The man who stands for nothing, will fall for anything -Malcolm XSong Inspiration: Don’t Don’t Do It! x N.E.R.D ft. Kendrick Lamar
It was November 7th, 2014. I was at a Walmart in my college town with one of my best friends. We decided to share a shopping cart because we didn’t think that we would grab a lot of items as a whole. Me being my typical self, grabbed way more than I had anticipated and as we headed for check-out realized that I had more items than the 20 or less lane was asking for ( I told y’all, I’m a
strict rule follower). So, we decided to unload her items first and that I would move to another lane. As we were unloading, a middle-aged white man who was in line behind us looked at us in disgust and proceeded to sigh extremely loud for everyone to hear. He abruptly moved to the other side of the lane to stand behind someone else. We ignored him and kept unloading our cart. He turned to us and said “You people have NO SHAME AT ALL do you?” At that point, my friend and I looked at each other in confusion because he couldn’t possibly have been talking to us. He then said, “You black bitches need to take your asses back to Detroit!” He claimed that we were probably going to pay with a bridge card and said that we were an inbred race and that we needed to take our asses back to Africa.
I was fully clothed, but never in my life had I felt so naked, so exposed. This man knew nothing about us. He didn’t know where we came from, or that I was going to school for or that I had friends and family that loved me. It didn’t matter. As we stood there and listened to this man spew out hateful words, it felt like an out of body experience. There were people around us, yet no one said a word, not even the cashiers. As I left the aisle to get help, my friend continued to argue with the man as he continued to yell out obscenities. I couldn’t find a manager anywhere. I remember in all of my panic, I just froze. I could hear him and my friend getting louder as he hurled threat after threat upon our lives. He used threatening words against us and was able to walk out of the store with ease, groceries in hand. I didn’t want to buy anything from the store, but I was too afraid to walk out into the parking lot knowing that he could still be out there and God only knows what he could’ve had in his car. My friend on the other hand, proceeded to follow him out of the store, making sure he knew she was not the one to play with (she is still this much of a bad ass). She came back into the store and claimed he was gone as she quickly put her switch blade back into her purse.
We stalled out in the store for a little longer before going out to my car. Once we got to the car, I tried to unlock my car, but my legs began to feel like jelly and I started to lose my balance. My friend caught me just as I began to fall and we stood there in the parking lot, in the rain holding each other up as we cried. I will never forget that day. That man got to go home and sleep peacefully, while spent the weeks after that up all night, crying. He took my peace of mind. I didn’t want to go out in public. I attended a PWI which didn’t make it any better. It felt like if a white person on campus, in my classroom, in the residence halls or the cafeteria even looked at me funny, I was going to throw hands. I was on the defense at all times. I was terrified. Would I ever feel safe enough to do normal activities like shopping? My sense of self, my sense of safety and my sense of peace was in shambles.
This is not a new concept for Black people. This is just one of thousands of examples of experiences that Black people go through on a daily basis. As we have continued to see, experiences like these can lead to untimely death. Since the Reconstruction Era (post slavery), my people have endured caricatures and stereotypes that have played into mainstream America’s conscience overtly and covertly. These portrayals served as means to justify our treatment as being less than, and as tools to deny us of our humanity, (see: Uncle Tom, Mammie, Sambo, Jezebel, the Brute and the Picaninny). While these outdated terms change to reflect certain times in history, the spirit of these caricatures remain and are embolden on the fabric of mainstream American society like irremovable stains.
These harmful stereotypes often led to mass hysteria in white American society which induced lynchings of thousands of Black people. It is estimated that over 4,000 Black people were lynched in the South between 1877 and 1950. These lynchings usually occurred outside of the judicial framework of due process and more along the lines of hearsay; however, there were always more unfortunate exceptions. In 1891, Joe Coe was lynched by over 1,000 people in Omaha, Nebraska for claims of assault by a 5 year old and her mother. Instead of due process, community members took matters into their own hands by breaking into the jail where Joe was held, and brought to the victims house to be identified. The mother refused to give sworn testimony that she did in fact know that it was Joe who had committed the crime. The vigilantes brought him back to the courthouse where they proceeded to beat and drag him through the city streets where they hung him from a street car wire at an intersection. There are a myriad of other cases that are similar to this over the course of American history.
The Civil Rights/Black Power Era’s were fueled by police misconduct/brutality against Black people among other major issues with such as housing and education inequalities, voter suppression and segregation. Take Bull Connor, who was the Commissioner of Public Safety for Birmingham, Alabama for almost three decades. He directed the use of fire hoses and police attack dogs against Civil Rights Activists-child protesters were subjected as well. Connor infamously allowed the The Freedom Riders to be viciously beaten by the KKK without police interference. He cited that there were no police officers available at the time because they were visiting their mothers for Mother’s Day. These are only a few examples of countless known and unknown cases of police brutality which has fueled major disdain and distrust for the legal system in the Black community.
Unfortunately, I don’t have to reach far back in history to explain that this is still happening to Black people. It is with a heavy heart that I write this post. In the midst of all that is going on with a global pandemic (which is also taking the lives of Black people at alarming rates) we find ourselves grappling with yet another senseless killing of a Black man by law enforcement. George Floyd, a resident of Minneapolis, Minnesota was recently killed by one police officer, while three other police officers watched and did nothing. It was over suspicion of a counterfeit $20 bill. Unfortunately, this isn’t a new story see: Michael Brown, Laquan Mcdonald, Eric Gardner, Oscar Grant, Philando Castile, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Amadou Diallo.
You can hardly do any normal activities while Black. For example, Botham Jean was at home, watching tv, about to enjoy a bowl of ice cream, when his life was taken. Breonna Taylor was in her home, minding her business when police officers enacted a no-knock warrant, busted into her home and proceeded with gunfire. Ahmaud Arbery was going for a run when his life was taken from him. Christian Cooper was in the park bird watching when he was falsely accused of threatening the life of a white woman. We could be barbecuing in the park, playing on the playground, hosting a lemonade stand, swimming in our backyards, or walking home from the corner store- I can’t make this up. I haven’t even touched on the complexities of the intersectionality of Black subgroups. Being Black in America is tough and having to continuously defend our right to exist is exhausting.
I could go on for days, but I’ve tried my best to explain on a condensed scale the overwhelming magnitude of racial injustice in America, if you couldn’t already tell. I feel that it is my responsibility as a Black woman to spread awareness on issues that affect my community. While there is no simple solution to this incredibly complex reality that permeates our daily existence, I believe the first step is educating yourselves on why these things are happening and understand that these are not isolated incidents. These things are taking place in your country, your state, your city, and your neighborhood. Black people all over are angry and are hurting . I encourage you to take the time to educate yourselves on these issues and then find a way to be a part of the solution. Do not be a bystander. Speak out against injustice. Do the right thing even when it seems scary and you may be uncertain of the outcome. Remember, your silence speaks volumes.
As for the man from Walmart so many years ago, wherever you may be: I AM STILL STANDING. You may have thought that you broke me down, but I am still here. I know who I am. You tried to break my spirit and my strength. I know now, that that was the enemy working through you to get to me. I was placed on this earth to help others and show God’s love. Nothing and no one is going to stop me!
Yours in Solidarity,