I hadn’t even begun processing what had happened to Alton Sterling before I learned about Philando Castile. There are videos for both men. Videos that are fully accessible, that sometimes play when you don’t want them to. Videos that could easily be seen by children. Videos that could easily be seen by my children. Videos of black men’s lives being snuffed out way before their time. And there are other videos of grieving children, mothers, and girlfriends. Their anguish and tears plastered on the internet for all to see.
It’s traumatic. I can’t escape that word. It is pure trauma to have a murder replayed over and over again. It is traumatic to watch the last breaths of a man whose chest is covered in blood. It is traumatic to watch people grieve a loved one, knowing that the death was senseless. It is traumatic in a way that triggers the remembrance of all the slain and all the grieving that have come before.
It is traumatic to watch those sworn to serve and to protect take life so callously, not because they are endangered, but because they are afraid. They do it because they know they can get away with it with a couple of weeks of paid leave and a strong reprimand. They know they have a union behind them and the “blue lives matter” crowd. So they act out their own traumatization at the expense of others. It is traumatic to know that in some ways the system is working exactly as it was designed to work.
My therapist and I discuss trauma often. She believes the whole nation is traumatized. I believe that. How can a country born out of violence, slavery, and genocide be anything but. Yet and still, there is a special trauma in being black in this moment in history. We’re daily reminded that there is no level or respectability, no level of achievement, no level of excellence that we can achieve that will shield us from white anger, fear, and prejudice. From the convenience store to the Oval Office, we bear the emotional scars of centuries of dehumanization.
What is the most traumatic aspect of abuse? Is it the feeling of powerlessness against your abuser? Knowing that this pattern can continue unchecked because the system will exonerate the abusers? Is it knowing that the only way to feel powerful again is to hurt those with even less power than you and thus becoming a part of the system yourself? Is it the revictimization that happens when the character of the abused is made a subject of critique? How long did it take to dig up Alton Sterling’s criminal record? Hours? Minutes?
I feel hopeless. I’ve watched in Baltimore as the system has ostensibly has stated that Freddie Gray was murdered but by no one in particular. I don’t feel like justice can served when the servants of justice are more concerned with maintaining the system than protecting the people.
I’m tired. I’m emotionally exhausted. People actively hate me. People actively hate my children. People with power actively work to eliminate people who look like me. The system is at war with me. It doesn’t matter how white my associations are. If I speak too loudly of my trauma than I am playing the race card or just flat out whining. If I don’t speak out I’m a sellout, but more importantly, I’m letting the anger build and fester in unhealthy ways.
Part of my own therapeutic has been distancing myself from my abusers. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them. It means that I can’t live in a constant state of reliving my abuse in my body and in my spirit. Think of this, Christian friends, when you wonder why people of color don’t come to your churches. Think of this, when you are wondering why your friends cherish their homogenous spaces. It’s not stand-offishness, it’s security. There truly is a part of me that just wants to walk away from it all. I’m no longer interested in comforting white people or making them feel safe around me. What are you doing to make me feel safe around you?
I’m angry. All I have as a weapon is a blog. If you are reading this, I want you to know that I am at my wit’s end. I don’t know how to raise my kids in this evil world. I don’t know how to extinguish the light of joy in their eyes and replace it with the cold reality that their father has passed on a curse to them, the beautiful curse of blackness. I want them to love themselves, to think of their lives as special and unique, to recognize the spark of the Divine in their own souls. But someday I will have to tell them that there are places in this world that see them not only as expendable but threatening. I hate this world for that. I hate that there are cities full of children receiving the message that they are a threat to the status quo that must either be contained or eliminated.
I’m so tired. My heart is so heavy. I will plant flowers for the nineteen people of color killed by police in July thus far (it’s the 7th). That will give me something to do. But it won’t change anything. I’m sorry that this isn’t going to end on a hopeful note. I’m not there. Not today. I’m sorry that this is disjointed. That’s where I am. I am traumatized.
Peace to the families of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling.