Let’s talk about what really matters

August 1, 2016

A few months ago, I wrote a viewpoint on my experiences being a minority in advanced courses. It was a story about my periodic discomfort, yet overall success, meant to serve as a beacon of hope for any young minority in my situation. I tried being inspirational for black people all over, but I have lost that desire. I don’t feel that inside me anymore. It doesn’t feel true.

Listen to our podcast Breaking Snooze for an in-depth discussion with Ricky

During my seventh grade year, we got news of a 17-year-old boy that had been fatally shot by a neighborhood watchman. The unarmed victim was Trayvon Martin, an African-American teenager who wanted snacks from a convenience store. After his death, it seemed to be the case of a bad man that shot a good boy. And the worst part of it all: the shooter, George Zimmerman, was acquitted. Do I think the man purposefully sought to kill Trayvon? No, I don’t. But there are certain things like the murder of a teenager that can’t go without consequence. After that mess of a situation, it seemed impossible that such a tragedy would happen again, much less multiple times. However, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray and countless others have proved that there is a problem that must be addressed.

I can’t begin to describe how ridiculous this all is. African-Americans have endured centuries of subjugation by white people. This is a fact, not the cop-out many people believe in. The pure racism, ignorance and hatred that still exists makes it hard to believe that things will ever get better. I can’t stand when people, African-Americans included, don’t recognize this growing issue or come up with effective and nonviolent ways to battle it.

Two weeks ago, I got a Snapchat from a friend asking me if I’d seen a video on Twitter. It was Alton Sterling’s gruesome murder. I had never before in my life seen someone actually get shot, and the repetitive sounds of the gunfire from the police officer made my skin crawl. Two days later, I woke up to another video. This time, I watched Philando Castile bleed out in the passenger seat of a car. After being asked for his license, Castile reached for his pocket, only to be greeted by several bullets from the gun of a policeman. He had apparently revealed that he was carrying a gun and was licensed before reaching for his pocket, presumably as a precaution–which ultimately failed–but was still seen as a threat. I don’t care what you are— white, black, red, blue, conservative or liberal. If you don’t see a problem with the brutally unnecessary deaths of American citizens, then I believe you’re contributing to the problem.

After watching the emotional video, I was outraged. I still am. I kept asking myself over and over, “Why is this happening?” Social media was a storm… a     never-ending battle of opinions and arguments. But the recurring theme seemed to be misdirected blame. Former Representative Joe Walsh attacked President Obama. Go figure. Another personal favorite is this tweet from @HYPEDLORD: “So many blacks are targeted because God doesn’t like the lifestyle they’ve chosen. They chose to be black. God is punishing them for that.” It blows my mind how hateful people are, and how blind others are to what’s going on around us.

I didn’t believe that things could get worse. But of course they did. On July 7, during a peaceful protest in Dallas by the Black Lives Matter movement, war veteran Michael Xavier Johnson shot and killed several police officers on the scene. Johnson, a black male, was angered about the deaths of his fellow African-Americans, and reports claim the he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. The situation was absolutely horrifying. Killing police officers is not the answer to ending this turmoil. It only gives people a reason to fight back. But before Johnson was realized to be the shooter, one black man was plastered all over the Internet as the main suspect. The man was holding an automatic weapon, thus he was seen as a “threat,” and so it was “understandable” that the police suspected him. However, there is video footage of the man after he had just handed over his weapon to a Dallas officer. I recall a large proportion of Americans—primarily white Americans— that are all about their Second Amendment rights. The gun-wielding suspect was exercising his Texan right to open carry, but I’m just going to say it: he was seen as a danger to the crowd because he was black. A bold claim, yes, but the only way things will change is if they are challenged head on.

Now, on to the concept of Black Lives Matter. In its actuality, the movement is aimed toward the realization of black equality along with combatting racial oppression. Of course, there are those who disagree with the movement, believing it to value the lives of black Americans more than other races. There are also those who are just upset that the black community has the strength and resilience to come together during hard times and demand change.

