“I’m speaking to you from my heart,” Boyega told the crowd. “Look, I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but f— that. This is a moment where we are now a physical representation of our mentality, of our shared idea that Black lives matter.” Words by John Boyega, Variety
It’s not just the burning crosses, the hoods, the blackface, the lynchings, the killings, the inadequate healthcare, the traffic stops, the “Oh wow, you attended an ivy league?”, the being followed around the store, the park while birding, the final breaths while jogging, the “But, I don’t see color”, the “I worked hard to get to where I am. They should too”, the countless times they mistake you for the janitor or the sales associate no matter how you’re dressed, the countless times they ask you about when the doctor’s coming in even though you graduated medical school years ago and are highly applauded in your field, the look they give when you walk in a room because they pictured someone else from the phone interview.
It’s not just the slurs slung ’round in your house as a kid, the clutch of a purse, the suburb you live in where the inhabitants are as homogeneous as the lawns.
It’s all of this. It’s the stories. The ones that are untold. The ones your friends, coworkers, parishioners, patients, clients, and significant others silently and painfully hold.
Here are a few of my own.
Our university dining hall was basically the United Nations. At any given table you’d see someone from Nepal, Bulgaria, Trinidad, or Brooklyn, sitting and eating together. But diversity doesn’t equal inclusion.
Once, I asked several people from different countries: “Would your parents be okay if you married someone Black?”
Each person said no, quickly, without hesitation.
Some said their family might go so far as to disown them.
We sat in a parked car at a lake in Gresham, Oregon. Weeks before I moved there, my grandfather said I’d be a “speck of pepper in a bowl of milk.”
I sat in the passenger seat and my girlfriend was behind the wheel. The sun had just set, and there were no restrictions posted. It was okay for us to be there.
A cop pulled up after about 15 minutes. Moments later he was outside my window shining a bright flashlight in my face and asking for my ID. Not for my white girlfriend’s ID, mine. I handed it to him. I was shaking. My girlfriend said nothing. A few days prior, she told me she didn’t see color, we were all equal.
The officer never addressed her, he just returned my ID and told us we had to head home.
Years later, a cop pulled me over because I didn’t have a license plate on my front bumper. Pennsylvania, where I purchased my car, had different rules than Maryland. He did a warrant check on me, he asked me a few questions to see if the car was actually mine. It was a 30 minute interaction. My wife was on speakerphone the entire time. My knuckles lightening from gripping the steering wheel so tightly. She kept telling me I was okay and reminding me to breathe. I pulled off with a warning. It shouldn’t have been like this, I shouldn’t have had to fear for my life for a damn traffic stop. Still, if things would have escalated for some imaginary reason, I wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up dead.
Someone stoked the fire as we shared stories from childhood. I was on break from college and wanted to catch up with guys I hadn’t seen since we were all nervous about middle school dances. Earlier that day, one guy treated me to an overpriced buffet. He said I didn’t owe him anything, he was just happy to see me.
It was getting late, but I didn’t want the fun to end. It felt like old times. Then they began talking about this race war that hit the neighborhood a few years back.
One said, “Those n*****s stole our bikes, messed with us, and were always looking for a fight. I’m glad one of them got locked up!” More laughter. But I sat with my head down.
It got silent.
All eyes on me.
I said, “I don’t have a problem with you using the word. I mean your people invented it!” I was incensed but my smile suggested they were all forgiven. We laughed and I excused myself.
I haven’t spoken to them in over 10 years.
You can support those in the Black LGBTQ+ community. You can support Black owned businesses in your city. You can support the families of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others whose lives have been devastated by racism and murder.
Be wary of the litany of distractions that accompany any uprising, any call to wake up. Fannie Lou Hamer said, “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”
This is your burden too, no matter how far you believe you are from the problem.
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