Over the last couple of years, I have adopted a mantra of “ My joy is my resistance.” I have adopted this mantra because I tend to focus on how far I have to go, instead of how far I have come. Sometimes I have trouble being present in the current moment. Also, I need to do this because I research, write about, and live how being black complicates the kinds of challenges and concerns parents experience when raising their children and when they send those pieces of their heart out into the world. Each time I learn about another police shooting of a black person in more than questionable circumstances and each time that officer is not held accountable for their actions I stumble. It is hard to feel joy in the present moment. It gets harder and harder to focus on joy in the midst of all of this pain. This morning I finally watched the newly released Philando Castille dash cam video and the aftermath video of Diamond Reynolds and her daughter in the back of the police car. Both were/are gut wrenching and heart breaking to watch. They angered me and shook me to my core- despite the fact I have become accustomed to blacks not getting justice and society viewing our bodies as disposable
I know my life matters. I know my black brothers’ and sisters’ lives matter. And, I know our lives aren’t just important because we have friends or families or we are a part of a community or workplace that we have touched positively. Our lives are important without qualification.
I also know that a police officer shot into a car when the passengers were complying with his requests; that a four-year-old child was in the backseat and witnessed this- forever marking her; that a girlfriend in the midst of watching her boyfriend be shot and die had to maintain composure and be deferential to keep herself and her daughter safe in her interactions with this officer who was supposedly trained to protect and serve; and that this officer was then found not guilty of manslaughter AND the lesser charges of the dangerous discharge of a firearm. Knowing these things also unfortunately reaffirms that for many people in America “blackness,” just by itself, is a crime that can come with the penalty of death. And it reaffirms that white fear, as irrational as that fear might be, justifies destroying black bodies AT ANY MOMENT!
Each of these shooting deaths that end without punishment leave an imprint and affirm another kind of knowledge for black people and Americans more generally. A dark kind of knowledge that terrorizes some adults and children and both emboldens and puts a cloak of innocence on others. This knowledge means we- black people- have to teach our children a different way of being and negotiating their world. Black people are not born with Diamond Reynold’s ability to display deference as a factory setting; that ability is cultivated. This knowledge teaches us, that no matter how important our lives are to ourselves, our families and communities, our lives don’t matter to the bulk of white American society and we exist at the pleasure of that society. Our pain is not truly felt by the bulk of white American society and there is a willingness to put on blinders to the fact that the American ideal of pursuing life, liberty and happiness has been underwritten by the continual suppression of black people’s ability to pursue those same things.
To “successfully” navigate American society blacks must suppress parts of our humanity and make strategic sacrifices in our expression so others are comfortable with our presence and so we can retain our lives. These shooting deaths are extreme versions of this work and this work is largely invisible. Most of us have been conditioned to do this from youth and we have become so used to making others comfortable with our presence that it has BECOME second nature. Even with all of that labor our lives are not safe.