I have been in the Twin Cities now for nearly 20 years, since graduating from college in St. Cloud 2000. Two of my children used to attend school at Lake Country Montessori School on 38th Street at Pleasant, a few blocks down from Chicago Avenue. For many years, I drove through the intersection of 38th and Chicago taking them to school and back to our house off Hiawatha Avenue not two miles from that same intersection. For 10 years, this area was our communal backyard. Today, it’s hallowed grounds, where a grown man begged for his life and cried for his dead mother.
The day following his death, I joined thousands in a peaceful march from the intersection to the 4th precinct at Minnehaha and Lake, where once again we demanded justice, reasserted that black lives matter, and expressed that we are tired of being treated as if our lives are disposable.
George Floyd did not deserve to die. Through countless replays, we all witnessed his deliberate execution by officers sworn to serve and protect him. A lynching, in all its horror and public display. This is America. This much I know. Her history is littered with such inhumane displays of human vileness toward each other. Her present is only slightly better.
A week later, I took my children to the intersection, so they too can bear witness. We returned home shaken and confused.
My cousin wrote, on Facebook, “Washington Post says, since 2015 only ten unarmed African-Americans were killed by police. The circumstances that led to their deaths? The culprits attacked the police officers and police officers defended themselves…Law enforcement simply against Black people? I think not. George Floyd’s death was tragic but the idea that America is inherently racist towards blacks isn’t the truth….”
This is what he thinks, my cousin, born and raised in America. You can say we grew up together, in America, when I came some thirty years ago. We lived in the same house, in a suburb of Chicago; he was in second grade; I in tenth. Then neither of us understood America, but it’s been 30 years.
In those nearly 30 years, I have learned. The alien invasion of this land started with blankets, and Native Americans were the first to gasp for air. I have learned that cotton is not white; it’s black and it’s red. I have learned that the issue of race almost broke America apart, and your favorite shopping mall may be sitting on a graveyard. I have learned that, after the war, the Klu Klux Klan was born, schemes like grandfather laws kept Blacks from voting, and the prison state was formed. I have learned; sharecropping was another name for slavery. I have learned that DuBois was not stupid, Dr. King was not delusional, and Malcolm was not a lunatic; Billie indeed saw a strange fruit swinging in a southern breeze, and it was her uncle. Langston was a beautiful man in an unbeautiful world. The killing of a mockingbird is the real reason the caged bird sings.
It’s no coincidence Black people account for 12% of the general population and 38% in prison (in the United States). It’s no coincidence that to date, in it’s over 200 years history, with thousands of members, only ten African-Americans have served in the United States Senate. (There is a reason between 1881 and 1967 there was none.) With even more members, only 145 have served in the House of Representatives since inception. And we have had only one Black president. The numbers are no better in business and academic leadership. No better for lawyers, for doctors, for farmers, for owners of anything of material wealth.
My cousin wrote, “I’m black. As f__k. And proud. I don’t feel this way [that America is inherently racist toward blacks] and have had very small encounters with racism, only two with white people.”
I am Black. As f__k. And proud. My first encounter with racism, we lived together, in that house in a suburb of Chicago, where a white neighbor doubted I lived there and followed me all the way home to prove it. I knew something was strange when on the evening news all I saw were young Black men in handcuffs. Certainly, I wondered, Black people cannot be the only criminals in this country. I heard many car locks go “click” when I walked through TJ Maxx’s parking lot a few short blocks from where we lived. I would encounter this phenomenon many times. Now and then, I have been called a nigger (by a white person); I have had my share of encounters with the police wherein I felt that I was unjustly treated; I have felt unsafe in certain circles. Being the “only Black” is so immensely tiring and stifling.
He wrote, “Some of my best friends were white. In fact most of the violence I’ve encountered has been with my own people.”
I see, and I believe. But two things can be true. This I need to make sure my children understand.
I wrote my cousin a long email before calling my 13 year old son and his 15 year old cousin:
You are Black in America. It doesn’t matter if your ancestors came on a slave ship or if your parents came on European airlines, you need to understand that this, your home, is a complicated place. It’d give you an opportunity to grow at the same time dangle a noose behind your neck. The two are true. When a man tells you, “I can’t breathe,” don’t say, “I don’t see a noose.” Because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. (And it does exist!)
“Remember,” I said, “You are Black in America. But always allow room that you will never understand the plight of African-Americans in this country.” This generational trauma fortunately doesn’t run in your veins. That’s your privilege. However, I’m afraid if something is not done and done soon, I can’t say the same for your children and their children. And, that scares me. It scares all of us.”