I am exhausted with hearing about black people being killed, and I am even more tired of hearing people vandalize our graves with responses like “Well, tomorrow isn’t promised.” Apathetic and detached statements like these are hand-me-downs that black folks are tired of wearing. The worn-out adage should mean that one must put his best foot forward, but for us, it means we are trapped, stuck to tolerate the cold mouth of death breathing down our backs.
No one in their right mind would agree to such terms, but then again this is America. Very rarely, if at all, have black folks been asked to approve their lot in life. America tells us to take what we can get. However, if all we can get is unrequited, then there comes a point when we must refuse nothing.
If we are truly honest, and brutally clear, tomorrow has never been our glory. Tomorrow is just another word for today. Every bright early dawn is anticipation of trouble to come, and the worst thing a bully can do is pretend to be absent when he in fact is present and hell-bent on making his presence felt.
This home of ours is quick to remind us that it owes us nothing, that it will burden, that it will take up space, that it will make us uncomfortable, that it will lean its weight on us day in and day out until we shatter and nothing is left but silent misery. This nation has taught us to believe only in yesterday.
We have tried to elude the insatiable threat of America for centuries. We have tried to endure, we have tried to pray through it, we have tried to work through it, we have tried patience, loyalty, protest, alliance, segregation, education, entertainment, self-defense, self-love, self-deprecation; and here we are still with no escape route to get around this type of violence.
The black man can only pick his jaw up off the floor so many times. The point will come when the black woman refuses to reassemble her teeth back in her mouth just to appease your sensitivity with a smile. Courtesy will not always lend itself common. We will not always be considerate of your patriotic fragility, and until that day comes, and it is coming, I wonder what will to happen to us?
How much more human damage will you inflict? Who amongst us, which of our kin’s breath will you squander in the name of blind justice. What inhumane response will you have for my sudden demise, and will this be what you had in mind?
I struggled for days to find these words. The grief of more funeral announcements before 18th birthdays enveloped me. The sorrow we must embrace has a way of taking its time ― slow and stubborn like the elderly, and it will leave when it is ready and not a moment sooner. Being black and male, I am not obliged to share such admissions either, but necessity is the mother of invention, so here I am confessing my heart about America, the beautiful (although this country has shown me it is far more brave than it is beautiful).
Beautiful is a tall Sycamore tree aging gracefully. Brave is hanging a rope around that Sycamore tree, tying said rope around a human being’s neck—a black neck of course, maybe a father, maybe a mother, possibly even a child— and the town gathers to watch that tree weaponized, for no other reason than to demonstrate America’s bravado. Too often I feel like living proof, an animate symbol, of how big and bad you are, but you’re too stubborn to admit your abusive nature.
You are too privileged to know death like we do, too beguiled to know what it’s like to see yourself age with haste, not at the mystery of disease, but at the recognizable hands of man. What you traditionally revere, black folks fear, and for this country to be so arrogantly brave that it chooses symbols over life is a suffocating pressure. I am surrounded by faithful soldiers who will do anything for their country, including perjury and murder, in the name of convention. But how strong is a nation if you must lay down your morality in order to stand up for your country?
So far, I have managed to outrun your reckless behavior, but what can I expect the moment I am short on breath, or my mind is too heavy, or my body does not feel like hurdling your discrimination? Before my last breath is pinned into syndication on every media channel and device, America, I want you to know I am terrified of you.
It did not take Philando or Charleena or Kouren to make me this way either. I want you to know I possess the same fear my mother had, the same fear her mother had, and our mothers and fathers before them. This very large anguish flowering in me has roots that stretch back to your mother and father, and their mothers and fathers before them.
I realize that does not make sense to you, not the way you see yourself or the stock you come from. It is highly possible you believe that I am the gatekeeper of terror, or that my stock has a proclivity for danger. However, the significant difference between your fear and mine is that yours was made up to appear real, and mine has always been very real.
