Black mothers everywhere collectively heard their own children cry out for them when they heard George Floyd call out for his deceased mother just before he took his last breath. Knowing his mother died two years before his own brutal death, made us think that George Floyd knew he was being murdered and on his way to see her. Or maybe he was calling out to all the mothers out there watching helplessly… for help. Help to breathe and continue living as a human being.
Due to the inhumane policing of Black bodies and behaviors, Black persons have repeatedly been traumatized by the violent visuals and data associated with living while Black. Via various media outlets, we ingest content that tell us the story, over and over again, that if we don’t perform the way the white gaze needs us to perform, the end result can be death. Death by knee, baton, fist, gun, aggressive van driving, and/or under mysterious circumstances after trumped up arrests. In the case of Ahmad Arbery, we have also seen death by a Neighborhood Watch force who had been empowered by law enforcement and fear based bias. In the case of Black women, medical professionals have long used us as medical experiments, or they disrespect us by not listening to us when we say we are in pain or need help. Then we die…because we received no help when we asked for it or they made no effort to treat us or listen to us and what we had to say about our own bodies. Due to these types of negligence by the medical providers and systems we are supposed to trust, we continue to see a rise in deaths of Black mothers and their children at disproportionate rates. And with COVID-19 , the pandemic that has paused the world in 2020, who is dying most frequently? Black people.
It’s no wonder that many Black people are mistrustful of receiving health treatment. We are getting the general message that if a Black person does not perform and look a certain way in certain communities, they are subject to death. And they may be blamed for their own deaths postmortem if they had made human mistakes or once behaved in a way that does not prove that they were the acceptable type of Black person. The type of Black person that the oppressive gaze of systemic racism determines can continue to live for they had proven themselves worthy. Sometimes even the “good and acceptable” Black folk die, though. Like Breonna Taylor, a 26 year old EMT that died in her own home in the middle of the night when law enforcement mistakenly went to the wrong address with a battering ram and started shooting and murdering without control or professionalism. Again, no justice and no consequences in that case.
We challenge that even if a Black person went on crime sprees daily before an encounter, should they really die without an opportunity to reform or prove their case? What about maybe even giving them a punishment that fits a crime. Does death have to be so casual and accepted for human mistakes made by a Black body? Is the Black body really that threatening? For those answering..”yes, yes it is…”, we ask you to really think about where the power to oppress and hurt really lies? Do most Black people have the power to casually kneel on someone else’s neck with their hands in their pocket and a smirk on their face until the person beneath them dies after begging for breath and their mama? And then face no consequences for said behavior that was caught on camera?
In the time of protests and outrage at disparities, we choose to notice the fire burning, but not what incited the flames. Blaming the incident and not the trauma that results. Renewal comes from an end so that a new beginning can arrive. We of the traumatized folk know that we cannot sustain this reality of performing happiness for others. We cannot perform the dance of making others think we are not a threat with false smiles and dances of complicity. We can no longer perform as a Black Sambo-“white America’s favorite popular image of blacks – a stupid, winning figure, drawling, wide-grinning, eager to serve, ever ready with a song and a step, nothing if not droll” (SAMBO The Rise & Demise of an American Jester. By Joseph Boskin. Illustrated. 252 pp. New York: Oxford University Press.)
We, Black people, deserve to feel safe enough to live happy and healthy lives. Without the complex trauma that plagues us, imagine the feats that we Black persons can accomplish. Already, despite the world we have become used to enduring, we still have #blackboyjoy and #blackgirlmagic and have been able to make huge strides. However, the resilience these challenges have built within our DNA cannot be relied upon to maintain our wellness when we keep getting hit with stories about our collective pain and suffering and the injustice that happens daily. We know #injustice is happening. It is being recorded again and agian. We witness it with our own eyes and then are told that we didn’t see what we thought we saw. We see it from the Karens and Beckys and people who tell us we don’t belong when we are barbequing at parks, at the pools with our children or trying to enter our own residences. We cannot be gaslit anymore. We know what happened and is happening. We are enraged about it. We demand change. We will change the narrative whether you want us to or not.