Ask the wretched how they fare in the halls of justice, and then you will know, not whether or not the country is just, but whether or not it has any love for justice. –James Baldwin, 1972
On a night when a grand jury in Missouri failed to indict a white police officer for shooting to death an unarmed black teenage boy.
On a night a few days after police in Ohio shot and killed a twelve year old black boy brandishing a plastic BB gun.
On a night when the air and airwaves are filled with white fear, black fear, and prayers for the living to continue to live.
I watch on a nearly endless loop Odell Beckham Jr. make an impossible catch.
He is, what, twenty two? Defying the laws of physics? Of gravity? I watch that wingspan and I am grateful he survived.
On a night that is as full of danger as any night in America, if you are black and living–if you are black and walking down the street–if you are black and in a car–I watch Kendrick Lamar rap across the SNL stage.
There are things, as a white girl raised in white Oregon, that I will never know. My empathy; my anger; my grief–all those feelings now more than ever towards the institutionalized racism and violence against black lives in this country–are little more than meaningless. An empathy born of privilege, but yes, I am grateful that Lamar, too, made it out alive.
On a night when on a split-screen on NBC the black president I voted for says that “a community’s real concerns” don’t “excuse violence” as an armored vehicle launches smoke grenades—tear gas—at its citizens.
On a night when protestors are arrested in Oakland, Boston, Ferguson, I fear for the young black men I write with: Eli, who sang his poems wearing a fedora to a class of 3rd graders; Rafe, who led our poetry walking tour through the gentrifying barrio until we were under the freeway, pointed to the arches and wrote, I lived here; Jason, who wrote the blue is bluer than loneliness: they are vulnerable, aged 12 to 15, they are three times more likely to die at the hands of the police than a white boy their age.
On a night when I’m writing my way towards half-formed thoughts about the black men that I love. A journalist. A rapper from Compton. Poets from Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles. And the football players. Odell Beckham defying space and time. T.Y. Hilton crying into the cameras with joy at his new baby girl. LeGarrette Blount rumbling to two TDs yet again.
It doesn’t stop: the interrogation of my privilege. Can I claim love for football players? Have I commodified black bodies yet again? Do they only have value to me because of what they provide?
I hope the answer is no. That pulse of shame and sadness when American justice failed Trayvon Martin: that is true. That wave of grief reading the statement issued by Michael Brown’s parents: true. Baldwin writes: “If you can examine and face your life, you can discover the terms with which you are connected to other lives.”
On a night when another black boy is dead in America, I give thanks for those who survive. And pray, if there’s a place for it, that some day the grieving will end.