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I am black and I am exhausted. This journey we embarked on, as a nation, to reckon with the myths we tell about America has left me drained. Before the world knew George Floyd’s name I devoured books that were the intersection of our complex shared history, race, law, and policy. I read all of the notable names. I watched their lectures. I scoured the internet for interviews. I consumed the knowledge with an insatiable appetite. I started with a question. Each book I read allowed me to refine the question. The authors forced me to rephrase the question so it was more precise. I realized at one point I was not even asking the right question. Where our history, race, law and policy intersect, I am confident to scrap with anyone. I am unafraid to wade, by myself, into unfriendly territory and spar with the opposition. Then, we learned George Floyd’s name.
We all watched Darnella Fraizer’s cellphone video, of George’s life slowly being squeezed out of him. I witnessed streets I knew, from my childhood, teens, and early twenties ablaze at night and smoldering in the dawn. When I was 19 I ventured to Lake Street, to have a profound transformation of my own. I had spent my freshman year in college growing my hair, so that I could make the pilgrimage from the confines of the southern suburbs to Lake Street to have my hair locked. My conservative father drove me the first time, for my initial appointment, that was enough for him. So he gave me the keys to the car and sent me on my way. Twenty-five years later I saw this street transformed with protestors and police outfitted in riot gear. I saw makeshift memorials for a man that we did not know, but whose murder we witnessed. I know of friends, and strangers who have made the pilgrimage to Lake Street, seeking transformation. Or even more precisely: proximity. They were compelled to honor him, because we had invaded his privacy and watched him die, without his consent. That is what these black talking-heads do not understand: we watched a man get murdered. They chirp he was not a hero and recite his many infractions that made him fallible. They dismiss that he was the victim of a violent crime. Even worse, for many of us that was the first person we ever saw murdered. George was not afforded a quick death, but the city of Minneapolis provided him with a slow agonizing death. Ms. Fraizer’s video is effectively a snuff film, and we all watched.
We grieve for George, but we grieve for our innocence; which was squeezed out of each of us, like the life that was crushed out of George. Our American values have made us a modest, perhaps even a prudish country. We used to experience shame. When we watched George die, we collectively felt shame. We stared at our screens, helpless to save him. Ashamed of our own inability to avert our eyes. What is normally a solemn event, was infiltrated by all of us. Something that is usually reserved for medical staff, family members and clergy was desecrated by our prying eyes. We were not invited to watch him pass. George was not afforded that dignity. We sat affixed to our screens and slowly watched him become weaker and weaker. We heard a grown man cry-out for his mother, and we all thought of our mothers. Mothers, thought of their children, their neighbor’s children, and children they might never know.
We had been cooped up for so long, some of us took to the streets to protest this murder. Some of the protest turned violent. Some were spurned on by aggressive policing. Some protest were used as cover to commit criminal acts. Nonetheless, I witnessed the size of the protests swell. They sprouted up all over the nation and all over the world. America’s friends had watched, and so had its enemies. The whole world had bear witness, and America was being judged.
It was with his passing and the uprisings his death invoked, which caused me to cease reading. In fact, I did not read another book until after his murderer was found guilty.
I am tired. I am tired of the theatrics. I am tired of the performative actions. I am tired of the hollow words and non-existent actions. I am tired of those with the power to make the America bend the knee, do everything in their power to keep America from bending the knee. I am tired of nations with horrific human rights abuses refusing to be lectured by America, because they know how America treat its black citizens. I am tired, and I know that you are also tired.
This is not where I goad you, by saying that your weariness is not even a fraction of mine, because you are white. This is not where I issue a call of action to call your Senators to make sure the Senate passes the George Floyd Policing Act or eliminate the filibuster. This is definitely not the place where I ask you to place #BLM in your profile or change your instagram square to black. I just want to acknowledge our collective trauma for a beat.
600,000 Americans have died from a pandemic. So many businesses have closed their doors for the last time. More American families are going to bed hungry. In some places the procession to get a box of food stretches for miles. The pandemic has caused the values of homes to rise to new heights, but has also caused even more displacement of people from our communities. The looming lifting of the eviction/foreclosure moratorium will cause a tsunami of foreclosures/evictions that no one alive has any memory of. A vocal segment of the American population believes that a fraudulent election took place in November, despite no evidence to support their claims. We even laid witness to the failed lynching/assassination of our elected officials. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Americans decided to take the law in their own hands and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power. Individuals who decided to ignore and reject any fact that did not support what they decided to believe about how a nation voted for a new president. We watched a President get impeached for a second time. Then we watched the same impeached President get acquitted for a second time. Instead of all of our neighbors rolling up their sleeves and fighting this pandemic, shoulder-to-shoulder, some picked up arms to protest the wearing of masks. Even some of our elected officials likened wearing masks to the mass murder of millions of people of a single faith. Our collective effort to end a plague has been hijacked by disinformation, unfounded fear, partisan bickering, and selfishness. We are all tired.
