I recognize that the title of this article makes the assumption that everyone cares about Black lives in this nation. It is evident, based on countless examples throughout history (past, present and of course the near future) that an ethic of care towards Black lives is somewhat of a miracle, since it rarely happens. I have struggled in my own life with the coy ways that white liberals reach out to me with questions about how best to support “the cause.” These same white liberals also turn their heads when you share a petition to support the arrest of the officers who murdered Breonna Taylor, or share a “crying” reaction emoji on Facebook when you post an article that yet another Black child has been murdered.
I remember when I discovered that Tamir Rice, a 12-year old Black boy in Cleveland, Ohio who was playing across the street from his house was murdered within seconds in broad daylight by police. The rationale: He had a toy gun in his hand, which of course the media narrative became: well why was he playing with a toy gun? When Tamir Rice was murdered on November 22, 2014, I was pregnant with my son. At the time, I did not know I was having a boy, however, I sensed something within my womb and in my soul that I could not name. My heart ached for his mother, Samaria Rice, whose eyes pierced my consciousness, forcing me to ask myself the question: What will you do in your own life to ensure that another Black boy does not die at the hands of police before experiencing puberty?
I have never gotten over the death of Tamir Rice, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Aiyana Stanley-Jones, Roxanne Moore, Jordan Davis, Korryn Gaines, etc. There is always an etc. in this nation when it comes to the murder of Black lives. As a result, my attachment to the United States is liminal, fleeting even at times, as I struggle with the very notion that I have to assert that my life and the lives of my children, my partner, my family and friends matter. There is no humanity in that assertion. Rather, it is a reminder of the perpetual need for Black folx to assert that, “I too, am America.” And it is no secret that the hands of Black and Indigenous folx built this country from the ground up, tilling the land and picking the cotton. Raising white people’s children while our own were sold into slavery. Navigating Jim Crow, segregation, “integration” and now the New Jim Crow. It is all too much to fathom sometimes, yet still, race work is not meant to be a comfortable spa day. It is an ongoing race (pun intended). A marathon of the soul and a stretching of the mind and imagination. We have to reimagine that something new can exist that would not privilege a building more than it privileges Black lives.
When the insurrection at the Capitol (I struggle with the capital C here since liberation has never been free for Black folx in the USA and the laws uphold that) occurred on January 6, 2021, I was preparing for a meeting with two white colleagues. As I watched the looters storm into the building, I could not help but think: someone let them in. How else could they get so close to the entrance? And based on facts, we know that when Black Lives Matter protestors went to the Capitol, there was an entire army guarding this sacred building. I realized then that the Capitol building is just as oppressive in stature as the confederate statues that have been taken down by committed activists. I continued with my meeting, beginning with some reactions to what was occurring. I could not express my rage in that moment as I was in mixed company, a feeling all too real for Black folx. Mixed company illuminates scholar W.E.B. Du Bois’ double-consciousness theory: the concept that there is an alternative consciousness among Black folx, specifically when in the presence of whites that assumes caution before liberation. It is not an intentional action. In fact, I would argue it is a tool of professional survival for many Black folx, myself included.
Now to be clear, I do not agree with what happened at the capitol (intentional lowercase c), however, I also know that measures will be taken moving forward to protect this building and the people who have access to it. I cannot say, however, that the same will happen for the protection of Black lives in the United States and for that reason, my rage towards the events at the capitol is significantly underwhelming. I want Black, Brown and Indigenous people to do more than survive, but before that happens, we have to actually survive. We have to live. How will we protect our lives when state buildings and confederate statues that were conceived with hate and built with the profits of slavery, hold more relevance in the United States than our dead bodies lying upon Ferguson streets for all to witness?
As a Black woman who is raising Black children and partnered with a Black man, my allegiance to the capitol is nonexistent. Until police stop killing us and Black children can play freely, my heart is with the survival of all Black people who may be poor, working class, trans, disabled, mis-educated, under-appreciated, oppressed through unfair policies embedded in the law or those who are murdered on the very street they live on and charged by the state for the ambulance.
In James Baldwin’s essay How to Cool It (1968) published in Esquire, after the murder of Dr. King, Baldwin professes that Black folx cannot cool it because, “we are the ones who are dying the fastest.” 52 years later and this statement rings true. My heart is in solidarity with all Black lives that hang in limbo in the land of the “free” daily. My liberation is wrapped up in yours; however, yours is not necessarily wrapped up in mine. And for that reason alone, I cannot worry about what was stolen from the capitol in comparison to what was stolen from my ancestors, from my parents, from me…
As a way to honor the short life of Tamir Rice, I am sharing a poem that I wrote a couple of years after he died in 2016. I have never shared this publicly before. Here you go… Title: Imaginations Are for White Folks. #BlackLivesMatter
Imaginations Are for White Folk
Reconstructed pieces of Emmett Till
Wrapped itself tautly around the
Badged noose, purchased by the state.
Because 12 years old is old enough for Black boys to be
Perceived as threats.
And toy guns are only for suburban baby miracles.
You could see Emmett’s eyes in his own
As if 1955 swallowed 2014 whole.
“Tamir, you are with me now” he said calmly. And like that,
Black boys gone.
And when they’re gone (the boys) Blue monsters tell stories of
being afraid. Although an entire system
Pays for whatever Black body vacations they may need.
It only took two seconds for Blue royalty
To take Tamir. In a flash (even shorter).
Wearing a hoodie, a pair of jeans and sneakers, he was
Even first aid was too much to administer to a 12 year old.
CPR would mean mouth-to-mouth;
And well, maybe Emmett’s voice can be heard by Blue monsters
In Black mouths.
After his mama buried her son, the state charged her
For an ambulance that came too late.
The only indictment that occurred from beginning to end was:
“Why was he playing with a gun?” They said.
“He caused his own death.” They said.
And they wonder why Black boys rather play with luck
© Crystal Belle 2020