Why It Is OK To Be Distracted By Something That Isn’t Death
July 29, 2015 at 12:07 pm
There is a very real cost to this, the continued viewing of your people being erased. Being blamed for their erasure. Watching yourself disappear, even as you are still living. It is one thing to throw your hands up and say that America is just sooooo exhausting. But it is another to have that exhaustion live in you, to have it wrap itself around you.
I watched the video of Tamir Rice’s murder 78 times. I stayed up watching it for hours, long after my wife expressed concern about the amount of times I’d watched, long after she’d fallen asleep. The next day, I woke up afraid to move. Afraid to consider a child sharing my name and enough of my complexion, dark enough to be seen as dangerous. I decided that I needed to stop consuming the images of black death that appear often rapidly, and without warning. I made the firm decision that I no longer needed to watch a black person die to know that in America, a black person is most certainly near death.
I say this to say that many of us exist in a world that can’t be imagined by others. One where the faces of the dead, their unflattering photos or mugshots strewn about in the media, often blend together to look like someone we do know, or could know, or could certainly love. Living in this world affords us the right to grasp for any exit when the weight of it nearly collapses us.
To be black and on the internet is to, in part, be told that everything you care about isn’t worth caring about. To be shamed for sticking your head out of the window to breathe in the fresh air of meaningless popular culture. There is almost an expectation that we can only associate with one thing, that one thing being the many ways that our own bodies are exiting the world. For every waking hour, thinking about how every corner, every fear, the sharpest tooth on every beast.
I woke up this morning and listened to Drake’s new diss track (the somewhat intense “Back To Back Freestyle”) and texted some jokes to my friends. I gauged the weight of it with some of the Blavity staff/family, laughed at a lot of memes, and got some good-natured ribbing for dropping the ball on this thing that I wrote about the failures of “Charged Up.” I sent an email of baby pandas to a friend with the admittedly corny caption of #squadgoals, read a brilliant and hilarious piece by my dear homie Omar on Black Nerd Problems, and spent 30 minutes looking online for both a pair of vintage sneakers and a good tiramisu recipe.
I did all of this knowing that Sam Dubose was dead, knowing that he had been killed by the police. Knowing that by the time I go to bed tonight, the police will have killed another person, possibly unarmed, likely of color. I did all of this knowing that the next time I get pulled over, the first thing I will do is reach for my phone, think of my wife, my father. The people who could be without me.
This is what I’m saying, to all of you:
I laugh at terrible Meek Mill memes because I know that I could see a link to a video of black death at any moment.
I search the edges of the internet for sneakers and desserts because someone spray painted “All Lives Matter” on a mural of Sandra Bland.
I send my friends videos of baby animals, I send my friends videos of bad cover songs, I send my friends reminders of why we’re friends, and celebrate their brilliance. Because I love them. Because we all share in the common struggle of not knowing how much time we do or don’t have, and what to do with it all.
I want to encourage people to stay woke however you stay woke. Whatever that looks like for you. Part of staying woke is staying mentally and emotionally healthy and safe. So often, we’re demanded to be as urgent as someone ELSE wants us to be. We’re told not only what we need to pay attention to, but exactly how we’re supposed to pay attention to it. We are at the precipice of a time consumed by death, death that we can touch, feel, and watch repeatedly. Death that stays with us throughout the night and into the morning. It is no one else’s job to tell you how to briefly escape the knowing of this. Find the window where you can breathe. Open it wide. I’ll be right there with you, laughing at something completely pointless, reveling in the fact that I am still alive, before I remember how easy it is for me to not be alive.
If we’ve earned nothing, we’ve at least earned the right to that.