A few days ago, I was shown an article from Relevant Magazine that gave an amazing analogy for the issue: Imagine you’re at home asleep. You wake up to the sound of burglars in your house, stealing your furniture and television. You call the police, and they tell you they’ll look into the problem. Before you can finish sharing your address, you’re interrupted by the operator who asks why you’re sharing YOUR address. She also asks why you’re making this situation about YOUR house. ‘All Houses Matter.’

It is true that all houses matter, just like all lives matter, but you can’t ignore the fact that one house in particular needs immediate help. The black race needs help—we need love and cooperation in order to truly be a part of this society that we’ve been kept out of for so long. Saying that black lives matter does not mean that others don’t, or that black lives are valued more than any other race. It does mean, however, that America needs to wake up and realize that the African-American race is a group of human beings that deserves a chance to succeed.

And just like any group, there are those that hide behind the name of the movement and turn it into something that it’s not. Violence is not the answer, and it’s definitely not the true meaning behind Black Lives Matter. In a Twitter conversation with a former white classmate, he stated that he tweets “#BlueLivesMatter” because the death of cops is a very relevant issue that needs to be addressed now—I couldn’t have said it better myself, and I also couldn’t believe that this person didn’t see how the same thing applied for the lives of black people. The issue isn’t the meaning of the movement; The issue is with the people the movement is trying to help. I understand the original purpose behind All Lives Matter as well, but as mentioned in “Relevant Magazine,” “by using ‘All Lives Matter’ to drown out the cry of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ the real problems the movement is trying to address are being ignored.” Let us all unite and understand that Black Lives Matter is a reminder that after centuries of unjust treatment, it’s time to move forward and treat us as equals.

I’ve agonized over this situation because I work my butt off every day in and out school to have a successful future. I do my best to provide myself with great opportunities. I give hundreds of hours to helping other people. I’m Student Body President, for crying out loud, but I can easily get mowed down for being black and moving too suddenly. As I get older, it’s starting to feel like it’s all for nothing, like nothing I do will mean anything because I’m doing it all while having dark skin.

It makes me angry that my parents were scared for me to interview a police officer for a police brutality story. It makes me angry how afraid I was of getting shot while grabbing my wallet one summer night when I got pulled over for speeding. Besides that speeding incident, I am a law-abiding citizen. I’m 17 years old—still a kid. But none of that seems to matter anymore. Trayvon Martin was 17 when he was killed. All that seems to matter is that I’m “Breathing While Black.” Living in the rural South, there is still a strong prejudice against the colored community in which I fall under. I’m tired of being told “but you’re actually white though.” I am not white. I will never be white. And I will never understand what it feels like to be white. I do understand, however, that white privilege is indeed a thing, and it’s something I will never experience as long as I live. Most of my friends are white, and it’s always been that way, but they’ll never understand the way I feel about certain issues because of how our society has made them think.

The problems that the black community faces are those that will never be understood by the white populace, and they take that for granted. This entirely screwed up situation is not just a matter of black versus white, or black versus everyone, but it’s definitely a part of the bigger issue. Everyone has to fight the antagonism if things will ever change for the better. I just want to live in a country where I feel safe.

I was terrified to write this story— I don’t want to look like I’m just some angry black kid. Yes, I’m angry, but I refuse to let any of this continue to happen without my thoughts being showcased for everyone to see. I shouldn’t have to explain myself, but I want the people reading this to understand that I truly love everyone. I understand that every life has value, and I would never target someone for reasons they can’t control, like the color of their skin. This story is not race-baiting, and I will not allow people to disregard it as that. Something has got to change, and it’s looking like it’s up to my generation to do it. With all of my power, no matter how voiceless I may feel, I will continue to fight the hatred that exists in this unjust society. I refuse to continue sitting and crying in my bedroom at night, just praying for it all to stop. I’m going to help make it stop. I’ll do it the right way, however; without violence and without more hatred. All I ask is that you all help me out. Love is a human right, and we all need to feel it just a little bit more. Let’s change our world, together.

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  • D

    Donna HuntAug 3, 2016 at 2:22 pm

    I am proud of you Ricky for taking the time to think your own thoughts (meta cognition) and put forth sincere, heartfelt questions . You are a gifted communicator. I expected to see great things from you when you were in my 7th grade class and this article is most definitely one of those great things!

