Black People Are Not Safe Anywhere in America

by Inda Lauryn

McKinney, Texas. New Orleans, Louisiana. Baltimore, Maryland. Charleston, South Carolina.

America has never been kind to Black people. The past couple of weeks have re-emphasized a truth many of us hold self-evident: this country does not value the lives of its Black citizens—or even consider us to be citizens. While we may have quiet periods when we do not hear of incidents that reach the national news, the past couple of weeks seem to have brought us an overabundant reminder of this country's ugly reality when it comes to race, specifically its view and treatment of Black Americans.

Consider the recent news: Kalief Browder was driven to suicide after years of state-sanctioned torture on Riker’s Island, even though he was never tried or convicted of a crime. In McKinney, Texas, a police officer was caught on video slamming a 15-year-old bikini-clad girl to the ground and putting his knee in her back to keep her forced down. A similar incident at a pool occurred in Fairfield, Ohio, when police broke the jaw and ribs of a 12-year-old girl when slamming her against a police car.

We have had to deal with the deaths of three young black girls as well: Arnesha Bowers was sexually assaulted and set afire in a horrific crime in her Baltimore home and three suspects have been arrested for her murder. The bodies of Jasilas Wright and Kaylan Ward were found about a week apart on the same I-10 highway in New Orleans, prompting speculation that they were the victims of a serial killer. Then there is the complete fuckery known as Rachel "I identify as black" Dolezal, who used blackface impersonate being a Black woman for the better part of a decade and is geared to capitalize big time off her fraud.

And now Charleston.

On the night of Wednesday, June 17th, we sat and watched as the story of a shooting by a white male assailant at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church unfolded late into the night. Eight members of the congregation died on the scene and a ninth died later at the hospital. A five-year-old girl survived because she knew how to play dead. While many white Americans mused about how could this happen at a church, many Black Americans were reminded of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963 that claimed the lives of four little girls and the string of church fires in the South during the 1990s.

In other words, the past couple of weeks have served to remind us of an ugly truth: Black people are not safe anywhere in America. We face a never ending cycle of violence against our bodies and psyches. No matter where we are, what we are doing, or how respectably we present ourselves, Black folks cannot find any safety or solace in this country.

The fact that this latest incident occurs at one of the nation's oldest and most historic Black churches, where Denmark Vesey planned a slave revolt, makes the site of the shooting particularly heinous. The people of South Carolina have the memory of a country founded on enslavement and genocide all around them, and the church, on the heels of the anniversary of Vesey's revolt and Juneteenth, serves as a reminder of Black struggle and resistance for nearly 200 years.

Yet unlike other violent incidents, such as the Sandy Hook shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing, the Charleston massacre has not been viewed as a national tragedy. It is seen as an attack on the Black community, therefore the nation does not need to take the time to reflect on why this happened and give those of us who understand the fear of becoming a victim time to breathe. Black people do not get a day of mourning or bereavement to express our grief, or to wonder if or when this will someday all end. Black pain is spectacle for those who do not have to experience it firsthand.

However, Black folks have a way of surviving. In spite of living under the constant threat of violence and oppression, we keep going. We find ways and reasons to make it through an existence full of uncertainty at every turn with no promise of light at the end of a tunnel. We find ways to survive knowing that not only can our lives be taken for no reason, but also that our lives can be taken for no reason and with no chance of restitution.

We do this because we must. We must find ways to survive no matter how much this country reminds us of how little it values our lives and experiences. We have a right to preserve ourselves. We have a right to exist.

Self-care is not just the property of the privileged. We owe it to ourselves to take care of ourselves as best we can, especially when we live under the constant fear that we are not safe even in our own homes and sanctuaries. It is difficult to find times of bereavement through the constant demands life brings us, but we can find ways to care for ourselves.

We vent on social media. We build our safe communities and provide each other with comfort the best ways we know how. We unplug when information overload becomes too much. We refuse to cater to non-Blacks who demand our time and space when tragedies such as the Charleston massacre occur and we remember that we do not owe our lives to anyone.

Of course, we still need our own physical safe spaces, which seem much harder to come by these days. If current events show us anything, Black bodies are always coded as a threat no matter what we are doing, so trying to find ways to be safe in the physical world has become even more challenging.

The one thing we as a people have always had is hope. Even when the present seems its darkest, we still hold out hope for a brighter future—whether for ourselves or for the generations following us. We survive to preserve the memories of Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Rev. DePayne Middleton, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. Daniel L. Simmons, Sr., Rev. Sharonda Singleton, Myra Thompson and all those we have lost to the long history of violence and oppression of Black people in this country. We survive because our lives matter. We have a right to be safe as Black people in America.

Image: Shutterstock

Inda Lauryn has previously been published in Blackberry, A Magazine, Interfictions, The Toast, and Callaloo, as well as had her work featured on blogs such as Black Girl Nerds, Bitch Flicks, and AfroPunk. She is currently working on a novel and countless other unfinished writing projects, occasionally blogs at Corner Store Press and shares music playlists at MixCloud.

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