“I used to think that maybe I’d let my anger serve as an engine. But I’ve since discovered that my anger over each new racist incident is now rivaled and augmented by the anger I feel when asked to explain, once more, why black people shouldn’t be brutalized, insulted, and killed. If you’re a person of color, the racism beat is also a professional commitment to defending your right and the right of people like you to be treated with consideration to an audience filled with readers champing at the bit to call you nothing but a nigger playing the race card.” Cord Jefferson- The Racism Beat
I originally read this article about a year ago, at a time when I was starting to publicly share my thoughts on race more frequently, whether through YouTube or this blog. Many of my videos concerned the overlap between film and race, two of my greatest interests. However, many discussed issues such as racial profiling. I remember hearing about the verdict for the Trayvon Martin case back in 2013. Although I knew about notorious incidents of police brutality against blacks, such as Rodney King, I was shielded from this particular manifestation of racism for some reason. I experienced racial profiling numerous times growing up, such as always being asked “do you live here” when I walked around the courtyard of my apartment building in London, England. Or when a flight attendant insisted I use the bathroom in coach, instead of the first class one that I had the right to use since I was sitting in first class. I’ve also experienced the more subtle forms of racism e.g. “you’re smart for a black guy”, “you speak so well” etc.
Hearing that a neighbourhood watchmen took it upon himself to kill a teenager, because he “looked suspicious” infuriated me since I knew that teenager could have been me. I have had people cross the street or pull their loved ones closer seeing a 6’4, threatening black man come their way. I always wear hoodies, especially when it is cold or raining (like it was on the night Martin died).
Back in 2013, it was a shock to see Zimmerman acquitted. I thought he would be charged for murder, or maybe manslaughter as a worst case scenario. There were numerous comments defending him online: Martin was a thug, all these people talking about racial profiling are “race-baiters”. Like the Trump election, I wanted to believe that these people must be a loud minority.
They weren’t a loud minority. They were the voices of resentful, racist whites who would say anything to justify the death of a black person. They would say that the liberal media shouldn’t vilify the cops. They would say we need to wait for the facts of the case. Then these people would donate $500,000 to officer Darren Wilson before the trail began. There is no desire to let the trial speak for itself. People’s minds were made up once they saw who got shot, and who shot them.
The shooting of unarmed black men doesn’t faze me as much as it used to. It’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I’m used to it now. I’m used to the police testimonies, the online comments saying that black people would be better off if they “just obeyed the law” and the host of other excuses that rely on racist assumptions.
A part of me worries I could be on the list someday. Maybe I am walking down the street in an area that is deemed too nice for me, and someone reports me for my presence. Maybe I am driving a car that is too expensive to be mine. Maybe I threaten a cop’s ego by showing him too much attitude, maybe I reach for my wallet and end up dead. What then? I become a thug, another black guy that just couldn’t follow orders.
The fact that I am educated would probably be ignored by a lot of people. They would point to pictures on Facebook where I am dressed in hoodies, drinking, throwing up “gang signs”. Maybe they would bring up conflicts I had with previous landlords, one of them a divorced bylaw officer who was on a power trip (Abdulkadar Mohamed “Mo” Dualeh): He would say I was a troublemaker, aggressive, confrontational. I can be whatever they need me to be. People will lose track of the fact that the trial isn’t to determine if I was a saint; it is to determine if the cop had the right to shoot me at a specific moment and time. The gofundme money would start pouring in for my killer, giving him more money than he could ever hope to make as a cop. My death would be unfortunate, but not a crime. Some will be outraged. They will be called “race-baiters,” “social justice warriors”, or whatever new terms people come up with by then.
I will leave my family behind. They will be confused and angry, but that won’t matter. They’ll be powerless. The cop might lose his job but he’ll have enough money to buy a new house and start a new life, just like Darren Wilson did.