I can’t breathe. I can’t swim. I can’t walk on the sidewalk at night or down the street during the day. I can’t play outside with a toy gun or inside where they are sold, I can’t listen to music too loud and now, I can’t even pray. When did being black become the number one risk factor for violent death?
In the wake of the murder of 9 black churchgoers in Charleston, SC by a neo-Nazi, white supremacist terrorist, I wonder where it’s safe to be black anymore. Not outside of a convenience store selling loose cigarettes. Not at the swimming pool. Not on the sidewalk or the street in your own neighborhood. Not at a park or inside a Wal-Mart. Not at a gas station in your own car. And not at church for bible study.
The stipulations for being black in America require a study guide; one that is updated daily. According to society I must run fast, jump high, sing pretty, put my hands up, put my hands behind my back, sit down but never sit-in, stand up but never for what I believe in, lay down but never in protest, die but don’t die –in, and be quiet – all at the same time. The qualifications are so many that we’re not even sure who is black anymore, so much so that the most talked about black person leading up to the AME shooting, isn’t black at all.
It begs the question: What effect has racism and specifically, white supremacy, had on black identity? It’s difficult to maintain a positive identity when every aspect of your blackness is pathologized. Even as we refer to Dylann Roof and his violent assault on black lives that mattered, we immediately attribute his actions to his mental stability or lack thereof. Had he been Arab or Muslim? – Terrorist; Latino? – Illegal drug dealing alien; Hired gun? – Hero; and Black? – Most assuredly a thug bred in a culture of violence. When a white person commits a crime they are given the benefit of doubt and taken first to a hospital or to lunch before they are taken to jail. If you are black and committed NO crime other than being black, the chances of you making it to jail in one piece are diminished.
These are the effects of racism. Racism is what white supremacy looks like out loud. Racism is not a mental illness, and based on Dylann Roof’s clearly articulated manifesto, he is not insane – just good ole-fashioned confederate racist nurtured in a lifetime of white supremacy didactics. Those teachings have spread through societies like an infectious disease. White supremacy is a virus that has infected the black identity.
Viruses generally originate from a host which can infect a completely new host species, spreading the virus throughout diverse populations. The virus no longer needs its original host to thrive as it continues to evolve and mutate to manipulate resistance and defense mechanisms against it. Eventually it kills everything it infects until either an antibody is retrieved from the original host, the infected host develops a natural resistance, or an antibody is synthetically manufactured. White supremacy is like a virus, the host is generations of white, Jim Crow, freedom obstructionists of the confederacy, and it has infected the black identity.
In one of the worst weeks in recent memory for people of color, we saw white supremacy (read white privilege) that was so strong it afforded one woman the choice to be black; white supremacy in the form of racism that killed 9 innocent black people, and white supremacy in the form of internalized oppression in the Dominican Republic. The latter is the best example of how white supremacy has spread through the black diaspora like a virus, infecting black identity far downstream of its original host. Here we have black people – on the same island, deporting other black people – to the same island, for being too black. And it’s void of your traditional white, Jim Crow southerner host; yet this ethnic cleansing has white supremacy written all over it. Because white supremacy is a deeply seeded sickness that has spread, evolved, and mutated throughout history and it has infected black identity.
The only way to cure the infection is for those who benefit from white privilege (read white supremacy) to deconstruct a system that was never designed to work for people of color; for black people to unite to build a resistance that demands justice and equity; or for the system itself to acknowledge its fallibility and begin to take steps to right the wrongs. These are the available antibodies to fight white supremacy and while I don’t have all the answers, my guess is the solution is some combination of option one and two working together to force option three.
Until then, we must continue to seek small yet significant victories like the removal of the Confederate flag, remembering in the process however, not to ignore the atrocities carried out under the wave of the American flag. We have an obligation to our children and children’s children to continue to protest streets named after Confederate generals so that these hurtful symbols don’t linger to subliminally infect black identity, remembering in the process however, that black lives are lost everyday along every Martin Luther King Jr. Street in every ghetto in America. And #blacklivesmatter must not be just a moment in time, but a movement in history, remembering in the process however, that black lives cannot survive or thrive when divorced from black love; we cannot expect the rest of the world to value our very existence when we don’t first love ourselves and each other.
Racism and the black identity crisis are co-infections of white supremacy and they must cease to co-exist; our lives depend on it. In the meantime, I’ll continue to contemplate where it’s safe to pray anymore or where I’m allowed to be black. One thing’s for sure though: I won’t stop praying, and I won’t stop being unapologetically black.