"I can't breathe."
I held my breath as I watched Eric Garner's pleas for mercy. I didn't make it to the part where he suffocated--hands behind his back, face down--on the sidewalk. The familiarity stings. I knew the ending. Images of murdered black men haunt my thoughts.
When looking at Eric Garner's lifeless body, I don't have to imagine that he is my brother or my father to recognize the injustice of his suffering. My heart aches for the family he will never return to. And if the justice we speak of routinely is more than a figment of our imaginations, I pray it comes swiftly to Mr. Garner's family.
But if the NYPD or the City of New York fail to act, I will not march for Eric Garner. I will not rally for him because I am reserving my mental and emotional energy for the women, the Black women, no one will speak for.
While the effectiveness of social media in spreading Garner's story heartens me. I could not refrain from comparing the empathy shown him, particularly by Black men, to that which is heartbreakingly absent when Black women attempt to discuss the everyday terrors we experience both in the world and at their hands.
Watching black men show up for Garner after seeing so many derail conversations about Black women's well-being leaves me with little more than a sinking feeling of despair upon recognition that the understanding so many of us crave will not come.
In recent weeks, Black women have launched campaigns to ensure that we can exist in public without experiencing harassment and have presidential endorsement of policy that addresses our specific needs. And though these petitions seem common sense to me, Black women's mere desire to take up space is met with push back. And then we are caught in a cycle of perpetually asserting our humanity.
I've found the will to dominate to be impenetrable to appeals for compassion--as was painfully clear in the widely circulated video of Eric Garner's death.
Too many fail to recognize that the violence, psychological verbal and physical, that we direct toward each other in communal spaces reflects the violence enacted upon our bodies and minds by larger dominating structures; thus there's an inability by many Black men to acknowledge that Black women, too, have a right to move through the world without fear--that a woman should not have to avert her eyes and quicken her pace when she encounters men in public spaces.
But we are told that unless we are murdered or raped, we are not truly in distress because Black women's bodies are instruments upon which black men can play out their fantasies of domination without reprisal. But the illusion of power crumbles when black men face the police state.
Black people, both men and women, experience coercive, violent and often deadly interactions with law enforcement. Abuses of the badge draw immediate outrage. In these tragedies, even the men who regularly assault or excuse the assault of Black women, can see themselves, and their fear is most legitimate.
We have been conditioned to believe the exploitation of Black women's work to be a normal, expected part of our womanhood. Fear of being deemed selfish compels us to act against self-interest. But that which is good for women is good for all of us.
I'm not settling for anything less than reciprocity. If you refuse to hear our calls for help, then I cannot respond to yours. I have no desire, as a Black woman, to be placed on a pedestal, but I will not allow myself to become a footstool. Do not ask me for empathy if you are content to deny it in return.
Many women continue to believe that offering unconditional support to the men who dismiss their calls for help will result one day in a return of care--as though they are watering a seed. But I have yet to see the fruit from that tree of hope, and I'm tired of waiting.
So I will mourn Eric Garner and I will cry bitter, broken tears for him, but that is all that I can do.
Kimberly Foster is the founder and editor of For Harriet. Email or Follow @KimberlyNFoster