Please check yourself


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Amy Tesfayesus

(Deep breath) Whew. Here we go. 

The state of our country this past week is a magnifying glass, much-needed so people can stop squinting to see what’s wrong with how we treat black people in America. 

It’s chaotic, it’s powerful and it’s finally sending the loud message: black lives matter.

I have been plagued by devastating pessimism about the status of the black experience in America.

There is no shock value when I hear about racially-motivated killings, I don’t blink an eye when the President of our country makes racist, nativist comments to his heavily influenced electorate, and I don’t pretend to see a light at the end of the tunnel when a white person addresses their anti-racist views. 

At times, it feels like the responsibility of this black experience lies on my own two shoulders, often being the only black woman in the room.

When someone says, “I just don’t see (blank)” or “Why can you say this and I can’t?” or “Statistically speaking, that’s not true,” I am hurt but simultaneously unvexed. It’s as though my following words will be the deciding factor of whether or not someone will improve, and to be effective, I must be delicate. 

But delicacy is a waste of my time.

Mind you, this is my experience as an upper-middle-class, educated, straight, black female immigrant. Those identifiers carry my privilege. I am black, a woman and an immigrant, and I still have privilege. Privilege that comes in reprehensible forms, like being separated from my blackness because of my immigrant status, my dialect and diction, the Eurocentric-adjacency of my hair texture and the lighter color of my skin. 

My experience doesn’t compare to the way some of my black brothers and sisters are treated, so to still feel this way and experience maybe fifty percent of the hate and injustice others do…there are no words to describe that sort of heaviness.

To acknowledge and address my own privilege only to turn and see a white person claim they have none is mind-numbing and exhausting.

But this weekend, despite the newfound pessimism and hate from those who don’t suffer from the anti-blackness that blankets our country, I felt hope for the first time.

While racism calls these protests the work of “thugs”: insidious, destructive, divisive, and useless, for the first time, I am moved—moved to see the rage that is DESERVED. 

People aren’t protesting their right to not wear masks during a worldwide pandemic. People aren’t protesting a football player’s right to peacefully kneel by burning the merchandise of the brand by which he’s sponsored. People are protesting MURDER by the system that is designed to protect those same people. 

Do you understand this? Because if you do, it is nearly impossible for me to understand where you’re able to find a gray area. 

It is pure hate and racism that says that these protests are violent, but the fully-armed white people getting physical with police, protesting efforts to combat a virus, are rational, effective, “very fine people.” 

People are getting arrested, tear-gassed (during a pandemic of respiratory nature, by the way) and shot…for protesting murder? What alternate universe are we in that this is something that needs to be argued over?

Please check yourself before you make claims that argue how these protests are playing out rather than addressing the real issue. People are being arrested for standing for a cause while the murderers are getting a paid vacation and their complicit colleagues are continuing to “enforce” the law.

Please check yourself before you claim that the police who are working at these protests (who the protests are against) aren’t the common denominator of most of the violence.

Please check yourself before you claim that a few bad cops don’t account for an entire police force and then claim the insurgents of these protests make up the entire movement.

Please check yourself if you believe that officers, who are trained for a maximum of six months, are somehow rid of their implicit bias when they receive their badge and gun.

Please check your grandparents when they make racist comments behind closed doors and stop giving them the benefit of the doubt. Correct them when they say, “all lives matter” and choose to erase the challenges only faced by black people.

Please check your privileged white friends who are consciously deciding to keep themselves out of this debate of civil rights. The silence is deafening. Their supposed “love” for the black people around them means absolutely nothing if they won’t show up when it counts. If they don’t show up when we’re talking about murder, what makes you think they ever will?

There is no rational argument to be made against the cause of making people care about black lives. It’s not that something has suddenly shifted for Black Americans, it’s that people haven’t cared about black lives from the start. 

Of course, there are going to be riots. Of course, people are angry. They’re furious. 

What a utopia we would live in if people were able to fix things in this country without being fueled by rage and without hundreds of bodies in the rearview mirror of the people in charge of our authoritarian systems.

Black people have been shown time and time again that passivity and peaceful revolutions don’t work. John F. Kennedy warned us when he said, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” 

If discomfort, anger, and chaos are needed to challenge the exploitation of black people that this country was built on, so be it. Until you have a better solution, let the people amplify black voices. For once.

Finally, silence is compliance. Instead of pretending you’re above the problem and therefore not a part of the solution, educate yourself. Use your privileges, whatever they may be, to elevate the people who don’t have them. Read. Sign. Donate. Protest. 

We need you.

Sign the petition for Justice for George Floyd:

Donate to the Black Lives Matter Fund Here: