It’s a travesty that in 2020, Black survival has come down to abiding by things blacks must do, rules that seem to change haphazardly, without notice, until another black person is killed for not knowing or abiding by them.
Those of you who know me know that I avoid politics and controversial topics. Prior to this my most controversial article has been sharing my experience of becoming a United States citizen. My social media accounts, both professional and personal, are places where people can get help, get inspired or be entertained. I’ve tried other methods of getting this message out of me in a more private format, but it is not working.
To be honest, I’m starting to believe that Black survival and this growing list of things blacks must do to survive won’t change or improve until we all get very uncomfortable and address how we feel about this issue.
My emotions and thoughts on Black survival were dragged to the surface by the case getting national media attention right now. A young man, by the name of Ahmaud Arbery, was running and was killed by two white men, Travis McMichael and his father Gregory McMichael.
I initially was going to stay away from this topic because I did not know enough about it. I actually did not want to know about it because I’m emotionally drained from this “new normal” in this country. Cases of Black Americans being killed by White Americans and then those White Americans being exonerated, for a multitude of reasons, play on like a vicious cycle every few months.
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There is initially a lot of outrage, then the character of the Black American is called into question, then the outrage dies down and then the White American is given a slap on the wrist. Each time one of these cases plays out a new rule is added that Black must follow to survive. My emotions about this issue initially poured out in the form of a poem called “There are People Waiting to Kill You.”
There Are People Waiting to Kill You: A Poem for Black Boys and Girls Living in America
Be careful with your feet today,
Make sure you mind your walk.
When answering someone,
Don’t look them in the eye and be cautious of the way you talk.
Please don’t sound too intelligent,
Only speak when someone speaks to you
It could turn out to be dangerous,
If your words are misconstrued.
Do not do the things your white friends do,
The results won’t be the same.
I do not want to end up on the news
Asking people to say your name.
Don’t pull over for the police,
But don’t run from them either.
It may cause them to use undue force,
In a way that will be lethal.
Don’t sit in your apartment,
And don’t try to explain this is your home.
Your size and skin makes people nervous,
Babies, please clearly show your phones.
Don’t protect yourself from intruders,
Don’t play your music too loud.
Don’t do anything to attract attention,
Please blend in with the crowd.
Understand that you are different
And different here means wrong
There are people waiting to kill you,
For skittles, for playing, for jogging along.
There are people happy to kill you,
Without blinking an eye.
And my heart can’t handle,
Watching another mother’s black son or daughter die.
Normally writing a poem will help me to process and bury things down, but this time it didn't. I kept spending day after day in a funk. Then I just honestly tried to forget it.
If I’m being totally blunt, I just couldn’t handle dealing with another case and I was going to bury my head in the sand, like an ostrich, because maybe that would make it go away and not hurt as much, but then I was blinded by a startling truth that should have occured to me a long time ago. I cannot afford to bury my head in the sand because I am a Black woman, I am married to a Black man and many of the people that I love and care for are Black people.
Even more than that and the reason that I finally decided to speak out or say something is, I am raising a Black boy. It is scary for me as a mother to realize that the same black boy that all my friends ooh and aww over will someday become the same Black man that is killed thoughtlessly because he’s too tall, too suspicious looking, too opinionated, too intelligent, and the list goes on.
I have seen the posts from people trying to give tips or their opinions to Black Americans on what they should do to not be killed in these situations, and the fact of the matter is we’re running out of viable options. In these helpful posts, non Blacks provide tips on what the Black person should have done to survive. Here are some of the rules I’ve pieced together.
20+ Things Black Must Do to Survive
Don’t run from the police.
Don’t try to approach the police.
Don’t speak to the police (ask questions, answer questions or explain yourself).
Don’t wear hoodies or look suspicious.
Don’t travel at night.
Don’t move or reach for identifying credentials, even if you’re told to do so.
Don’t travel alone.
Don’t smile, flirt or engage in any type of activity with White Americans.
Don’t sit on a sofa in your apartment in the dark.
Don’t stand up and tell the person who’s entered your apartment that they’re in the wrong place.
Don’t fire your weapon to defend yourself from intruders.
Don’t seek help in a car crash.
Don’t have a cellphone.
Don’t go to church.
Don’t get pulled over or have traffic offences, which for others would result in a ticket.
Don’t lawfully carry a weapon.
Don’t experience car trouble.
Don’t do anything.
If you have been paying close attention, it is not safe to drive while Black, it is not safe to walk while Black, it is not safe to jog while Black, it is not safe to be in your apartment while Black, it is not safe to be arrested while Black, it is not safe to be stopped by the police while Black, it is not safe to defend yourself in your own home while Black, it is not safe to wear a hoodie while Black, it is not safe to play while Black, to name a few, so please tell me, exactly what it is safe to do in this skin?
I too used to believe that if these Black Americans abided by the law, followed the instructions all law abiding citizens should follow, then they’d be ok, but it is simply not true and we can’t pretend it is any longer. In these cases Black Americans are killed for offenses that are easily deescalated and resolved when it involves other races.
How are police officers able to apprehend White criminals with heavy powered weapons, without incident, but Black Americans in much less challenging situations have to be killed or subjected to unnecessary force? Why does our color immediately trigger the belief that such force is necessary or appropriate?
To go back to my son for a minute, I still am having a hard time processing at what point does he become a threat for others? When does his long eyelashes and bright eyes go unnoticed, when does his kind heart and lovable spirit become erased, when does his curiosity and desire to learn become threatening and when do I need to let him know that he is no longer considered a friend but a foe? How do I prepare him to not be a threat for others? How do I teach him all these rules he needs to follow to survive while Black?
The other burning thing that I need to say and this might hurt a lot of feelings, but like I said before, I now think that the only way we will improve the current state of racial affairs in this country is by having some truly uncomfortable conversations, so here goes: Please stop saying that “This is so sad” in response to these cases. Every time one of these cases arises, where a Black American was killed by a White American under suspicious or downright criminal circumstances, people line up to say, “This is so sad.”
I know the spirit in which you say these words, but it is not so sad. It is an outrage, it is inexcusable, it is a travesty, it is a crime, it is criminal, it is horrific, it is an atrocity, it is racist and it is genocide. If you truly feel hurt by the fact that Black men and women are being killed for no other reason than the color of their skin, please use your privilege to do something about it.
How to be an Ally for Black Americans?
I’m not saying that you need to protest or even suggesting exactly what you should do, but I can assure you saying, “This is so sad” is not an effective method of becoming an ally or advocating for change. Instead of telling Black people the things they can do to survive, here are some suggestions I have on how you can become an ally:
Advocate on the behalf of Black Americans when you hear them being spoken about disparagingly by your friends and family.
Don’t sit quietly by while people share racist beliefs, because in most cases these people are emboldened by silence and they think that your silence means that you agree with them.
Inform yourself, from multiple reputable sources, on the circumstances of the case/s, especially if you intend on commenting.
Truly consider if the situation would have had the same result if the person involved wasn’t Black.
Search your own thoughts and feelings about Black Americans.
I don’t have the answer to how we can eradicate this issue in our society, but I can say that I am aware that burying my head in the sand is not an effective method of helping Blacks survive. Abiding by all the things Black should do to survive is not effective either. The list continues to grow and even those who abide by the list are still dying unnecessarily.
Help me create a world where I don’t have to coach my son through what to do as a Black person if he’s pulled over by the police, help me create a world where he can wear a hoodie in cold weather and jog and help me create a world where I won’t sit in mortal fear until he returns home, when he is older, because at any moment something about him could offend or scare someone, thereby giving them the right to kill him.