The old folks used to sing “We Shall Overcome.” They used to believe it, too. And we will.
Writers are supposed to help us make sense of the world. They take our deepest emotions and most intense feelings, and help them make sense.
But I don’t know how to make sense of the last few days, scenes of black helplessness, rage, and sadness flooding the media in a never ending wave.
I can’t make sense of a nation that criticizes children for throwing rocks, but celebrates a mother for slapping her child over and over again. I can’t understand calls for non-violence from a country that indiscriminately kills innocent men, women, and children with robots and drones in faraway lands. How can I sort through a society that makes theater of torture and brutality, that watches black men and boys die on film over and over again and criticize them when they literally stand against an armed battalion with sticks and stones? That fails to even acknowledge the violence against black women and girls?
I am lost in a sea of doublespeak and disingenuous rhetoric that distracts from every plain truth we choose to ignore.
The truth is that police disproportionately harass, arrest, and slaughter more black people than any other racial group in America.
The truth is that in Baltimore, African-American infants have the highest mortality rate. Data suggests that, if they manage to survive, only 41% of these children are likely to graduate from under-resourced and under-staffed high schools. And, even if they do, less than half of them will be able to find a job.
The truth is that when a young man in a northeast city describes, slowly and painfully, an incident in which police officers harassed, threatened, held down, and traumatized his little brother, when he describes the child’s tears—I know that this is not an isolated incident. I know over and over and over again every single public institution that black children encounter tells them that they are worthless and their demise worthwhile.
The truth is that, in Philadelphia, a police officer trailing a group of youths walking home from school threatened to “beat the shit” out of a child for looking at him. And nobody cared. Youths have been marching and demonstrating non-violently in Baltimore for years, and nobody paid attention. And I know that children integrating, protesting, and dying in the South helped us win the most significant gains of the American Civil Rights movement.
So I am not a writer today. I cannot make sense of a society that has the audacity to condemn young people from reacting to every single way we’ve consistently failed them. I cannot explain a news media that expects us to love a CVS more than we love ourselves. And I will not condemn violence against armed guards doling out punishment and torture in open-air prisons.
To the youth I see rebelling and refusing to be ignored and disappeared, to the brave ones, to those I see hurting, who never seem to be heard even when they’re yelling at the tops of their lungs—I love you. I see you. I stand with you.
The old folks used to sing “We Shall Overcome.” They used to believe it, too.
And we will.
Khadijah Costley White is an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies at Rutgers University in New Brunswick. Find her on Twitter here.