Friday, December 5, 2014
This feels like strange fruit dangling from a tree
I feel numb.
That is the only way to describe what I’ve been carrying for the past week. It’s been hard to move. It’s even harder to speak with clarity related to what just happened – two grand juries ruling not to indict white police officers in the death of unarmed black men.
My numbness is not caused by shock. It’s the outcome of hauling painful luggage for as long as I can remember. I’m saddened even more by the knowledge that I’m not alone. Most black men share the burden of stuff so deep and old that we can’t frame words to define the angst in our souls. Black women bring feelings compounded by anxiety related to witnessing their sisters beaten and killed, potential husbands broken, and their children and other kinfolks opposed by a system rooted in enduring hate.
I simply don’t know how to feel. What I do know is how the madness impacts the assumptions I bring to the work I do. My work as a journalist forces me to discard many of the ethical expectations we embrace when we say yes to this work. I’ve abandoned the desire to be impartial in my reporting and writing on the stories involving the death of black men and women. I’ve rejected the need to get the other sides of the story. I’m critically aware of how all of this influences my credibility as a journalist. I get all of that, but I’m too numb to make the transition back to the land of impartiality.
I’m not sure if it is possible to keep yourself out of the story. Journalists are taught not to make the story about you. I’m long past violating the sacred trust of locating the real story and allowing readers to come to their own conclusion.
I get it. I embrace all of it. I teach it, and I want my students to enter the field with eyes pointing beyond their assumptions. All of that is true, but how can I commit to that vision?
This story has impacted me personally. I carry the commentary regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner with me each day. The images of their dead bodies follow me to work, to school, and the places I spend money. My faith is measured by their deaths. My willingness to trust is impacted by the disappointment of no indictments.
It is about trust.
I’ve been seeking clarity regarding this numbness. Where did it come from? What can be done to overcome this pain that has my heart beating faster than it should?
It came to me after listening to Charles Barkley dispute Kenny Smiths contention that we shouldn’t bring up slavery whenever problems like this show up. Smith penned an open letter for USA Today to address some of the comments made by Barkley during a recent broadcast of NBA on TNT. Barkley called those who looted stores in Ferguson, MO “scumbags”
Barkley apologized for going too far by calling looters “scumbags”. What followed was an enlightening conversation that displayed the complexity and diversity of responses in the black community. Smith questioned why the media quotes Barkley as an expert on black life and thought.
The conversation shifted when Barkley stated his opinion on slavery.
“The only problem I had with Kenny’s, umm, open letter was, umm, I don’t think anytime something bad happens in the black community we have to talk about slavery,” Barkley said during Thursday’s broadcast of the NBA on TNT. “Listen, slavery is, uh, well, I shouldn’t say one of the worst things ever, because I don’t know anything about it other than what I read or what my grandmother told me,”
That’s when it hit me. The tension in America is about slavery. Barkley suggest we shouldn’t bring it up whenever there is a problem in the black community, but is it possible that all of the tension is the result of the lack of trust related to treatment during slavery?
Is that the foundation of my personal numbness? I can’t trust that America won’t treat me like my ancestors during slavery. So much of the evidence authenticates the legitimacy of my fear.
It’s like a person in an abusive relationship. We tell them to leave before it’s too late. If he beats you once, he will do it over and over again. Despite the warning, she comes back. Isn’t that what we feel? Has trust been shattered due to the constant attacks after we come back home to try again?
I had to pause to contemplate my thesis. Is it the same? What do I feel when I witness the body of a dead black man burning on hot pavement? What are my thoughts connected to watching a police officer chokes a black man after he cries “I can’t breathe”? What do I carry, deep down, when I watch until he stops moving? How can I move on when I see it over and over again, and each conclusion ends the same?
That’s when it hit me. This is our strange fruit.
That’s why I can’t stop crying. It could be me dangling from the tree.
Its bullets instead of nooses made from rope.
Slavery officially ended in 1865, but it feels like we’re beaten whenever we attempt to run from the grip of the white man on the plantation.
That may be an unfair assumption, but those are the emotions behind this numb feeling.
How can I move toward the future when the past stands in the way?