Once again, the world tuned-in to watch the reading of the verdict. We watched, not to witness justice or even accountability for the death of Mr. Floyld, but for our own selfish reason: to confirm what we all knew to be murder was actually murder. For the past year, I suggest, that all Americans have felt they have been gaslit by their government. From the people who believe that the pandemic is not real, to those who listened to the former President spread a lie that the election had been stolen from him: Americans felt they had been the victims of gaslighting.
When the verdict was read, and Derek Chuavin was found guilty of murder, many of us exhaled. For me, it was the first time I could catch my breath since I was first introduced to George. The breath was not fully expelled from my lungs, when we learned of a teenage girl who was the subject of a police-involved homicide. Her homicide, augmented the value of the jury’s findings. Her death demonstrated how quickly the police can provide body cam footage when it purports to clear them of wrongdoing.
Soon, the partisan hacks, and talking heads would sow misery and disbelief in our jury system. They would tell their audience that the jury was coerced to convict Derek, not because he was guilty, but because of the orders disseminated by an octogenarian who represents Inglewood, California in the House of Representatives, if he was acquitted. The polling would illuminate that 45% of Republicans believed the verdict was wrong. This segment of the populace witnessed Derek press the life out of George and believed that was appropriate policing. I am exhausted.
I first witnessed you pour all of your energy into baking bread and as quickly as that occurred, you had moved onto dismantling white supremacy. I saw you become super-intense about becoming anti-racist. I watched you talk to your children about racism. I read your proclamations about how you were going to honor the life of George Floyd. Then I saw fatigue. Fighting an amorphous entity like white supremacy or whiteness is draining. It is baked into the very fabric of America. It is the foundation of this nation. It is in part, the reason your bloodline immigrated to America. Whiteness is cunning and deceptive and can take many forms and lives in all of us. Fighting it is fighting ourselves.
I am exhausted and so are you. The election of Joe Biden, has not rectified any of the problems, thus far. His ascension to the Presidency has mitigated the harm. I am not minimizing or dismissing mitigation. The fact that we have a President who is interested in doing the job of President is substantial. Yet, our country has not become decent. We have a faction of our electorate, and those who represent their ideology in our government, have become more and more indecent and intolerant. Yet, all the while demanding the same decency and tolerance, which they refuse to provide.Their lies and fear-mongering bolsters their base, but debases our democracy and democratic norms. They zealously promote a false equivalency between the storming of the Capitol to lynch elected leaders and disrupt the peaceful transfer of power, to people marching in the streets demanding that my life matters. Do not believe for one-second, that if that mob caught Representatives Omar, Pelosi, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlalb, Waters, Pressley, and others they would not have been lynched. In fact, allow me to write the quiet part: they most likely would have been sexually assaulted before they were murdered. The former Vice-President would have hung from the makeshift gallows that degraded the Capitol grounds.
We are on the verge of emerging from the most difficult year, in modern times, that we have collectively experienced as a nation. From isolation from our loved ones to an uncertain economic future, we have been pushed to a breaking point. Yet, the one moment that defined this year was the murder of an unarmed black man in Minnesota. Atlas shrugged, Jesus wept, and we are exhausted. Yet, kindness and human decency do not take any energy, it is simple a decision: do we choose cruelty or do we choose decency? It is a decision that we must make for ourselves, despite our dreariness.
I wish all of you peace and love and fulfillment. I pray for our nation. I can’t wait to see many of you and see your smiles, and feel the warmth of your embrace. We were a nation that did really big, audacious things. I hope that we can summon the same courage to be that nation again. Right now our country does not need us to send our sons to a foreign land to fight tyranny. It is not calling upon us to ration. America needs those who are eligible to get a shot. That is the sacrifice our nation requires of us. That is the first step of returning to the shinning city on the hill.
Rest in power George. May God watch over your family, and provide peace to all of those who witnessed your murder. Ms. Frazier your courage to keep filming changed this world.