Being Helpless in Your Own Country


I apologize in advance. This post might be long. I’m sitting in a hotel room alone in Boston and I’m utterly disheartened. I’m writing to help myself – as I sit in front of this computer with tears running down my face. I gotta tell you though, right now, I’m not in the mood for devil’s advocates, debates, or counterpoints.

I am attempting to be reasonable, rational, and patient. However, today has made it quite difficult to express any of these qualities. Waking up to see Philando Castile‘s name trending the day after Alton Sterling’s and watching another video in the aftermath has made me want to scream! I understand many people can’t even stomach to watch this video from MN as they couldn’t the one from yesterday from LA. I choose to watch them because I want as much information as I can glean while attempting to keep my family safe and understanding the details of these specific circumstances.

It is beyond heartbreaking to hear Philando’s girlfriend explain to the cop who shot him that you asked for his id and he was getting it. Listening to her eventually trying to pray over his body as she realizes he’s dying, when they were stopped for a broken tail light, leaves me speechless. There are thousands and thousands of encounters with police that are de-escalated or solved non-violently daily, but there are too many instances when a person of color is involved where it’s explained that we possess some unusual form of aggression that makes cops fear for the lives and the only option is shoot to kill! Where’s the training to gather information before acting in the most extreme way?

The list of names and hashtags are too long now! The victims, perpetrators and circumstances are too numerous to try explain them away as isolated incidents. We’re all complicit if we keep letting society be allowed to assume that these people of color, in any of these situations, are naturally more dangerous, aggressive, criminal or nefarious. It’s false! We all have a duty. Everybody. White, Black, Brown, Yellow, Green, Blue, whatever!!

As a person of color, I’m weary and scared. It’s true. Not only am I scared for myself, but for my family, my friends and especially, my son and his generation. I’m not even going into detail about my encounters with law enforcement or the stories I know from friends and family. It truly makes a person feel helpless.

I don’t know if this all makes sense because I’m just getting it out. It just a couple of my feelings. These are definitely more my feelings than thoughts.

I’ll end with this James Baldwin quote from over 50 years ago. It highlights what is the true heartbreak of what I feel today. What do I do for those coming up behind me?!?

“It comes as a great shock to discover the country which is your birthplace and to which you owe your life and your identity has not in its whole system of reality evolved any place for you. The disaffection, the demoralization and the gap between one person and another only on the basis of the color of their skin begins there – and accelerates throughout a whole lifetime…. So then presently, you realize you’re 30 and are having a terrible time managing to trust your countrymen. By the time you are 30, you’ve been through a certain kind of mill. And the most serious effect of mill…. is not the catalog of disaster – the policemen, the taxi drivers, the waiters, the landlady, the landlord, the banks, the insurance companies, the millions of details, 24 hours of every day, which spell out to you that you are a worthless human being. It is not that. It is by that time you’ve begun to see it happening in your daughter, your son, your niece, or your nephew….Nothing you’ve done has helped you to escape the trap. What it worse than that is that nothing you have done and, as far as you can tell, nothing you can do will save your son or daughter from meeting the same disaster and, not impossibly, coming to the same end.”

James Baldwin (1965)