You should stop confusing my ability to exist within fear, with it not being present. Being able to appear civil under distress is a learned behavior I often wish black folks could dismiss, because maybe then you would take our pain seriously. Consider the black woman who served a white man who owned her by law, who as a result of his deed, made it his right to rape her, and when a child was born from this assault, she still had to be an obedient and faithful servant and a single mother raising a fatherless slave.
Consider the emotional and mental rewiring one must do to be civil in those circumstances, to act respectfully under criminal authority. Consider the evolution of this corrupt rule, wherein the case of Eric Garner: A man who breaks up a fight is subjected to harassment by the police and fatally reprimanded because he expresses his rightful frustration, because he in fact did not do anything and those empowered by the law decided to mess with him, to assault him and deny his right to breathe.
You cannot tell me any other group of people have exemplified humanity more than black folks. For centuries, we’ve been the only evidence of civility and empathy this world has, but your power was long enough to cast us as dark, shadowy figures looming with danger. In the same way, America called us dirty, or unkempt, and yet required and hired us to clean its houses and raise its children. Your system is flawed, hostile with contradictions and it has taken its toll.
Sometimes I am frightened by the manner in which I balance convention and chaos. I can only blame you, as your perspective, even today, configures my reality. I have dressed fear and paranoia into some kind of safe space, some ridiculous, but tolerable sense of normal. Freedom is not the solid ground I once believed I stood on. It is not something black folks possess, it is more so a place we can be put in or taken from. It can be snatched right from under us, contingent on where we are and whom we are with at that moment, and often not even proximity or relation matter.
Freedom in the life of black folks is volatile and erratic. My heart pains for Jordan Edwards and his brothers, because you did not allow them the freedom to get out of harm’s way. On the cusp of getting home safe, a shift in gears from day light, you threw a cloud of darkness that will live with those boys longer than their brother had the chance to. How difficult will it be for them to see any other memory with their blood brother other than their brother’s blood.
Patterns like this tragedy prove that you exaggerate your virtues of liberty and justice, but we see your truth. We know they are just cheap rugs thrown over crumbling floorboard. America you have never put the work in to ensure this foundation for all. My people have asked time and time again for someone to fix the problem, time and time again we have been told to wait; time and time again we have been told to fix it ourselves; time and time again our efforts have been ignored or thwarted, and time is not the consolation prize we have in mind. You told Tamir, Rekia and Korryn they had time and look what that got them.
America, how is it that you are guilty of countless crimes, but we are the ones serving the punishment? It feels like I am writing to you from some type of death row, not even to appeal to you in any way. I have given up on your justice, as it is just that, yours. It is unrealistic to convict an entire country; if it were possible it would have happened, but equality is not what you had in mind for your society.
It is clear you like things this way, and now that I understand your madness, I must tell you that your version of our reality will be no crown to me and my kin. We will no longer be pupils of fallacy. We will no longer attend the old wise tales of progress that are easily compromised.
At this moment, it is in your best interest to pay attention, because something is coming. It will not require a spiritual transcendence, or a man named Jesus. You will not get off that easy, but a transformation to the society you know and love is approaching. Despite your conditioning to brush over details and turn a blind eye when it comes to color lines, I want you to know your current path of choices will not end well for you.
You cannot make amends for the misfortunes you have supported and endorsed. Black folks will not accept your attempts at apology or peace and even when we seem understanding, that will be far from the truth. Morality and human decency are no longer up for debate and you will not be given the chance for resolve.
Dissension is inevitable, and that makes me wonder what will happen to us. This permission for violence against black folks will end, and for America as a whole, it will be jarring and disruptive. As I sit here thinking of your star spangled banner I am confronted with an unspoken rule: Death is the expectation of war, not amongst peace. It is becoming more and more difficult to show civility, to treat you, America, as if we are at peace, because all this blood and terror is applicable only to an enemy of the state. It is appropriate only in war, therefore you must see us as your adversary, and I can just imagine what will happen the day we open our eyes and see you in the same light.
America, I want you to know tomorrow is not promised.