“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” -James Baldwin
As inescapable as it is to be in our own skin, so is the frustration of racism in this country, and around the world I might add. It’s curious and disheartening to me the way Black bodies are handled.
I think my spirit finally broke when I watched the video of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy get gunned down by a police officer like a drive-by shooting in a 90s gangsta film. I poured out my pent up pain in a poem (which I will share one day), but since then I have been speechless. I avoid videos of police brutality to protect my soul. To guard my heart.
The recent cases of Christian Cooper and Amy Cooper (unrelated) in New York and George Floyd in Minneapolis propelled me to speak again. In one case, a police offer kneels on a man’s neck–a man in handcuffs. A man accused of forgery, of all crimes. In another scenario a woman exploits institutional racism because she is offended that someone asked her to put her dog on a leash. See the video here. It was really quite jaw-dropping to watch the unmasking of an aversive racist. According to social psychologists Gaertner and Dovidio, unlike open racists, aversive racists think themselves to be liberal thinking, open to the ideals of equality, but by their actions reveal their aversion toward other racial groups. I don’t know Amy Cooper, but I’d bet that before today, she’d tell you she wasn’t a racist. I’d also be willing to bet she would deny there was such a thing as white privilege, and if you pushed hard enough, she’d weep at the accusation that she was a benefactor of an unfair system. But like John Wick, somebody messed with her dog and she showed just how aware of her privilege she was, and how much she enjoyed it.
Frightening. So scary I fled.
Well, not really. For three months I lived in Nigeria with my daughter during my Fulbright assignment. Having grown up in America and visiting Nigeria only one time prior, it almost appeared like a suicide mission. Ok may be a bit extreme. At the very least, it didn’t seem desirable, especially for my Nigerian friends who had left Nigeria for America and could not envision living there again. I get it. Paved roads. More advanced infrastructure. More opportunities. A little less overt corruption. A little more accountability. Trust me I get it. But people would ask me what I enjoyed the most about being in Nigeria and I would jokingly say, “It felt good to not see so many White people,” and by this I meant that it felt good to not feel like a minority. It felt good to not wonder if this encounter will turn sour. If I could be a trending hashtag. If my daughter would witness me being dehumanized or even worse losing my life. Yes living in Nigeria I missed the luxuries of endless electricity, but I also appreciated the liberties of just being in my own skin.
The photo of this officer on a man’s neck and Amy Cooper’s reaction is the epitome of what James Baldwin describes when he explains that racism is White peoples’ problem, one that they would have to grapple with, not us. He poignantly states that “what you say [or think] about anyone reveals you.” And as a Nigerian-American I so strongly identify with this sentiment, as I had to learn my place as a Black person in America. Up until my first (recognized) encounter with overt racism , I was just an American. I remember the day a white boy yelled nigger out of the window, then hid. I remember wondering what his problem was that he needed to call a stranger a name, then hide.
There are too many hashtags to process. The blatant injustice is mind boggling, and literally causes post-traumatic stress disorder for many minotoritized Americans. But if there is any solace we can carry away from the most recent events, it is that the act of violence we have seen is a signal that we are certainly not the problem. Such depraved acts are only telling of a depraved mind.
May we continue to live unapologetically and unafraid.