On Being Black in America Amid Current Events

Featured Image: Hollie Adams for Teen Vogue


Living while Black. That was the only crime many Black men committed before being brutally murdered by law enforcement. But wearing the skin they’re in isn’t a crime, unless you live in the US, a country built on racial oppression and genocide. See, we call ourselves the United States, we sell an impossible idea of the American Dream, and we live each day by the laws of the Constitution — the document signed by our Founding Fathers which promises Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. However, false promises appear to be a pattern with American officials. Because for anyone that isn’t a Chad or Liam, that doesn’t exist. For Black citizens, the only thing guaranteed is fear.

As Americans, we wear rose-colored glasses because living in a bubble is so much easier than dealing with our history. We bury the evidence and then teach the G-rated version… because all the gory details aren’t necessary. But as any Black person would tell you, this is the truth we know. Gore and all. Okay, maybe it’s not all bad. I mean, George Washington Carver did invent peanut butter. Got that one from a sixth-grade textbook. But a majority of it isn’t like that. And from a young age, we are taught as little of it as possible, and only during the month that pretty much requires schools to do so, but it is what it is. My point is, given America’s history of less than ideal behavior towards us, it’s not surprising that racism is still alive. Yes, in 2020. It’s all still here, just blanketed by whatever official name they call taking away our rights.

And oh my God, all I ever do is write some snarky little comment about America. But let’s be honest here. It’s terrifying to live in a world where we’re barely a leg up from every last Black person being some form of a slave. Of course, America essentially relies on modern and illegal (but not really) forms of older systems of oppression to function, so hard emphasis on “barely.” Okay, regardless of my neverending revolutionary tirade, there’s something to be said about the fact that nothing’s really changed since the slave ships and shackles. Except for the software update. Though I’m still at a heavy disadvantage, I’m sure the people of colonial complexion are enjoying the new tech. Okay, now I’m truly done. Trust me when I say we all need a few harmless jokes in light of current events.

But settle down, because it’s time to listen. I don’t make it a habit to make a roundtable debate about the Black experience, and I won’t start now. This isn’t up for discussion. I, for one, am extremely done educating others on the treatment of my people in this country. It’s not my job, and if you’re unaware, you might try looking up from the brick wall of privilege preventing you from seeing a very harsh reality. Black people are being murdered at an undeniably high rate at the hands of the same police who take an oath to “protect and serve”, not that the oath means much when it’s a job that directly targets Black men. As for the women, we’re dying silently because healthcare workers are neglecting to believe Black women, usually unless they’re externally bleeding, which results in denial of care, ending in death. Our children are stereotyped as thieves and tried as adults, spending their youth in a cold cell. And yet, when we scream that Black Lives Matter, you stop at nothing to discredit us. You argue that all lives matter, when “all” includes the Black ones… or are we still stuck in that age-old sentiment that Black people are less than human?

Let’s not forget the outdated “blue lives matter,” which was also created to dismiss us, but they won’t tell you that. Instead, they’ll taunt you with the numbers — but how many on-duty cops have been killed by Black men? Ah-ah, now reverse it and compare. Exactly. Also, blue lives aren’t a thing. Blue is the color of the uniform they wear when they make the conscious decision to go into that career. It’s also telling because they’re in training for eight weeks before receiving deadly weapons and a badge to help them justify it when they target Black men, but that’s another time. A simple Google search can tell you everything wrong with this so-called movement: “Some critics of Blue Lives Matter state that one’s job can never reach a deep identity significance and source of solidarity that one’s racial identity can. Others state that Black identity and history is constantly under threat of erasure while police officers do not face this threat. Another source of criticism is police officers are typically respected and honored in communities while African Americans in urban areas are suspected of being thieves and freeloaders. Finally, some state supporters of Blue Lives Matter are intentionally or unintentionally supporting a system of discriminatory policing and racial profiling.” I applaud whoever edited that Wikipedia page, because the flavor in that paragraph is the definition of immaculate.

It also brings me to my next point: ACAB. I know, I couldn’t get any more radical if I tried, right? But I doubt a lot of you recall the history of America beyond its “greatness.” America, at its heart, is anti-Black. No matter how much gold they dip our history in, copper has a terrible habit of revealing itself. When you make the choice to work for a system that was created to uphold laws that are oppressive by nature, that’s it. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t make you a bad person. It just means you’re for the government, not the people. Besides, in light of the protests, police have been abusing their power more than usual. Between tear gassing protesters and arresting citizens who have done nothing but act on their first amendment right, they aren’t exactly working in their own favor. Not to mention the ones murdering Black folk. Oh, and our president did say “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, and the rubber bullets came flying. If you ask me, I say defund the police. Use the money for something good, something that will benefit our people, not harm them. Find a middle ground, and walk it.

But what I find even more wrong is the people who will use and abuse Black culture, even to go so far as glorify and attempt to imitate the struggle, but make no noise when we are wronged. I mean, Paul Mooney summed it up for y’all pretty easy — we are the blueprint. Everybody wants to be a nigga, but nobody wants to be a n*gger. And that, my friends, makes all the difference. From our music to our hairstyles to Ebonics, you guys are fine appropriating everything desirable about us and trying to call it yours. It must be a colonizer thing. You want to get with a Black person and have mixed babies, but you can’t even stick up for us when we need it most? But how dare we call you out on the BS. We have no right to ask you to do right by the people you’re actively trying to keep down. The audacity of a Black person to speak to you like that, right, Karen? Sweetie, get with the times. It’s 2020. Silence is a thing of the past. Use your voice, your privilege. Speak TF up. Be anti-racist. Pressure makes diamonds.

Wait. Allow me to drop the tough guy act for a second, yes? Because my emotions are so strong right now that I’m beyond words. However ashamed I might be to publicly admit those feelings, I make no apologies for the fact that I do feel them. Because to apologize for feeling anything at all, especially in the pain of a fresh revival of the Black Lives Matter movement, is to make myself small for the comfort of my oppressors. And I’m not about that life. That’s important to note, not because my words will change — because they definitely won’t — but because I want you to see me. A person with feelings. This is a really difficult time for my people, plus the added responsibility of being the voice of the unheard. I mean, do you see us? Do you really?

One of my close friends texted me to check in. And it caught me off guard. Nobody had done that. I don’t think anyone really thought to. It hadn’t bothered me, you know? I didn’t realize how much I needed that until I got it. I broke down crying. I can’t describe the heaviness of it all. I cannot deny the ever-present anger, haunting pain, and exhaustion in my heart. The loneliness. This is the cycle, and it repeats itself time and time again. It’s not new. Our story is a tale as old as time itself. Still, it’s depressing. But no matter how many cities burned or lives lost, the worst is knowing that change is still far out of reach.

Recently, though, it seems that we might be closer than we thought. Since George Floyd’s murder, people have gathered, nationally as well as globally, to protest and riot. With many marginalized groups banding together to support the Black Lives Matter movement, I find myself wondering if now is the time to let myself hope for a future in which I don’t have to fear for my life at a traffic stop. I grew up thinking that a life without fear as a Black person was a pipe dream. The trauma is carried through generations like a genetic trait, and our deaths are so normalized. How can we imagine a world where that isn’t the case?

But you know what? I think we should dare to dream. And we should fight like hell for our freedom.

Na'ilah Williams

she/her. black woman. writer. 🤎

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