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Not much has changed in the past 100 years. A deadly virus is suffocating the planet. The color of a person’s skin justifies their murder. And white people are still telling us how we should feel about it.
I assure you, this shit is weird. But unfortunately, it IS normal.
Before Black people were recognized as ⅗ of a person in America, we were currency. The well-being of our posterity was never considered.
From 1918 to 1920, the H1N1 influenza A virus, known as the “Spanish Flu,” captured the lives of an estimated 50 million - 100 million people worldwide, infecting one-third of earth’s population. People were bleeding from their eyes and ears while Woodrow Wilson was passing the Sedition Act, which permitted the “deportation, fine, or imprisonment of anyone deemed a threat against the government of the United States.”
This was convenient as it coincided with the genesis of radio broadcasting and subsequent propaganda aimed at ensuring the public knew little of their impending doom, courtesy of the spreading sickness.
“Truth and falsehood are arbitrary terms” is what they said back then. Today, they call it fake news. It’s manifest in the ignorance of every anti-masker, climate change denier, and flat earther. Self-proclaimed patriots wave treasonous Confederate flags and praise traitorous monuments under the guise of tradition. We’ve reached a point where ideologies and feelings are somehow more credible than facts. If you lie about anything consistently enough and put the advertising dollars in the right place, the truth becomes nothing more than a perception.
America is built on a bedrock of hatred, torture, genocide, and the subsequent denial arising from disingenuously attempting to reconcile such vile prejudices. Because of this, it’s no wonder that when a Black child is murdered in cold blood — and live on your phone — it’s easier for some people to ask why the victim “didn’t comply” than to accept the responsibility of our racist foundations and acknowledge America’s socioeconomic disparity.
In 1898, white supremacists staged a coup in North Carolina in the Wilmington Insurrection. In the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, mobs of white supremacists murdered hundreds of innocent people and destroyed 35 square blocks of Black Wall Street, the richest Black community in America at that time. So it makes sense that we take to the streets for George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. We demand retribution, whether peacefully or otherwise.
We’re told we have a right to free speech, yet when we try to protest injustice, we’re called savages. When we kneel silently in solidarity, we’re labelled unpatriotic. And we’re called ungrateful for demanding the very freedoms our country claims to have as its core values.
This inherent bias is a grim reality that virtually every Black and brown skinned person living in our world, especially in America, has to deal with perpetually. Those who refuse to acknowledge this truth are the problem.
Since I was 12 years old, I’ve been slammed, choked, and otherwise brutalized by police officers more times than I can count on two hands.
One night, while playing video games with my boys in our Cal State University San Bernardino apartment, our door was kicked in by four cops with pistols drawn. Rightfully shook, we froze, slowly put our hands up and tried our best to keep it cool while the white homie spoke on everybody’s behalf.
An officer asked for my ID, which was in the bedroom. I requested he come with me. He refused. I was scared to go back there alone because I knew doing so was more than a good enough excuse for them to shoot to kill. Reluctantly, I eventually obeyed and walked down the long hallway to retrieve my license. No sooner than I grabbed it from my pants pocket, I had a gun barrel pressed firmly against my temple. Of course, it was a different cop than the one who told me it was OK.
I fucking knew it.
Thankfully, he never squeezed the trigger and just took the ID. Meanwhile, I’m just happy as fuck I’m still breathing. Eventually, they gave me the bullshit “you fit a description” spiel and showed us a black and white xerox of a fat Samoan dude with long hair that they swore was me.
They laughed when we asked for their badge numbers and slammed our now broken door as they went back down the steps. We naively called the local department to complain about the injustice we faced, of course, to no avail.
Since then, incidents similar to this continued. A few years back, I was locked up for the first time.
Walking late night on Mother’s Day 2015, I ran into two cops who were looking for a fight that I almost gave them. I had no warrants, no priors, and was committing no crime. Regardless, I ended up being body slammed, placed in a chokehold, and remember hearing the click of a taser just before blacking out. When I came to, I was in the back of the cop car on my way to the precinct.
Ultimately, I was never charged and never fined other than the $10,000 bail I had to post 10% of. What’s crazier is the judge didn’t even have my name on the docket when I went to the hearing. The offense on my ticket said “walking on the wrong side of the road.” What the fuck is that?
I was jailed, legally, for 72 hours, purely because I could be.
Three days in county ain’t shit. Trust me, I know.
My pops is doing a 68-year bid with a 24-year minimum that he’s 12 years through. He’s 58 years old. I won’t go into details about his business, but suffice it to say that the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the alleged offense. Three days is nothing compared to what he’s enduring. Every moment of every minute that I sat in there, the pain I felt for him intensified.
Which is why I was so struck by what my mother said to me the day I got out.
I told her my story and naively expected sympathy. I described the way I was targeted and aggressively pursued. I explained how they gave me an ultimatum to either sign a ticket I hadn’t even been shown or go to the department. She simply replied that she loved me, and that she couldn’t believe I’d been so stupid.
That’s when it dawned on me. She was disappointed because she’d taught me better than that. I should’ve done everything in my power to preserve my life.
It was enlightening and equally disheartening.
I was grateful to still be alive. At the same time, I felt angry that my unwillingness to submit cost me three days of my life. I finally understood the message my moms had been imparting on me for forever...
So, we speak softly. We say “yes sir” even when such respect wasn’t earned. We remove our hoodies in case our half-covered heads are perceived as threatening. Yet, we’re still being choked to death. Both by officers of the law, and by a virus government officials refuse to protect us from.
We have to do something different.
I won’t lie and say I know what that something is. But, I do know that it’s imperative we educate ourselves, and our sisters and brothers with legitimate, well-sourced information. Only then can we begin to modify the course of time so as not to repeat the same missteps we’ve made in America since the Roaring 1920s.
I think about the spirit of the Harlem Renaissance. Every time I step into an underground after-hours all night party (aka a speakeasy) where everybody’s smoking, drinking, and whatever else, we might as well be boycotting Prohibition. I can’t help but see the correlation between then and now.
If things are really getting better, why do we still feel this way?
2020 has been tumultuous to say the least and has us all searching for solace. For me and people like me, this is nothing new. We’ve been struggling to find peace of mind for hundreds of years in a land that we built without as much as an acknowledgement that we were wronged. In spite of our oppressors attempts to rewrite our true history, the past continues to rear its ugly head.
This is life in The Roaring 2020s.
Not much has changed in the past 100 years, but everything can change in a moment.