James Baldwin said, “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” For many, there might be a fit of new anger that came with the viewing of the Ahmaud Arbery tape, but for black people, it’s been anger that has been sitting there for as long as we can remember. From early on, I can remember being treated differently and called names because of my race and realizing that the burden of being black means having to do twice as much and even then needing a miracle. It means walking by and hearing doors lock, purses being clutched, and hearing slurs under someone’s breath. So, people have to excuse us if we seem aggrieved because we are. We are tired of not being heard, being ignored, and even being scoffed at when we try to get the dignity owed to us.
My great-great-grandfather was born a slave and my grandparents had to endure segregation in the South, and my parents had to deal with inequality and prejudices, so this story is as old as the republic but as new as the day. It is intertwined with the DNA of this nation. The sad part is that there is nothing we can do to change the fact that our nation was built on the backs of slaves, but what we can control is how their descendants are treated.
For 400 years on this continent, we have gotten the issue of race wrong constantly, whether it was taking land from Native Americans or bringing black bodies over in boats. Bodies that were seen as just cargo (but were kings and queens) were brought from a proud land only to become a stranger in a strange land. They were deemed as disposable, thrown overboard to be eaten by sharks, chained together like cattle with no space to even move. For the next 250 years that tradition continued as black bodies were made to work for free, to build a country that never gave them anything in return…only to have people ask their descendants to get over it centuries later. Even after slavery, these bodies have had to endure lynchings, Jim Crow, the Klan, and police brutality. Sadly, what we saw this week on that tape doesn’t break from that tradition.
The reason I’ve stressed black bodies, is that for all of our time in the United States, that is all we’ve been seen as. That is all Ahmaud Arbery, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, and all the too many we have lost were seen as. But we are so much more than that. Society refuses to accept that in those black bodies have been the hopes, the dreams, the talents, the futures of millions of people who have endured so much. Never considered are the possibilities that are snuffed out every time a black person is killed as a result of hatred.
Even through all of this, I have faith the day we dream of will come. I think of my ancestors and how they held onto faith even when many of them never experienced a second of freedom in their lives. Think about that, they believed there would be a better day even when they were born into captivity and left not even owning their bodies. They believed better would come, even if it was not in their lifetime. The Bible says in Hebrews 11:1 that “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” I have to keep that hope because if I don’t then hatred will win. I must do it for my own sanity.
The love I have for my community has fueled this fight, but I also fight because it’s a just and worthy cause. The sooner America can see it is not only on black people to fight, the better this nation will be. If you only see this as an African American struggle, you are still viewing it through the lens that sees us as the other. You have to realize that as Dr. King said: “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” The longer we delay justice the longer the albatross of injustice lays around the neck of our nation.
We will push so that Ahmaud Arbery, Arthur McDuffie, James Byrd Jr., Carol Jenkins, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Philando Castille, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Walter Scott, Botham Jean, Eric Garner, Atatiana Jefferson, and Sean Reed did not die in vain. We struggle so that Martin’s, Malcolm’s, Barbara’s, and Sojourner’s words don’t hit the ground. We will fight for the voices of the unheard, those who never felt freedom until they hit the grave. We will fight for a better future, and in that, start a new tradition.