Silence is Not an Option

Another young black man has been gunned down. His name was Mike Brown. He was unarmed.

My [redacted] e-mailed me because she knew I would be upset about this story, because she knows all of my heart, and all I could say in response was, “I am numb.” 

I don’t care if Mike Brown was going to college soon. This should not matter. We should not have to prove Mike Brown was worthy of living. We should not have to account for the ways in which he is suitably respectable. We should not have to prove that his body did not deserve to be riddled with bullets. His community should not have to silence their anger so they won’t be accused of rioting, so they won’t become targets too.  

It should not matter if Mike Brown was a good boy but I have no doubt that he was. His life mattered, no matter how he chose to live it. He had family and friends who must mourn him and who must now worry about who will be murdered next. Every life matters. There are few things I believe more passionately. Unfortunately, we live in a country where your worth and safety are largely determined by the color of your skin. 

Yesterday, a young black man was murdered in Ferguson, Missouri. Every day, this happens. This is the value of black life. We are targets. Our children are targets. This is the scarred reality in which we must raise our children.

The media, as usual, has no idea how to talk about Mike Brown’s murder ethically. They do not know how to talk about his community’s grief and anger ethically. They do not know how to overcome the profound cultural biases that have shaped how they understand the value of black lives or the tenor of black anger and grief. 

Yesterday, NASCAR driver Tony Stewart hit and killed Kevin Ward Jr. with his car during a sprint race on a dirt track. Not much of that sentence makes sense to me because I don’t really follow car racing but I have been struck by the story and how clearly the proper language has been used to describe what took place. One man killed another with his car. It is a tragedy. Did Kevin Ward Jr. go to college? That will never be part of his narrative because we inherently assume his life matters. He is white.

There is no comparing Mike Brown and Kevin Ward Jr. not really, but I am still keenly aware of the differences in how their deaths have been reported. I am keenly aware of how deftly responsibility has been placed squarely on the responsible party in Kevin Ward Jr.’s death. The police officer who murdered Mike Brown is on “paid administrative leave,” while an investigation is conducted. This is what always happens. An unarmed young black man is shot multiple times and his murderer is given the compensated benefit of the doubt. 

As we try to make sense of this latest tragedy and as we try to prepare for the next one, and there will, certainly be a next one and one after that for the whole of our lives, I think about how we rally and how we try to express our solidarity. We are. We are. We are. 

But. 

We are not Mike Brown. We are not Eric Garner. We are not Renisha McBride. We are not Trayvon Martin. I understand the sentiment behind these cries of solidarity but we are not these men and women who have been murdered in different but similar ways for the exact same reason. I worry that we diminish their lives, their deaths, and the grief of those who loved them when we think we can simply say we are those who have been so cruelly lost.

We are not these people. 

Maybe it is better for those of us with brown skin to say we might someday endure a fate like the one suffered by Mike Brown, Renisha McBride, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and countless others. Maybe it is better for those of us who could never possibly endure such a fate to say, “We will never know what it is like to live with such danger in a seemingly safe place.” These statements aren’t as catchy as “We are,” but they are more accurate. 

What on earth is there to say at this point? Outrage has done nothing. Protest has done nothing. Grief has done nothing. Doing or saying nothing is not an option, and yet.