Thousands attended a Long Beach protest earlier this month. Photo By Destiny Jackson
By Destiny Jackson
“Being black is having a good day and then seeing another black person was killed for no reason. Then you have to think about/talk about that all day. Or don’t and numb yourself. It’s a constant emotional war.” – Quinta Brunson
Living during the pandemic is hard, but living as a Black person during the pandemic is even harder. In Los Angeles County, we represent 11 percent of the total deaths due to COVID-19, but make up only 9 percent of the population. The latest figures show that 34 out of 100,000 Black people are dying of the disease, slightly more than Latinos (33 out of 100,000) but nearly twice as much as white people (about 18 out of 100,000).
Of course, Black people are used to having it harder than most, and we are reminded of it every day. When we wake up and ask ourselves how we can disguise the parts of ourselves not deemed appropriate for white society, whether it’s defrizzing our hair for the workplace, watching our speech patterns and vernaculars, minding our facial expressions to make sure we aren’t coming off as too angry, or making sure when we walk into a store that we don’t look too suspicious. We have to make sure that when white people call the cops on us for existing, we need to keep our phones handy. And if we are confronted by police, we have to remember that we can be ripped away from our family and friends and killed in an instant.
The number and size of the protests that swept across America in the days following the May 25 murder of George Floyd may have taken much of the country by surprise, but not Black people. After decades, generations and centuries of systemic racism, we are fed up. For about two weeks, I was hard-pressed for words to describe that. But upon speaking with my Black friends, family, and co-workers the general consensus is this: we are traumatized, exhausted, and scared for our futures.
To be Black and living through this pandemic and the civil unrest is to be reminded of a constant weight of fear for our own lives and other people of color.
For 27 years, I have lived in a country that only loves me, and others like me, from a distance. A country that tolerates us as it appropriates our culture (through music, slang, and fashion) to seem cool, but at the end of the day does not consider us equals.
But the racism embedded in this county doesn’t end at inequality or unappreciation; I often wonder when this racist system will no longer allow me to live my life to the fullest, or if that life will be ended far too soon. I worry whether my kind-hearted, Black, severely autistic brother will make it to 20 if we don’t keep a close eye on him. Will he have a chance of survival when I am no longer around to protect him? Either one of us could be another victim of police brutality. And sadly, if the series of micro/microaggressions of systematic racism doesn’t kill me, the stress and trauma of living will.
There is only so much trauma a person can absorb. As a young adult approaching 30, I have seen so many murderers escape justice. And every time, although their cries often join mine, I keep seeing Black people suffer while my White colleagues get to continue with their lives as if nothing happened. That’s a luxury that Black people cannot afford. White people get the liberation of worrying about things like healthcare, student loans, abortion rights, gun rights, climate change, and women’s rights.
Don’t get me wrong: many of those issues are important to lots of Black people too, but we get the added pressure of worrying about if an encounter with the police over something trivial or a miscommunication will end in our death.
How do we talk about this inner agony with our White peers? How do we explain the ache caused by another senseless death of a Black person that we didn’t know personally? How do we explain that what is happening right now brings up the image of injustice of not that long ago when police officers moonlighting as the Ku Klux Klan used to round up Black people to hang them from trees just for presumably whistling at or talking back to a White person?
And white people: how many exploitative videos, hashtags, social justice warrior moments featuring Black death at the hands of those sworn to protect us do you all need to see? When will you understand that even when we are in the right we are still judged by preconceived notions based on the color of our skin? It is impossible for me to explain that to someone who doesn’t share that perspective, just as no amount of explanation can ever impress upon someone the reality that being Black in America is treated as a crime, like in the case of Trayvon Martin in which his late-night snack run while wearing a hoodie turned into a death sentence.
