I went to The National Museum of African American History and Culture. Going through all of those floors of my history as a Black American there stood a memorial. The portrait of Breonna Taylor.
The lighting, quietness and the amount of space it demanded was meant to slow you down and pay respects. As I took my turn in front of the portrait, several non-Black people moved in front of me took pictures of the portrait and left.
All the Black people in the room gave a great and simultaneous sigh. The curators of the NMAAHC museum did a memorial and what those museum goers did was just as egregious as if they did so at her actual funeral.
Breonna shouldn’t have been in that museum, and I say that with the upmost of grace and respect. She is renowned as an icon of circumstance and not the stance of her morale. She became a martyr of shared tragedy; another stolen life added to the list of lost potential. A tombstone built of ever materializing cement.
This is all in the wake of Amir Locke, who was also killed by police from a no-knock warrant; from the same police department that killed Daunte Wright last year and George Floyd prior to that. And no one cares.
The caring of Black people only matters to other Black people; because the caring of Black people has never stopped us from being killed. And so often Black people cannot stop ourselves from being killed no matter how much we may raise each other up. The most we have been admitted in this country is survive to the next day to survive again. But the thing about surviving is that one day your aptitude will reach its limit.
The Life of a Second Class Citizen
At 25, I think a lot about how police see me and the ways that they can offer be death; slowly or all at once. Since this decade especially I am perceived my most dangerous. With every Black person’s passing I can’t help but think if I am next. Because no amount of affluence or false sense of a good job can save me. My citizenry surely will not.
And if death where to become me at the hands of the state — by the arm that is meant to shield me from the dangers of the outside — I am not guaranteed a protest, only an added stat. Then the ones I love will be left to carry the burden on their own.
A burden that will continue to manifest itself in all the ways it can, rounding out itself in an Americana version of caste, second-class citizenry.
This caste — worn by the skin — is a stain only whiteness can wipe away. A phenomenon greater than passing judgment. While passing judgement is irrational, this caste works in a way that verifies the judgement itself. Both a label and an explanation for systemic oppression that the state has created and feign ignorance for its existence.
This creation has worked so well that the country has developed an apathy for the death of Black folk. As a second-class citizen your status is to be beneath otherwise causing a threat to the entire system. So when violence, incarceration, low education and death happens, it is looked at as what is supposed to happen because the system designed it to be that way.
There is no need for surprise for what is planned.
There is something that I suppose I’ve always known but didn’t want to face. As a younger person I was very optimistic. I thought that what was happening to Black people was only perpetrated by individuals and only in the most heinous ways, ways that only resulted in death. Then I got older, and these concrete definitions started to loosen until they crumbled. My thoughts around how death can manifest and how the country will remind of it started to mature.
Pessimism started to take hold of me. Until I realized that maybe this is the sanest way to live as a Black person in America, a Black person in world. This stopped me from spiraling every time a Black person was killed for being Black. I didn’t take as much time trying to figure out an answer to madness. The root was always the Blackness. No amount of difference in scenarios or correct language or being less Black could have saved these people from death. The fact was that the opposition wanted them dead, and they obliged them.
This is not to say that I maneuver without joy. My tradition doesn’t allow itself for that. To go through the limited life that I have without out it would make me die of other reasons. But I do know now that when bad things happen to me or my people that the answer is clear.
Clear enough to know that as a Black person life is not meant to be lived but survived. That your sentience is in servitude to the continuation of life to the oppressor. It was built that way.
To be a part of this tradition as Black folk is one of birth right. No matter how unfortunate it maybe the sense of struggle will never be something that we can escape no matter how much you try and whether you feel it or not.
The soul of America was birthed out of the hatred of Black people and there will never be a time where the country that created this sect of the diaspora will not. It cannot survive in its current iteration without it.
The apathy around Black death is a symptom of a deep lack of morality. And in that, whiteness is irredeemable.
I am specific in saying that it’s whiteness as opposed to white people that is irredeemable. Individual white people of course can be as much of an ally to the plight of blackness as they want.
However individualism is moot. And the encompassing nature of whiteness is so great that even if every white person where to break in the direction of reparative justice the system that is built will still be at play. The burden of caring is a great one to bare. We have seen what it does to a bevy of generations of Black folk that in waves we have seen apathy to our own mortality. A white person who decides to take up this burden quickly sees the might and most chose to drop it or never pick it up to begin with.
To be apathetic to death is to deny the humanity of the being to which it is happening. The more of us that die the greater this phenomenon grows and what we will have left is a cavity of a nation. Hallow, brittle and standing for nothing.