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.