Let me start this by checking my privilege.
I am an able-bodied, college-degree holding, employed, middle-class male.
This is my perspective.
I’ve written at length about what my Black experience means to me. My journey of coming into my blackness, being validated by people I respect in my community and what it means for me to be ‘black enough.’ Let me be real about the source of that post. It was problematic. Here’s why.
I wrote that post (and have shared similar sentiments) from a place of ‘that’s not me.’ Whenever my Black friends would talk about the struggle against the system I’d always hide behind a thinly-veiled shield of “come on brothers and sisters, get your lives together.” This was all because, at the end of the day, what I was hearing wasn’t my story. But it was.
Rewind to seventeen year old Romel who didn’t have very many things to complain about – I joined an ‘anarchist’ group. We were planning a major protest of the 2004 DNC in Boston and I was at a point in my life where nothing made sense and I wanted desperately to belong. We met on a warm night in Boston and within 30 minutes the police showed up. I was scared almost instantly but tried to keep it together. Five minutes later I had a gun to my head. In my head I’m thinking “well I shouldn’t have been here. I shouldn’t have been hanging out with these people.” I stole a glance around me and no one else had a gun to their head. I was the only one. Thankfully, the leader of the group talked the cops down and we were all released.
I said to myself, never again will I put myself in a place where that is my reality.
I went to college, struggled, thrived, had a challenging experience and made it across the stage. The next morning, my world…upside down.
I woke up to bangs on the door. “Police! OPEN UP!” I stayed in my bed, this HAS to be a dream. Three minutes later – a police officer had a gun to my head. I promised myself that I wouldn’t ever be here again. Yet, here I was. “What’s your name?!” I laid there almost motionless, “Romel.” “Why are you here?!” I paused. “Well I graduated from college yesterday and I’m staying here for a few days until I fly to California.” “Where’s your ID?!” At this point I’m shaking…”umm…uh….it’s in my pants on the ground.” He rifled through it and after he found it, “do you have proof you graduated from college?!” Well here’s the thing, I still owed my school $1,500 and I didn’t get my diploma on my day of graduation. “Umm…well, no. I have my college ID?” “Well where is it?!” “In the same place you found my state ID.”
Pause. Pause. Pause. (His gun is still pressing on my head.)
“Thank you, sir. Sorry for the inconvenience.” And within two minutes, they were gone. I laid there. Paralyzed. I told myself that I would never ever ever be in that position again. Yet, there I was recovering from another shock of having a gun on my head. Again.
I chalked it up to living in one of the roughest parts of Boston and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time…my grandmother’s house who had never done anything to invite the law…but…)
So I’ve always allowed my dad’s one-time sentiment about race (it’s never about race) to guide my every move.
Fast forward to July when Eric Garner was choked to death. Honestly, I said to myself “well, if he wasn’t doing something illegal, nothing would have happened to him.” Then Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and I said again “why’d he charge the officer…just give up and call it a day.”
Then the verdict on Michael Brown came. I was upset. Mostly because something had happened and my friends were upset. No Justice. No Peace. When that verdict came down I changed my Facebook picture quickly. A week later I started to think about what new picture I’d change it to.
Then the Eric Garner decision happened. A man who had been killed by police in broad daylight under the watch a camera…didn’t matter. The officer in that case wasn’t indicted by a grand jury.
At this point, I’m done. I can’t anymore. I can’t hide behind my privilege. I can no longer say “well that’s not me.” People who look like me are being killed by police officers and there’s no recourse. As a self-described Liberal Feminist, the work within the system and you’ll be fiiiiiine was no longer working.
I am not safe. People who look like me are not safe. No matter how positive I am about my life in general. When Michael Brown happened, I posted my picture that said #blacklivesmatter and I received multiple messages that said “don’t all lives matter?” Here’s the thing, all lives do matter but not all lives are being ended without recourse. NO recourse in a system that is supposed to protect all of us in these United States.
Here’s another thing, I don’t have a solution. Until we all recognize our privilege then we won’t ever realize where we’re heading. Hint: It’s not a good place. My heart goes out to the families of both these men and the other that won’t make the national media.
I can’t watch anymore videos about what’s happening on these cases. Every time I watch, I’m compelled to life or death. I experience a life or death, flight or flight response that I’ve never experienced before.
Why do I need a new dream?
When Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous speech he said;
“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
But everything I’ve learned about this dream just isn’t true anymore. The dream hasn’t proved to be enough. I used to think that we were close to achieve Dr. King’s dream but these days, I’m saying to friends that things are going to get a lot worse before they get better. I hate that I have to say it, but it’s true.
I still hold my privilege close – able-bodied, college-degree holding, employed, middle-class male but now I realize that I can’t cling to this anymore.
If I ignore my current reality, I could die.
That is real.