I can't imagine the life of constant, back-breaking powerlessness that black people feel in America.
"A riot is the language of the unheard." - MLK
I’ve only felt powerless a few times in my life. Like that time in the grocery store when I was six and the clerk took the food stamps from my mother, pinched between her thumb and finger like our poverty was contagious and said, “I wish the government bought MY groceries.” Or the time I came across a group of boys hurling rocks at a nest of baby birds they’d managed to knock out of a tree when I was eight. Or the time my landlord broke in and tried to rape me.
Each of these instances of powerlessness filled me with an intense rage. I remember clenching my fists so hard in the grocery store it took hours for the grooves from my nails to disappear. I remember screaming at the boys and throwing my bike at them before grabbing the nest and biking away with it, bloody baby birds and all. I remember hurling my landlord across the room because NO.
I cannot imagine the life of constant, back breaking powerlessness black people feel in this country. The myriad moments of my powerlessness likely add up to less than twenty four hours of my entire life, but if I think about any of those instances I can feel the rage begin to well up again like lava under my skin, ready to burn its way out.
So tonight while I watched the people of Ferguson react to the news that Darren Wilson wouldn’t be indicted for the murder of an unarmed man by throwing things at the police and by smashing the windows of a police car, I have nothing but empathy for those that feel so enraged with the news that nothing but violence will help. I’m not condoning these acts – let me be very, very clear about that - but still, I understand.
I can see how a lifetime of abject powerlessness, of being told your life and the lives of your sons, your husbands, your brothers and your fathers don’t matter, causes a rage so overwhelming, so deep and so toxic that if you don’t hit something you will burst with it and it will kill you.
I can’t condone it, but damn it, I totally understand it.
Tonight too many of my friends are crawling into bed with their brown children and weeping because they don’t know if tomorrow or next week or next year it will be their child shot while his arms are raised in surrender. Or while playing with a toy gun at a playground. Or walking in the rain with a bag of Skittles. I will never know that fear. My pale skinned, blue-eyed daughter will most likely never be shot by the police, no matter how badly she behaves. I have never been more aware of that than I am tonight.
Once again, tonight, I am filled with that same sense of powerlessness and that rage is hot under my skin. But I’m battling a weariness, too, and a sense of hopelessness. I want to say, “I cannot believe this is my America” but the truth is I DO believe it. I wasn’t surprised by the lack of an indictment. A friend said on Facebook tonight about Ferguson, “The systemic racism, the valuing of a white person's need to "feel" safe over a black person's life, it isn't okay, but it isn't going away.”
I wish she was wrong. I really do. But it’s hard to have hope with such an overwhelming amount of evidence to the contrary. Can we do better? I want to believe we can, but I honestly just don’t know.
Tonight I’m going to bed full of grief and anger.
Tonight I will pray for Michael Brown’s family, for Ferguson, and for all of my friends hugging their children tightly right now.
Tonight I’m praying for change.
Tonight I will take action and I will raise my daughter to understand that every life has just as much value as hers, regardless of what society says.
I will do all I can, as will most of us. I just pray it will be enough.