Ferguson: Calm down... for what?

by

A rally last night in Seattle. - TIFFANY VON ARNIM
  • Tiffany Von Arnim
  • A rally last night in Seattle.

Sadness quickly turns to madness when the loss of one of our sons and brothers is minimized and coded away in polite legal terms with no intention of returning what was taken, no attempt at apologizing for the damage done. Life meets death in the streets, where walking, shopping, driving, talking, playing on the playground or listening to music can be deadly these days… just being black in America.

The flames erupting in Ferguson are the fires burning in the hearts of mothers of black sons in this nation. We cry for the life nurtured inside us those nine months, for the years of tending and mending our child, for the brief pride we felt in his manhood before the light left his eyes. We tell our sons to walk with both eyes open, hands visible and quick feet ready to run. We advise them to keep receipts for everything they purchase, speak politely and dress sensibly. We hoped that the toil of our ancestors would have freed them from the curse of these limitations and the threat of harm, and we dreamed that we would never awake to feel this pain. 

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If tomorrow isn’t promised to my sons, to our black sons, why should they dream? What hope can we offer them tonight, the night when several hundred years of misogynoir and disrespect for black human life comes crashing in on us? I feel disconnected from my body as I write this. No words come to me as I search for promises I can’t give. Grief becomes rage as the names and faces of unarmed black boys and men recently killed scan through my mind: Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Ervin Jefferson, Timothy Russell, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Ezell Ford, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Aaron Campbell, Victor Steen, Steven Eugene Washington, Wendell Allen, Travares McGill, Ramarley Graham, Oscar Grant, Orlando Barlow, Alonzo Ashley… Even our heroes, Malcolm and Martin, were taken by bullets in their prime.

Where do we go from here? People who have not felt the lash of centuries of oppression beating down on their backs tell us to keep calm and carry on. What insanity makes those in power imagine they have any idea what the logical response should be? What psychosis perpetuates the myth that if we listen to “both sides,” we will somehow find the truth, as if the hunter and the hunted, the dead and the living, could be consulted with a fair and even outcome.

When my youngest son was 5 years old, an adult once asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He said, “A dog.” Laughing, the person said, “Oh, you mean you want to be a veterinarian?” “No,” he said, “I want to be a dog, because dogs have a life without worry.” The adult said, “Well, you know that’s not possible for you to be a dog.” Looking very serious, my son said, “Well, my mom said I can be anything I want to be when I grow up, and I think a lot of dogs have it easier than a lot of people.” Now that my son is 13, I sit him down to remind him of his early insights and, amid a swell of emotion, I tell him that, in America, a black 16-year-old who killed a dog was sentenced this summer to 23 years in prison, while a white police officer who was nearly 30 years old will not even face charges for killing a black teenager.

And, as the answers and questions blur together, I tell him that I cannot talk anymore about history or courts or reasons on this night. For a moment, I just need to hold him without words.  ♦

Rachel Dolezal, formerly of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d'Alene, is president-elect of NAACP Spokane and teaches courses in art, Africana history and culture at area universities.