us to be equals, yet so very hard to compartmentalize injustice, death, violence and wrongdoing with the other parts of our lives. We’re not the first generation to go through this, and won’t be the last, but we need some relief, if not for ourselves, for those who’ve gone on before us. As it turns out, the past is never really the past until the present CHANGES. It’s time to right wrongs.