Two months ago, I stood in my kitchen struggling to find the words to discuss the death of Freddie Gray. Another unarmed black man killed at the hands of the police who, in a perfect society, should have and would have protected him. Baltimore is just 45 minutes from my home in Washington, DC and, on that particular day, I was prepared to question why these moments of aggression towards blacks continue to happen with only a sound bite response from our elected officials. Unfortunately, I wound up sidetracked and didn’t write about the death of Freddie Gray, but I will never forget the fear and sadness I felt when I sighed and noted, “It will happen again…I can wait until the next time.”
Next time, of course, arrived. This time in Charleston, South Carolina.
And I am a black woman struggling with what to say.
People finally seem willing to broach the topic of race. They once stood on the sidelines under the guise of “us v. them,” remaining blissfully colorblind. But now, so many are sidling up, wanting to discuss the issue. Even those who have been steadfast in their ignorance are finally willing to talk about pervasive racism. And you know what? I don’t want to talk. I want to cry. I want to fight back. I want to run away. I am a writer who has time and time and time again opened herself up to discuss race and the criticism that comes in response. I’m no longer done. I am undone.
In this great country of ours, we are told to pursue happiness but…your pursuit comes with a few stipulations.
Last week, I stared into space as South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley patted herself on the back for the grand gesture of agreeing that the Confederate Flag should be removed from the state capitol. I stared into space as she told the millions watching that South Carolina should be lauded for its advancements against racism but that there is still a way to go. I stared into space as tears pricked my eyes because it is 2015 and we live in this country that champions the idea of freedom. We applaud ourselves for being the most powerful nation in the world, and then we impose our ideals on other countries who we deem as lesser than to show them how it’s done.
Meanwhile from Missouri to Baltimore to Texas to Mississippi, 41.7 million African Americans are consistently showered with racist aggressions. We are told that we cannot wear hoodies, buy ice tea and skittles, listen to music in our cars, go to public pools, cheer at graduations.
In this great country of ours, we are told to pursue happiness, but hold up, black people. Not too fast. Your pursuit comes with a few stipulations.
The president is one who has finally found himself taking on the role of Healer in Chief as he attempts to grapple with the issue of race as a black man who has, himself, been the subject of racism. There he stood this past Friday, in the pulpit to deliver the eulogy during the funeral of South Carolina State Senator Clementa Pinckney, tired, as if he, like so many of us, could take no more. He finished with Amazing Grace both literally and figuratively.
I would love to come here with a conclusion to wrap up my thoughts, as that is what you are her for – to read something that will settle your anger (or perhaps your guilt). But, as I said, I am undone. I am still staring into space. I am questioning the pursuit of my own happiness and wondering if I am doing the right thing. I remain unsure of what to say. I remain in mourning, wondering what comes next. Mostly, I am tired of the news and of constantly being told that I, as a black person, am not enough. Or that I am to be feared or followed or doing this whole “life” thing wrong simply because of the color of my skin.
So, what comes next? How do we move forward? Are we going to have this conversation once again next week? Next month? And what happens after it has been acknowledged? These are the questions I wish I had answers for, but I do not.
This is where we are – undone.