Death is inevitable. Insofar that most elders welcome and speak to it well before it is their time. But death is to assume that one will die of natural causes, or old age as we say, that it may greet you. That you would be so lucky to slowly drift into the next plane, painless and at peace.
I would like to think that most people encounter death this way in some form. Then I think of my own people. Black people. I don’t think that many of us get that luxury, to see old age. Death — a lot of the time — is forcibly presented to someone.
Obviously there have been plenty of old Black people. How else would we know how to cook our traditions, speak our history and mind the people that came before us. Yet seeing old age is only the half of it. What is life’s journey if you are depleted before you even get to the end.
And that fatigue may not be from your direct experience; but a collective one because how often do we imagine ourselves in the shoes of others that look like us. Because that truth is enduring where trying to live is a constant effort and sometimes people just might give up. All the same alive but joyous about the life, no.
Breonna Taylor was murdered in her home whilst asleep last year. Everything was said to justify murdering someone in their sleep. I couldn’t help but to think of Fred Hampton — who again — was a Black American being murder in their sleep by the state.
In April Derrick Chauvin was found guilty of the murder of George Floyd. His death was just two months after Taylor’s. Hours after the conviction Nancy Pelosi spoke saying “thank you George Floyd for sacrificing your life for justice.”
In a situation such as this, I would assume, that Pelosi spoke the best she could. But her best wasn’t enough. This statement shows the assumption of the role Black people play in America. That as Black people, our country looks at us as a monolith. Not as a monolith of thought but as a monolith of purpose.
And what a sad way to live.
To have the burden of a martyr pushed on you at birth. Martyrdom by itself is fine, if you so choose; and there is the key, choice. To be a martyr you have to actively choose a cause and then be willing to die for it if that situation presents itself. But what is that to say about a Black persons life if it is engulfed in dying on behalf of your entire ethnicity?
It is not a reflection of Black people, but of how are lives are seen. It is not a compliment. In fact it is a self-incrimination of the United States. It proves that the country is aware of the status of Black people and there is no one else to blame for the history of predicaments of Black peoples but the country.
So many of us have died for the continued hope of liberation of Black people. And when another Black person dies unjustly, it is framed as if they intended to do so; because it is so common that a Black life would end in injustice. So much so that to curb the intensity of injustice people will ignore 246 years of our lives in this country. Starting the morals of America post-bellum. For two and a half centuries every death of a Black person was an unjust one.
This is to say the collective life of Black people has only been available for 156 years, and the quality of it has been poor and subhuman.
If you are white in this country, you have the liberty to do things that serve your best interest. The only extra concern outside of yourself is extended to your family, sometimes. None of your actions are seen as a reflection of the rest of your perceived race.
Black people do not have that luxury. And that basic luxury has been stripped so much so it has hard for many of us to be singular in our own selves.
The Black American life starts and ends with death.
So often does a Black person become aware of the significance of their given race by way of death of another person because of what they share in common. From that point onward it is a survivors game to live while Black. And so often do we perish because of our assigned race. The luckiest of us get to see the end of life. But even then, at what cost?
What is the cost of life if we barter — or better yet taxed — exhaustion, human freedoms and dignity?
In the case of Black Americans, it is inextricably cheap and only held with value when in comparison with shackled imprisonment.