An Unforgivable Truth: America, You Are Not My Home

On October 8th, I learned about the death of Vonderrit Myers, another young Black man killed by a white police officer in Missouri. He was shot 16 times. As my Twitter and Facebook timelines erupted with people all over the country expressing their shock and disgust, another feeling came over me. It is deeper than rage, deeper than sadness. I have not been able to name it. But it is not the first time I've felt this hurt, and it will not be the last.

The first time I felt this pain, I was six years old. It was the first time I was called a “nigger.”

My parents had brought me with them to an important financial meeting at the bank. I was the only child entertaining herself in the waiting area when another family came in with their three children. At six, I was too young to understand the difference between us was more than cosmetic. They had pale skin; I had brown skin. They had straight, blonde hair; I had kinky, black hair. None of this mattered, because I was a child, bored and in need of friends.

As I smiled at them, a shy girl’s invitation to play, they scowled back.

I kept entertaining myself, drawing on the paper one of the bank employees had given me. Every once in a while, I would look up furtively, hoping they would finally acknowledge me with something more welcoming than distaste. They did not, and instead began to silently taunt me. Eventually, the youngest and blondest of them raised his middle finger and mouthed the word: “nigger.”

At six years old, I was too young to understand what had happened, or the historical hatred it implied. All I knew was my parents only raised their middle fingers when they were angry, and the word had an ugly sting to it. I knew these were children who would never play with me.

Towards the end of my sophomore year of high school, I would know this pain again. That year, a freshman by the name of Dominic Redd was brutally murdered as he walked home from school. He was chased for blocks by two fellow Latino students, who hoped that by attacking him, they would be allowed to join a local gang. He ran for his life that day, even making it home, but he was so scared, he was not able to put his keys into the door. He took off running again, when they cornered him and stabbed him in an alley near his home.

Dominic Redd was not my friend. He had made fun of me for being fat one day on the bus in middle school, and since then I had been fairly apathetic to his presence. But I grieved his death like many others in the community did. His murder was emblematic of the racial tensions between young Blacks and Latinos that were present throughout Southern California during the early 2000’s.

The principal announced his death during first period, the morning after the incident happened. While a number of students and teachers from all backgrounds were shook by his death, I noticed that there were many white teachers and students who refused to even acknowledge what had happened: a young Black boy was dead. 

But he was not white, so for them, this was business as usual. For me, this was another profound moment of reckoning with how little Black lives held value to white folks.

Again, I would feel this unnameable during my senior year of college. I took a community learning course titled Lyrics on Lockdown, the most influential learning experience of my entire undergraduate career.

We studied the prison industrial complex within the context of other systems of power, privilege, and oppression, while also studying the work of prominent writers, artists, and activists. We then developed arts-based workshops informed by social justice praxis that we facilitated to young men incarcerated at Riker’s Island juvenile facility.

For the first time in my life, I had the language to confront the racism I had both experienced and witnessed as a privileged, educated young Black woman in America. That was the same year my family learned my uncle would be released from prison, after serving a near 30-year sentence. It was the summer after Johannes Mehserle was found not guilty for killing Oscar Grant.

I remember calling my father one night, and asking him, “Daddy, how did you ever stop being angry?”

He laughed, and responded, “I didn't. I just find ways to not let the anger consume me.”

These days, it seems the hurt visits more frequently, and stays longer each time.

On July 13th of last year, George Zimmerman was acquitted for murdering Trayvon Martin. It was the night before my birthday, and I was at a poetry slam. Everyone in that room was angry. Everyone in that room was a poet, but none of us had the words to articulate the weight of the injustice.

On August 9th of this year, Michael Brown was shot dead by Ferguson police officer, Darren Wilson. Again, I was at a poetry slam. For an entire week, I had listened to Black men perform poems about being targets before they ever got to be human. I had listened to them list name after name of Black boy executed, as another one was gunned down some 2,000 miles away.

Two days later, my homegirl and I took off on a cross-country road trip through the Midwest. We passed through town after town where folks stared at us, having never seen Black girls like us in person. We talked about Michael Brown often in the safety of our locked car, locked hotel rooms, and the living rooms of family friends. There, we could express our grief and pain and shock. There, we could name the insidiousness of white supremacy in America. But in the gas stations, fast food restaurants, and hotel lobbies, we used our best “white” voices and spoke about the weather.

In America, Adam Lanza can kill 26 people—20 of them small children, one of them his own mother—in Newtown, Connecticut, and stay alive long enough to kill himself.

In America, James Eagan Holmes can walk into a movie theater with assault rifles, and people think it is a joke until he starts shooting—and the police take him alive.

In America, white privilege means you can be a mass murderer and no one will talk about your skin color, about whether you smoked weed in high school, or were an upstanding citizen. Instead, they will talk about mental health and gun restrictions.

In America, we only talk about gun violence as it relates to white victims, never about the fact that black males are five times more likely to be killed by a gun than a white man.

In America, if you are Black, you are born guilty and are never given the chance to be innocent. In America, Black means extinguishable. In America, justice served means Black bodies are brutalized, violated, murdered… and this is business as usual.

In America, Black lives seemingly only matter to those who live them.

And in this truth, I have found a way to call out this hurt—part betrayal, part mourning, part numbness. It is the realization that America is no longer my home, and has never been. 

America is merely the place that I stay.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Michelle Denise Jackson is a writer, storyteller, and performer—amongst other things. She graduated from NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. She is currently the editorial assistant at For Harriet. For more of her work, please follow her on Twitter (@MichelleJigga) or visit her website.

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