    • R

      Ricky CooksAug 4, 2016 at 8:36 pm

      Mrs. Hunt,

      I miss you and your science class more than you’ll ever know! It’s hard to believe I’m a senior! I was so fortunate to have you everyday of 7th grade, because you are one of the people that taught me how to effectively communicate with those group presentations. Thank you so much for the support, and also for everything else!

  • V

    Vicki CarrAug 3, 2016 at 2:41 am

    Well written. You have voiced what a number of people feel. As an aging baby boomer it is disheartening to see the loss of progress we thought we made back in the late 60s and early 70s. Race relations seem to have taken two steps back, rather than continuing to move forward.
    I think that one reason the BLM movement is irritating to many is because it was formed in response to an incident in which a criminal attempted to disarm a police officer. There have been many other situations involving police brutality that could rightly serve as the impetus for such a movement. I think most people “get it” that BLM is not intended to dismiss all other lives. It’s just that the genesis of it seems to many to be mis-matched.
    My son and his wife were visiting another city; they were headed to a place to go hiking, so they weren’t “dressed up”, to say the least. They were pulled over, and their car was completely searched for drugs. Their suitcases, equipment -everything had to be opened up for inspection. My son was appalled at the assumption that they were pegged as drug dealers. Fortunately they were respectful and cooperative, so nothing happened. What they didn’t think about, at the time, was that the police were actively pursuing drug cases, and their first impression of my son was that he was kind of vagrant-looking.
    With the police, first impressions mean everything . They are trained to make quick and defensive judgments. Their lives are constantly in peril. i can see why a person who faces that with every shift could overreact to a hand in a pocket. Not right, but it happens.
    Likewise, anyone who is dealing with the police can let their emotions (from fear or misunderstanding) fire up from 1to 10 without really thinking. When that happens we have trouble.
    Ricky, I wish you the best of luck. You seem to be a fine young man, and you have a future full of possibilities. I believe you will persevere, and be successful socially, academically, and professionally. Try to keep this one thing in mind: some people are just jerks, and not everyone is going to like you or be straight with you, no matter who you are. But it will not always be because of race. That is an easy thing to fall back on, but don’t let that happen to you. Try to see each situation from a variety of perspectives. There are plenty of reasons things can go south on you – and you may never know the truth of some of them. Trust that God has a plan for your life, and as long as you are seeking that plan, doors will open.

    • R

      Ricky CooksAug 3, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Thank you for the eye-opening anecdote and encouraging words. I definitely understand that falling back on race for all of our problems in not an option, and I will never lower to that standard. I appreciate your understanding of my opinion, and also your advice on life. I wish you the best.

  • A

    Allyn TurneAug 2, 2016 at 10:12 pm

    Very well written and thought out article. You expressed my feelings exactly. I am a 52 year old educated black man and I feel the same way you do. I pray that your influence will cause other young black men to notice and take a stand like you have. We all need to learn how to express ourselves without violence but with love.

    • R

      Ricky CooksAug 3, 2016 at 10:56 am

      Thank you! I completely agree. It will be a long fight to stop the madness and violence, but I look forward to widespread love and acceptance.

  • B

    brenda nicholsAug 2, 2016 at 7:08 am

    I am a 60 year old white lady that shudda been black.raised 2 daughters and never experienced any problems at all. in my home the n word does not aND will not b used n my house. now my 20 year old grandson who I had influence on tells all his friends that come over don’t use the n word. I never used it and grew up to learn god made each and everyone of us for his purpose. you, my young man, you go ahead and help our brothers and sisters out cause I think they love the hype. I never thought I’d see the day I would see a black president and yes I voted for him. well we live in the country, on the tip end of a black and white community. I was the only one with a Obama sign in my yard. some[one] took it up. so our circuit judge found it laying in his yard and he said he knew where it went. the moral, my young man. if we don’t get this everything matters right in this world we gonna all die by what we’re defending: OUR GOD GIVEN RIGHTS AMEN. THANK YOU SO

    • R

      Ricky CooksAug 3, 2016 at 10:59 am

      Thank you for your encouraging words! The black community has to stand together to make a positive change, and I appreciate your genuine acceptance!