It was the 5th of July – the night after America’s Independence Day – when I saw the video of Alton Sterling’s murder. A friend sent me a message at 11:30 PM. I saw the message and was preoccupied with something else so I didn’t pay it any attention. It wasn’t until 1:30 AM that I became curious.
Who is Alton Sterling?
2:00 AM – two and a half hours later I saw the video. I would like to tell you that my heart broke. That would be a lie – my heart has been broken and I had forgotten. I texted my friend that originally brought it to my attention. “I don’t know what to say anymore.” I was speechless. With tears making my eyes burn and rage making my hands shake, I attempted to go to sleep. I failed. I knew I would be up all night wrestling with my emotions. Where can we go to be free? To be safe? So I started reading comments to see what people were feeling. I saw one comment that said “[they] couldn’t unsee what they just saw and no one else would either”. They were right.
We shouldn’t have to unsee anything.
But even if I could unsee it, I would choose to see it. I wouldn’t look away and I wouldn’t turn my back. I need to feel everything – the initial response that makes my eyes tear and my heart drop like an anchor in the ocean. The fear. The rage. The adrenaline. The need to do something – anything. I need that. Now, more than ever, I am realizing that every day we are at war. Every time a black man is found in a pool of his own blood at the hands of a police officer, I am reminded that this war is very real. And our enemy is not here to lose.
A study of human history will show that the way a nation lives in times of peace are different than the way they live in times of war.
“But all our phrasing—race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy—serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economics, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.”
There is a violence that we all feel. Every time we watch a video of a man or woman being riddled with bullets or thrown to the concrete. As soon as a man is killed we feel its weight on us. We can’t escape it. We are forced to walk around pretending that we don’t know that we are being held captive. Pretending that we are free – that if we keep our hair cut or straight, or keep our tattoos covered that what happened to them won’t happen to us. As long as we follow the rules. But we know.
It could have been us. The violence is no respecter of person.
But we submit to it. We give in and hope that the violence is appeased by our sacrifice. We wear the clothes they tell us to
and we style our hair to fit in. We listen to their music and watch their movies. We accept their standards as our own. And we hate it. Because we know in the end this still won’t save us. But they tell us that we are different – they convince us that we are respectable. We believe them. We get comfortable. But we still have moments where we question – we are waking up. But certain oppression is better than an uncertain death.
So we go back to sleep.
And so we are forced to a life of unseeing – of memory erasure. If you forget it happened maybe it didn’t. We become co-conspirators in a long con. For this reason, It is important that we engage the pain. It’s uncomfortable. It hurts. It’s horrifying. And we need to see it. We need to feel it. War has been declared and it shouldn’t take moments like these to wake us up.
We must never forget what we are fighting for. We experience the attacks in our bodies but there is also a battle for our minds, our wills and our emotions. Our very souls hang in the balance. The very essence of our being. And the fact that so many of us don’t realize that we are in the trenches is proof of who is actually winning this war.
But it is not over.
While some have been taken from us – faces we have seen and some we have not – We are still here. Despite the senseless violence we can give meanings to these deaths. Their death doesn’t have to be in vain. Although, it is not their deaths that should inspire us. It’s their lives and the lives they leave behind that should spur us into action.
What is that action?
I don’t have all the answers. But I believe that if we begin to use our voices in whatever form that takes we can move our communities in the right direction. The solutions that we are searching for are within each and every one of us. If you are reading this you need to know that everything you need to impact your community, your city, your world is already on the inside of you. As we uncover our individual purposes collectively we become stronger. We become whole.
We need all of you. YOU ARE THE ANSWER.
To the fallen, too many to name here, Rest In Power. In your memory, we do battle. And we will win or we will die trying.
It’s a great time to be alive.