The horrific and unforgivable murders in Dallas almost resulted in my not writing this but on a day when both Paul Ryan and Newt Gingrich showed that they understand the racism that is behind the murders of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling-SAY THEIR NAMES, I felt it important to speak across the gulf that often exists between Black folks and White folks. I am not maliciously excluding Asian-Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans. This feels like a Black White thing right now. I could be wrong.
I am not a nationalist. I have grown up in integrated America as a direct result of being an Air Force brat and going to elementary schools in France and England on Air Force bases. My family was the first Black family to live in the small town of Mascoutah Illinois when my Dad was sent to Vietnam in 1967, my senior year in high school. There was a hue and cry about that. My first day at Northwestern, I met my roommate who was from California and then was stunned when the third girl assigned to the room came in, took one look at me, and spent the night in a hotel. By that May, I took part in a building takeover by Black students at NU, one month after the assassination of Dr. King. This was the era of Black separatism so that next Fall, I decided I could not talk with my White roommates. That did not last too long. During my senior year, I fell in love with Gary Paterson a fellow Northwestern student who was and to the best of my knowledge still is White.
I give you this history so what I tell you next is put in context. There is that often mocked statement, “Some of my best friends are Black, Latino, Asian-American, gay…” but some of my best friends are White. You know who you are. Okay, now you have the set up.
This has been a dreadful week. In addition to the two executions of Black men, I attended the memorial for George Riley, one of my best friends who is also White. He was a son of the South and could not understand why I hate the South despite my having been born in Texas. Separate but equal was still the law of the land when I was born!!!!! Leukemia got him. He was only 59 years old. I looked at both videos of the police killings and was laid low.
Everyone I talked with was shocked and devastated. The Black folks I talked with felt vulnerable, sad, shocked, and unsafe. STOP KILLING US!!!!!
When I drove out of the parking garage, two White men walked in front of me. I was consumed with anger upon seeing them. That felt bad but that is how I felt. Later, I was on Grand Avenue in Oakland and a White family- two adults and two children walked into the Star restaurant. I was overcome with resentment and anger. Why do they get to walk casually down the street without a care in the world? When I left my office, I said good bye to Chris Bridges, a young Black man. I told him to be safe and that I expected to see him on the morrow. We both knew that his life could be taken in an instant. A few moments before I saw the White family, I had talked to a Black woman and urged her to be safe. She told me her son had been killed in the criminal justice system and that she had been stopped in Texas for expired tags which were not really expired at all. As I drive around Oakland, I look at Black folks particularly Black men and worry for their safety. As an OG with graying hair, I think I will be safe but the ghost of Sandra Bland SAY HER NAME haunts me and reminds me that no Black person is really safe in this country.
When I saw that White family, I angrily thought,” They never have to think about whether or not a police officer is going to take their lives.”
I went home determined to take a break from the news about Mr. Castile and Mr. Sterling SAY THEIR NAMES. I found a romantic comedy but had to turn it off to do something around my home. My default channel is MSNBC and I saw the breaking news about the shootings in Dallas. I stayed up watching the news and woke up spontaneously at 3 AM. I am a sound sleeper but I could not go back to sleep. I realized that I wanted to know who had done this dastardly deed. I “hoped” it was a White supremacist or ISIS. I have had this reflexive thought “Oh God. Please do not let this be a Black man” since November 22, 1963. Many Black folks have this reflex.
There was still no ID so I went back to sleep. When I woke up again, I learned to my deep regret that the murderer, the assassin, the domestic terrorist was a brother. I felt so badly. The images of the Dallas PD were full of Black faces and bodies-of Black men and women. The Chief of Police is a Black man who looks like many Black men I know. The Dallas Police Department was known for working collaboratively with the community. The Dallas police were there to help the protestors. Why? Why? Why?
Well, I knew why. The grief, the pain, the anger, the feeling of helplessness, the rage, the fear-all these emotions were roiling in most of us after seeing these two Black men shot in cold blood. We remembered all the other Black people treated as sub-human, unworthy of respect and life. We remembered that we were packed into ships like cattle and brought here to work for free. We remembered lynchings and insults and ill treatment.
When the not guilty verdicts came down for the officers who beat Rodney King within an inch of his life, I wanted to throw my office chair through the window of my office. For the past few days , I have yelled obscenities at various clueless people talking on TV.
The difference between me and the Dallas shooter is that I have impulse control and I DO NOT HAVE WEAPONS. Please do not read this as in ANY WAY CONDONING this cowardly and vicious act. My heart is broken. More death. More families whose members are not coming home.
Once again, I was not sure if I should write this but I think it might shed some light on how badly most of us Black folks are feeling right now.