I started 2020 with so much hope. I’d gone beyond my expectations in completing a hiking challenge in 2019, hosted my sisters and friends for Christmas, started the new year with people I’ve known just a few years but consider to be good friends, and had many different plans for 2020. Hmmm, 2020 had other, shittier, ideas and I have to confess they are chipping away at me – sometimes in minute bits, sometimes in sizable chunks. What a rude awakening, because I’ve always thought of myself as resilient, able to weather any storm. The gale force winds of 2020’s storms are leaving bruises and scars.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of global travel and changes to higher education, amongst other consequences, have played a part, but the open season on Black people is a heavier burden. Police brutality against Black people, the anti-blackness that has flourished under the current US government, and the emotional stress of packing away how I feel so that I can help others to succeed, are breaking off chunks of me. I know those chunks will be rebuilt stronger, but still …
As I’ve said before, I am not on the frontlines but I could easily be the next victim. Or it could be my brother (that would end me), my mother, aunts, uncles, cousins, or friends who are next. The potential harm that could befall me or mine for just existing is real. In 2020 it seems even more so. The ever-increasing incidents (more incidents or more coverage?) are never far from my mind but there are days when other things, everyday living take precedence. Then wham, another attack hits me fuh six! Another case of ‘shoot/beat first, ask questions later’. Another case of police maiming or murdering because they are fully aware they can do so with impunity.
Last Saturday, campus security at Santa Clara University asked an Assistant Professor to prove she lived in her house. They. Went. To. Her. Home. And asked her to prove that she lived there. This is after profiling, harassing, and following her brother (visiting from out of town) back to her home. In our exchanges about this, one of my friends said that since mid-March (we’ve been teaching virtually since then because of COVID-19), he always wears a university shirt when he goes on campus. I’m not convinced that university branded clothing would be helpful against officers similar to the ones in the Santa Clara University incident.
A recent ‘incident’ outside of a restaurant just five minutes from my house further exemplifies Blackness as crime. Police officers responded to a call for help by arriving and immediately pointing their guns at the Black teenage boys who were the victims, then handcuffing them and putting them in the back of their cars, despite bystanders and the restaurant manager who made the call, loudly and consistently explaining that the teenagers were the victims. What is it about our skin that renders us the criminal and not the victim?
Then just this week Jacob Blake in Kenosha Washington joined Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks on the 2020 list of high profile cases of police brutality or excessive use of force – we all know there are many more incidents with less media coverage. Fortunately, for Blake and his family, he survived, unlike the others I mentioned and other victims from previous years.
In the US, it’s customary for Black adults to have ‘the talk’ with their young children, family members, friends, etc. and for those children to then have a lifetime of that conversation. ‘The talk’ serves as a warning that Black people are often seen as guilty without incident, without provocation, and before any evidence is presented. Yet despite this cultural norm, I doubt that Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin had any inkling that on August 23, 2020 he would be shot several times in the back by a police officer. I’m sure he did not wake up thinking that that was the day, no matter how aware he may have been that as a Black person, his Blackness meant he was guilty of something, anything, even if just breathing.
I don’t know if the police officers’ reason for trying to arrest Jacob Blake was just. I’m just struck by the fact that another Black man in a situation such as this ended up shot several times. Comparatively, an openly armed white man who had just shot 3 three people (Kyle Rittenhouse, also in Kenosha Wisconsin a day later), had the privilege of walking towards officers with his hands raised, with a ‘long’ gun, with bystanders shouting that he was the shooter, and was able to escape unscathed. Should I be glad that they didn’t offer him water or invite him out for a burger at that time? That they didn’t tell him ‘thanks’ like they told the ‘militia’ in residence?
Huh! After my last blog post, I’d decided that the next one would be about signs on public lands used for recreation. Of course, I would’ve written about a lot more than signs, but wham! the Jacob Blake shooting happened, followed the next day by Kyle Rittenhouse’s murder of two people protesting the Blake shooting. So now with new pain to purge from my system my pen literally became my salvation, and ‘signs’ got pushed aside.
If I am pained and outraged by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, how do his children who witnessed their father’s shooting, his close family members, and his friends feel? Is the fact that he didn’t die like previous victims any real consolation? Will that help his children to recover from the trauma any faster, if at all?
While I’m questioning, how is it that the NBA is better at governing and standing for what is right, for social justice than the US government? Than the US president who seems to be interested only in stoking the fears of white voters in his bid to be elected for a second term and continue his leaching of everything worthwhile in the country?
In a related vein, I continue to ask myself (and my friends) about the hubris of a country that elected a serial bankrupt artist and liar; reality show actor/performer/participant/faker; and conman. While the 45th president may love small segments of the country and even smaller segments of the population (I’m not convinced of his love of anyone other than himself, but I’m an eternal skeptic and cynic), he certainly does not love the country as a whole, judging by how he ‘governs’. A president who has no love for democracy, no love for public service, no love for the populace. In years past, the US would point at such a country and call it a banana republic, but I digress.
Bach to the NBA. In response to this latest, well-publicized act of police brutality, NBA teams decided not to play their games on August 26th, then all of the games for that day were suspended. Similar protests happened in other sports leagues. Well-known sportscaster Kenny Smith walked off the set of NBA on TNT in solidarity. LA Clippers’ coach, Doc Rivers, notably shaken while making post-game comments on August 25th said “it’s amazing why we keep loving this country and this country does not love us back.” So stark, so real.
What is it going to take for our sentiments to hit the hearts of the majority in this country? Yesterday on one of my social media pages, I posted an article about the sports leagues’ actions. I commented: imagine if every industry/sector did the same, at the same time. Imagine if all of us stopped, put down our tools, and held up our fists. Imagine if all of us said Black Lives Matter, then acted like we meant it. Change would happen. Everyone has a role to play in social justice, but the federal government is conspicuously missing in action, whilst people like me continue to grapple with the effects of ‘Babylon system’.
Babylon system is indeed the vampire as Bob said, but not the romanticized vampire protagonists as in Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series. This vampire is indeed “sucking the blood of the sufferers’. A system that was built to subjugate cannot help the same people it was built to suppress. It is not a broken system, but a successful one working as intended. Can such a system really be reformed? Unlikely. Even potters who shape clay at their wheel give up on some pots, pound the clay back into a solid mass and start afresh. Sometimes they smash the pots after they’ve been made and use the pieces for other purposes, because the pots may not have been actualized as the potter intended or the demand for a different piece or type of pottery has grown.
This is one lens through which I now see Babylon system – it cannot be smacked back into its original mass and gently moulded into something else. The world has changed. The US population has changed. Demand for a system of rules and order has changed. Babylon system must therefore be dismantled and the broken shards discarded. Its replacement must be fashioned from fresh clay and with new vision to serve the current population, not the planters and enslavers from 400 years ago. ✊🏾✊🏾✊🏾