Contemplations in Black: The Fire Inside:
Written by Gregory Johnson on June 3, 2020
I am mentally exhausted. I am angry. I see the protests. I see all the civil rights groups rhetoric….. I hear the politicians. I see the other man showing “support”. Part of me is like yes!! all good! but another part – a big part is like yeah. right. All of a sudden you stand with me? ok.
I wonder what does it all mean? Yes. Legislate. Yes. Vote. Yes. Protest. But its not just who occupies these political offices. Its not just the police. No. This burden is on the people. The everyman…. The everywoman. After all this country is built on “we, the people”, who held ” truths to be self evident, that all men (and women) are created equal.” We have long known that this foundational statement did not apply to black people. In fact, the consciousness of the framers were such that they did not even consider blacks as humans. The burden of this scourge is on the backs of everyday people.
And so as we travel through history and see freedoms have been hard fought and won. Yet still, we hear the rhetoric from the nation’s leadership. We see more and more murder at the hands of police. Murder at the hands of citizens. Blatant challenges to our just being. People calling the police because they dont think we belong in a space. We see black men who have been sentenced to a lifetime in prison when they were innocent due to the testimaony of one who knows the system will believe them if they accuse a black person. The list goes on and on.
There are tens of thousands if not millions of everyday people, private citizens who hate our blackness. Who marginalize, who stereotype, who bring a tangible bias to our conversation, who hassle our every interaction. Even when they try to hide thier inner true sentiment, they will reveal this hatred and prejudice eventually. We see this almost daily. Yes laws and policies, but it is the individual. When you walk in an area and the vibe of hatred is palpable.. you see the body language… you see how that clerk talks to you. the reluctance to serve you in a restaurant. The micro aggressions. Security following you around in the store….. Those attitudes that you have learned all your life to ignore and let slide off your back. Yes. I am convinced that what we are seeing is an individual spiritual issue. A matter of personal character and value.
And so the world has taken to the streets to protest racism. Police abuse. But George Floyd isn’t the only incident. His murder is in fact, the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”….. The discord we are seeing is because we have seen time and time again, the death of a black man at the hard hand of the police. The murder of a black woman as a matter of mistaken identity. George…. Breonna Taylor, so many more especially in the last decade. Last year we were trying to come to terms with the death of Jean Botham, killed in his own apartment by a police officer who claimed she mistook his apartment for hers and thought him to be a threat. Walked in his apartment, saw a black man, shot and killed him. Armaud Arbery, out for a jog and white men gave chase because there were reports of burglaries in the area. So they took matters into thier own hands and chased this man, and shot him in the chest with a shotgun. A few years ago, 12 year old Tamir Rice, playing in the park with a toy gun, police rush the area, jumps out the car immeidately shooting the preteen “Shots fired, male down,” one of the officers in the car called across his radio. “Black male, maybe 20, black revolver, black handgun by him. Send E.M.S. this way, and a roadblock.” sigh… I vividly remember that my grandson who is Tamir’s same age heard the news and asked me “Papa, why would the police kill a kid who could be one of my friends?” I had no words…..
Yes. The litant is long. The black man has to have patience and tolerate the uncomfortable shifting of a white woman when you get on the elevator. Black man steps on the elevator and she clutches her purse or is visibly nervous. Not all the time, but most of the time. This is what we have to live with. You have to code switch or learn to blatantly ignore these behaviors even though you do see them and feel them and experience them. History has taught you how to ignore this hate.
You can be in the park having a family gathering and white folks will literally question why you are there. And if your answer isnt to their satisfaction they will call the police. You can be in the park bird watching and some random lady will call the police, put on crocodile tears and call 911, even telling you with impunty that she will call the cops and tell them she is being attacked. This is familiar tactic going back generations. How many have been lynched, incarcerated, murdered because some white woman told a lie that they were being attacked? Emmitt Till, the entire Tulsa Riot in 1921 took place because a white woman felt a black man had accosted her in the elevator.
I can go on and on but certainly these are real time examples of what black people are facing in this land called America. I can remember the time the local chapter of the prominent and influential Omega Psi Phi fraternity was having a gathering at the local wine bar in the East Village Arts District. There were probably 100 black people at the event. Lawyers, doctors, business people – standing around talking and enjoying wine. They were not loud nor ruly. White people in the area were taking video with thier phones and one of the neighbors even ridiculously asked if there was a ruckus going on. And wouldnt you know it, somebody called the police.
Now in order to maintain sanity, we have to swallow these events. We tell ourselves these are one-offs and that the rest of the world is just fine. We make excuses for the behavior even telling ourselves that we did not see what we saw or that they really didnt mean what they said. We anesthesize ourselves from the blatant hate. Yet, time and time again, these demonstrations of hate come across our consciusness.
And so the people are angry. Fed up. They have had enough. The young people, our children, nephews and nieces. They have seen the struggle and identified that it has fallen short. So now they have taken matters into thier own hands. And in the end, better police reforms may come to bear. Policies and laws will be put in place that set the stage for better policing. However, that still does not temper the basic human interaction that is founded in bias, hate and prejudice. That everyday situation between people founded in hate and hostility. And it is proven one hundred fold that this hate and hostility can be fatal whether its by the police or some nationalist who feel it is thier privilege to do so.
The Fire inside……