I remember in church on Sunday the preacher asked the congregation “how long?” The congregation responded with “not long?” This was in reference to when Jesus is coming back. What I did not understand, at the time, was that Jesus is not coming back. As evidence, every time an act of terror occurs at the hands of the white terrorist. They use some preacher, the victim’s family or the NAACP asks black people to be calm in the face of police brutality or racial terror. They will shoot a black man down like a dog, and they will rise Dr. King up from the grave and remind us to be nonviolent. STOP IT!
I feel being black in America, from 1619 until today, has always required a painful level of pretending for the sake of survival. When black are merely targets for racist white people. In the face of slave ships, auction blocks, and the slaver’s whip, speaking your mind was never a sincere option. Even tears had to be hidden if they made those who claimed to own you uncomfortable. The Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War did little to change this.
From 1865 until the Civil Rights Movement, speaking your mind openly while black in America could get you killed. The whip of slavery was crafted into the noose of Jim Crow. Racial terror across this country took more lives than 9/11, Oklahoma City and Orlando combined as over 4,000 black men, women and children were brutally murdered not as justice, but as intimidation from white supremacists hell-bent on shaping this country in their own image.
The years 1891-1895 were five of the deadliest years of lynching in the history of this country. Yes, to be black in America is to know the sweet and docile Negro that Langston Hughes spoke of, but his poems were less about masks and more about articulating the pain, angst, and fury hidden beneath them.
We love Malcolm X because he, perhaps more than anyone since Nat Turner in 1831, refused to wear the mask. His bold honesty about racism in America shocked the hell out of this country and tapped not only into the pain and frustration of being black in America but also the pride and power. It was his boldness, in many ways, that sparked the Black Power Movement and the Black Panthers in the generation that followed.
This generation that we are in right now, at this very moment, wears the mask less than it has ever been worn before. After 250 years of slavery and 150 years of oppression and racial terror, black folk has had enough. On Wednesday, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards called for calm in the wake of the investigation into the death of 37-year-old Alton Sterling by Baton Rouge Police. I say to you black folks have bought that line before. We’ve been calm for 400 years.
America and its leaders, cannot, in good faith, continue asking black people to be calm without providing the corresponding justice that our calmness deserves. We’ve made this trade before. In 1955, when Emmett Till was lynched, we provided the calm that you called for. Men who openly admitted that they kidnapped Till weren’t convicted, and every single person went free.
We were calm in 1991 when the horrors of police brutality were on full display before the world. Rodney King was beaten, almost to death, by the LAPD, with batons and kicks all over his body. We calmly waited for a conviction. Surely, with the video, it would come, but it never came.
We were calm as we waited for a conviction of George Zimmerman. A teenager should be able to walk in his own neighborhood with Skittles and an Arizona Iced Tea without being profiled and chased by an armed stranger. Zimmerman was set free and has rubbed it in our faces every day since.
What did calmness bring to the families of Tamir Rice or John Crawford or Rekia Boyd? What did calmness bring to the families of Natasha McKenna, Ramarley Graham, or Kendrec McDade? In each of those cases and thousands like them, American police have brutally killed unarmed African-Americans without consequence.
Law and Order Theme!
Now, 2016 is on pace to have more people killed by American police than any year ever measured in the history of this country. It’s at a point, and this is not a threat, but a sincere observation of my own emotions and that of hundreds of my friends, family members and colleagues – in the words of Fannie Lou Hamer, “We are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
Did you see the video of Alton Sterling’s teenage son crying over the murder of his father? The pain in his cries cut deep into my soul. I’ve had enough. It must stop. These aren’t hashtags being killed. These are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters. We hear a lot about how Muslims are being radicalized to hate America, but I think it’s time that America accepts that it is radicalizing millions of African-Americans to a point of boiling rage.
Black men represent less than 10% of all Americans but over 40% of unarmed people killed by American police. Unarmed African-American men and boys are an astounding 700% more likely to be shot and killed by police than unarmed white men. In fact, unarmed black men and boys are killed at almost the same rate by police as armed white men. Again, these stats have corresponding names and families.
Moving forward, I will not be advocating calm. None of us should be calm. Calm in response to terror, particularly when that terror is not being dutifully addressed, is irrational. In fact, I am patently suspicious when a country that consistently deals with its threats with an iron fist then asks one particular community to continue taking police brutality and racial terror on the chin.
Stop asking us to be calm. Stop asking us to wear the mask. Stop asking us to take whips, nooses and now police bullets without emotion. We are human beings, and we have had enough. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…