But maybe the days of trying to explain that are over; maybe enough people just get it that now, finally, some actual changes might happen. In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, Eddie Anderson, a pastor from South Los Angeles, called this the Third Reconstruction, alluding to the two previous eras when Black Americans tried to battle white supremacy, after the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement. But this time, we are younger, and more intersectional, drawing on, as Charlene Carruthers writes in “Unapologetic” the LGBTQ community and feminists as much as Civil Rights-era icons, there are more women in positions of leadership, and just a glance at any of the protests showed that they are not limited to one race, gender, sexuality, age-group or any single demographic.
But even that was hard. Just compare the initial reactions to our protests to those just over a month ago of mostly White people, many of them wielding guns, protesting COVID-19 shutdowns, of not being able to get haircuts, or go to the beach. We took to the streets to protest state-sanctioned murder of far too many of our people, and instead of being left alone to demonstrate, as those White protesters were, many of us faced city-wide curfews, cops in heavy armor wielding batons, tear gas and rubber bullets, the president even called up the National Guard in Washington D.C, and blustered about how if mayors of big cities couldn’t dominate the protestors, he’d bring in the military.
Even in Southern California, protests in predominantly White neighborhoods were handled differently by law enforcement than those in Long Beach, as the Bulletin reported last week.
But then something happened. The threats of increased militarization could have broken the resolve of many protestors or led to widespread urban carnage not seen in this country since 1968. But instead, the protests grew larger, more diverse, and far more peaceful. And a big part of White America seemed to stop looking at the protestors as a bunch of thugs and looters or as symbols of an oppressed minority victimized by systemic racism. They started seeing us as we see ourselves: as mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters and cousins, all with broken hearts but unbending spirits passed on through us from our ancestors. And so much pain, collectively and culturally, both from our personal experiences with that racism but also the unimaginable agony of the families who have had members killed for no other reason than the color of their skin. And so we marched. As we have marched in the past. But this time we weren’t alone.
It seems that just about every day since the uptick in peaceful protesting, hopeful news is being announced. constantly coming down the timeline. Last Friday, New York banned police chokeholds, a few days after Democrats in the House of Representatives unveiled a Justice in Policing Act,” which would preclude state and local law enforcement agencies from using chokeholds or “no-knock” warrants in drug cases, which resulted in the March death of Breona Taylor in Kentucky.
In Minneapolis, the city council Friday approved a resolution calling for a “transformative new model” of policing to be created over the next year, and in Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti has said $150 million will be cut from the police budget, part of $250 million that will be redirected “ toward youth jobs, health initiatives and “peace centers” to heal trauma, and will allow those who have suffered discrimination to collect damages,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
Our university, though still mostly shut down to the coronavirus, has certainly not been silent. On June 5, the CSUDH chapter of the California Faculty Association wrote an open letter to the campus community calling on President Thomas A Parham to, among other measures, increase funding for Black student recruitment and retention programs until Black students make up at least 30 percent of the student population, to fully fund the Rose Black Resource Center, and to defund and disarm campus police, with the redistribution of resources used to hire tenure-track mental health counselors…improve the health center’s capacity and student t support services,”
Last Tuesday, the Africana Studies Department issued its own letter to the campus community, calling for 10 demands, including the creation of an Asian American and Latinx Center. An anti-racism workshop was held last week for white faculty, and departments across the campus, ranging from Chicano and Chicana Studies to Theatre Arts, have issued statements of solidarity for the Black Lives movement and the Africana Studies Department statement.
I am hopeful that for the first time in my 27 years, the solidarity that has been expressed will continue and expand beyond being a movement and into moving the laws of this country, and the perception of so many people, in a positive direction. But I’m also sad that after 400 years of countless known and unknown Black deaths, white supremacy is both on the rise and being fervently counterattacked. But it is powerful that here in the midst of the pandemic that the nation and some of those in power are ready and willing to listen and offer help to dismantle the chains that bind Black people from attaining equality and peace. We will see what happens.
But I know this: George Floyd was laid to rest on June 8, but for a tired and frustrated Black America, there is no time for rest, for our great work still continues, and is now more urgent than ever.