Dear America: What does justice look like for black people in a land that never loved us? [Quartz]
Dear America, I fold.
As a black person in this country, I think it’s time to admit we’ve failed. For hundreds of years, black Americans have tried to prove our respectability, our desirability, and above all our humanity, but you continue to deny it all. We’ve tried to believe in your credo, we’ve tried to work harder, be smarter, but all it’s gotten us is double the unemployment rate and less wealth, income, and home ownership. We’ve followed your rules and played by your system, even though it disproportionately penalizes us. We’ve put our hands up. We’ve run. We’ve pleaded with you to breathe, and you’ve still let us die. We’ve tried to gain access to what you said was our American Dream, and it has failed us.
We didn’t want to believe the words that came out of your mouth. It’s only natural, I suppose, to attempt to block out the images—so much spilled blood. We hoped we were wrong. But now I get it. We aren’t like you. In your eyes, we are different. Bad. Angry. Demon-like. Aggressive. Times have changed, and technology in particular has made it easier for us to see what’s happening to us. Unfortunately, what we see has just confirmed what many of us already know: You hate us. You fear us.
On Sept. 16, Terence Crutcher was shot and killed in the middle of a road in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Crutcher was on his way home from a music-appreciation class. He was unarmed. In video recorded by a police helicopter overhead, someone in the cockpit is heard remarking that Crutcher just “looks like a bad dude.” Because we all look scary to you, apparently. Black bodies continue to elicit fear and hatred in ways that others don’t. I wonder what makes our bodies so frightening and deserving of bullets while alleged terrorists like Ahmad Khan Rahami still live and (white) mass murderers like Dylann Roof deserve Burger King.
I’ve tried to think better of you, America. Except now I’m convinced we’re always going to be seen as bad dudes, a designation that has remained unchanged for centuries. Last week I read about a 13-year-old black boy with a BB gun who was killed in Ohio. Last week it was Crutcher, and this week it was Keith Lamont Scott in North Carolina. Scott, some people will be quick to point out, allegedly had a gun. In this land of the free, our rights to gun ownership are sacrosanct—except it appears, when you’re black.
We’ve tried to question your system. We’ve tried peaceful protests. We’ve tried to make you listen. But when we protest your system the way our founding fathers taught us to protest, you tell us this is not the time or the place. You trash us, call us nigger, threaten our lives.
I admire those who have the energy to keep going, who keep the fight alive. They do so in the tradition of ancestors stronger than I. They do so with a spirit not broken like mine. I freely admit my activism hasn’t been on the frontline. I am tired—tired of the words, tired of the hate, tired of the constant pleas for respect from a country that has always seen us as three-fifths of a whole.
And so, as black people, maybe it’s time for us to admit our defeat.
We have failed in America. But really, it’s America that has failed us. It’s seems increasingly clear that the divide may not be reconcilable. We have tried peaceful protests and violent ones. Heck, we’ve even tried the presidency, and it feels like things are getting worse, not better. Sure, there’s been some progress. We’re not the country we were in 1960. My home-owning, college-educated self is evidence of that. But we also aren’t the country we should be in 2016. Today, hate seems to seethe from every sector of society. Hate is knocking on the door of the White House, and our first black president hasn’t even vacated the premises yet. Change was a façade; hope a dream. Let’s start operating in reality—a reality that we live in a land that doesn’t care about our lives.
America, you bastard. You are an idea, a system that we now see was always built on deception, theft, destruction, violence, slavery, and rape. You tout supremacy and exceptionalism, but your embrace of privilege, patriarchy, and whiteness proves otherwise. It proves you’re no better than the rest.
I’ve asked for conversations. I’ve wondered here in my writing at Quartz if us black folk should just leave—should seek out a better life elsewhere. But where should we go? This is our home. As Michelle Obama so eloquently pointed out, we built this land.
I admit that this experiment called America was a good one: “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” I know the history, read your Declarations and Constitutions. But then we let racism, prejudice, inequality, and greed prevail. Justice can’t be served, not because it’s unattainable, but because you make it unfeasible. I’ve stopped asking for your acceptance, your approval, and your idea of my humanity. I don’t want to write any more hashtags. I don’t want see any more bodies lying dead or dying on our cities‘ streets.
The police officer in Tulsa who murdered Crutcher was just chargedwith manslaughter. Given the history of the criminal-justice system, I doubt she will be convicted. Even if she is, her conviction is unlikely to placate us. It won’t make up for all the blood that is being shed in our communities. Charlotte remains on edge as rage continues to flow through its streets—but how long can our blood pulse and tempers flare? My people are strong. We’ve been fighting for freedom since we got here, but we are also weary and need to change tactics.
Now the question is: What’s next? What do black folk want from America? What does justice actually look like for us in a land that never loved us?