Unless you are black, you do not understand what it is like to be black. From being born in an environment that automatically assumes you are a criminal when you’re walking down the street with your hands in your pocket, to walking into a job interview knowing that your chances of getting the job is hindered by the color of your skin; this is the world they live in. The promise of the American dream is as far-fetched to the black community, as is winning the lottery for the rest of us.
Police brutality. Racism. Looters. Rioters. Peaceful marches. Black history. American History. Modern day slavery. Mass incarceration. Donald Trump. There has been 15 days of nation-wide demonstrations for demands of justice-system reform sparked by the killing of George Floyd. The officers involved have been arrested and awaiting chargers. Yet, everyday, there are more bodies willing to risk the health pandemic to protest in support of #BlackLivesMatter. Some might ask, why are people still on the streets if the officers have been charged? The answer is exhaustion.
How many people have to be wrongfully killed to shine a spotlight on the broken justice system in the country? The black community is exhausted: exhausted of defending their own bodies; exhausted of carrying the invisible burden of other people’s fear; exhausted of having to defend their own emotions to their fellow countrymen who imposed the experiences that led to those emotions. The rest of us are exhausted: exhausted from a health pandemic that forced us to socially distance ourselves from one another, exhausted from another death at the hands of deep rooted systemic racism, exhausted from the 24 hour news cycle that does nothing to our mental health except enhance anxiety and stress.
Everyone’s reasoning behind the exhaustion might differ, yet the emotions are the same because exhaustion is a human emotion. We carry the sadness of hate in our eyes, the heaviness of systemic racism in our hearts and the weight of the change on our shoulder. Some write about it, some talk about it, some try to ignore it, and still, the heaviness from the uncertainty and the uncontrollable looms large.
Austin Channing Brown describes reconciliation as “the pursuit of the impossible-an upside-down world where those who are powerful have relinquished that power to the margins…reimagining an entirely different way of being with one another.” I want to believe that these demonstrations today are a step towards reconciliation. However, as history has shown: systems of oppression are durable with the ability to reinvent themselves right under your nose. Regardless, we keep fighting. As Brown reminds us: “the march toward change has been grueling, but it is real. And all it has ever taken was the transformed- the people of color confronting past and present to imagine a new future, and the handful of white people willing to release indifference and join the struggle.”
Joining the struggle has its consequences. It means allowing ourselves to be troubled by injustice, to be provoked by anger when we witness another victim of the system whisper “I can’t breathe”, to have no tolerance of hate, no excuses for racist decisions and no contentment in the status quo. It requires being resilient, sacrificing comfort, taking action and choosing justice, every single day. Despite the uncomfortable truth of political influences on current day policies, we have to continue marching.
Only then can we keep hope alive for all those who are exhausted.
TED Talk: Baratunde Thurston – How to deconstruct racism, one headline at a time
Words spoken by Glenn E. Martin, in the film “13th: From Slave to Criminal with One Amendment”
I’m Still here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. Author: Austin Channing Brown