James Baldwin

I’ll admit that as I am writing this, I am still very raw. Two incidents, two all too familiar acts of terrorism against black people — on the same day. One fatal, one not — both completely unjustified. I’m not going to rehash the incidents in detail, you can find the incident in Central Park here, and the murder of George Floyd here by the Minneapolis Police Department. And it is important to make the distinction that while yes, individual officers are responsible for Floyd’s death, it is yet another crystal clear indictment of policing as whole in the United States.

The evidence is overwhelming and crushing. And somehow, all of this is still lost on people. White privilege — something that can only be possessed by white people — ordains the police as their own personal stick, and their security blanket when they feel scared or uncomfortable. And that at the other end of the 911 line, all of their troubles will go away. In the case of the woman in Central Park — her trouble was simply having been asked to be considerate, by a black man, trying to enjoy his morning. That was enough of an affront to her privilege that she thought it reasonable to potentially put the life of Christian Cooper in mortal danger. She “thought” she was scared, and that’s why she did what she did.

What do we have to do? It is all on camera, sometimes live. Yet it was Christian Cooper who saw enough humanity in this woman — one who could not have cared less about his — that he went on national television to ask for the death threats towards her to stop.

What do we have to do? Somehow, the burden of speaking clearly, concisely and most importantly — lest we be struck down — calmly, about the far too often fatal actions of others against us still sits firmly on our shoulders. Why? The answer should be abundantly clear by now: racism remains a pervasive and defining cancer on our politics, institutions and the social contract.

They are not afraid of cameras or getting caught, they don’t think about getting fired or having their dog taken away. And when all of this does happen, albeit not often enough, they are bewildered and cower right back into their everlasting victimhood.

Black life in America is a life of constantly repeating one’s self. It is a life of having your soul ripped to shreds and put back together in an instant with regularly. It is also a life of joy, and beautiful and glorious things — miracles.

But George Floyd is dead. The weight of state sanctioned violence, firmly on his neck, his back and his legs, are a fierce reminder that in a series of consecutive moments completely absent of love or humanity, we can be reduced to being worth less than the gravel that gouged his face.

What you were describing was not me, what you were afraid of was not me. It has to be something else. You invented it, it has to be something you were afraid of that you vested me with…. I’ve always known that I am not a nigger. But if I am not the nigger, and if it is true that your invention reveals you, who is the nigger? I’m not the victim here…. The nigger is necessary, it’s not necessary to me , so it must be necessary to you. ‘Who is the nigger?’, James Baldwin, 1963