My people are dying, and you say change takes time.
Those summer days never truly left. Tears fall more easily now. Sadness and frustration overflows when it is all I can do to contain my rage at this pace of change.
When I struggle with you against you despite you to make do be the change.
Still you say folks need time to adjust. I remind you that not everyone has time for patience. That progress is not promised to those killed by the thousands yearly. That too many people thwart change. That we must take bold action to survive.
That some people are terrible humans.
You would have me focus on the notion of some when I repeat these words, but with the many crises that smother us more than you, it is harder and harder to skirt the terrible. Once I might have set terrible aside, not because I don’t feel its undercurrent always, but because so many like me have learned to bind our tongues and meter our emotions. Restraint forces me to fashion a barrier now paper thin, to contain frustration, disappointment, and bald anger. Pandemic trends worsen, ires rise and level. Breonna Taylor’s murder swelled furor against the bank. George Floyd’s murder broke the tension. Misguided frail responses obliterate the dam that once bridled rage. The tide floods me now, fills me always, charges me evermore.
Still you prefer pointed questions over angry missives. Lead the horse to water, you say. But no oasis lies there. The horse is sinking drowning pulling us all down. Neither you nor the horse realize your clouded vision your labored breathing.
Yet you beg patience compassion empathy.
Somehow you wonder still why I cannot contain my anger. Why I push and push without your brand of sympathy. For the world for them for you. You ask, do I think you a terrible human?
You suggest a focus on all that is positive and good, but terrible comes at us from all sides and suppressing this ire is not helping. You are not helping. Not me not us not the movement not even yourselves. Each death each trauma each day brings constant pressure to expose our wounds so that you just might bathe the truth of each battle in grudging acceptance. The never-ending war to daylight the past and the present, which you choose to partition because it is easier than the pain shame malaise it brings you. But our pain lingers. Is your discomfort more salient than our trauma? More worthy than our lives?
Solidarity seems a cause set aside when you close the door to the ravages of one day, one month, one year. You acknowledge that this justice is not good enough now, but assert that it is so much better than before. Do you think we should be grateful to die by bullet rather than noose? You see substantial more faster change as a poison pill for others to swallow, for you to bear, for us to watch, meanwhile we wait we toil we die.
Your tears fall for tragic moments tragic incidents the inanely solvable tragedy of this life. You are with us but beneath the surface you know you are not us. Because we are dying. More than you, faster than you, ever more cruelly than you.
A day turns to a week a season a year and more of statements and proclamations that yield little of any assigned worth. Even now, you know that George Floyd could not have been you. That Breonna Taylor could never be you. Not your brother. Not your sons. Your daughters. Your mothers. Your sisters aunties uncles cousins friends.
You do not cry for them and their families the way we do. Not when Andre Hill was killed. Not Manuel Ellis. Not Jonathan Price or Daniel Prude or Daunte Wright or Walter Wallace. You tell me don’t worry, they take fewer Ninas and Sandras and Atatianas.
You do not mention Roxanne Moore or Dominique Fells or Riah Milton and maybe you suppose I care less about Ernie Serrano or Brandon Laducer or Christian Hall.
You assume this is about him about me about you not the pressure and vigilance and agony of us all.
You say you are with me. With us.
Your lawn says
Love is Love and
No Human is Illegal and
your window says
Hate Has No Home Here.
Black Lives Matter,
it says so right in your profile.
You say I am harsh. You are working on it.
You are listening. But maybe you only hear because listening is an action and yours fall short. You think you are not as bad as them, even that you are better than them than me, because you harbor no hate in your heart while jade threatens mine. Do you think such inaction sufficient to turn the tide?
Honey, you say, not vinegar. I wonder, does honey drip faster or slower than the blood of our fallen? We suffer loss after loss, then return to our desks the next day. We watch traumatic unwarranted events unfold repeatedly, then you ask that we turn on cameras and smile through our pain. Time after time, we turn the other cheek without spitting fire and still we do the work. So tell me, who lacks kindness?
Compassion, you say, not fury. We watch our village crushed by this pandemic in greater numbers than you, our lives taken by those who serve you, all while you walk quiet streets open streets safe streets. We are arrested jailed murdered in those same streets, over loose cigarettes transit fares traffic stops undue fines passing glances. Over 20 damn dollars. Who lacks sympathy?
Empowerment, you beg, and I again rage. We die in streets made for you, in hospitals built for you, on roads drawn by you, under rules set by you. We implore you push the envelope stretch the paradigm shift the agenda move the damn money. Change the system not just the symptom. You say they are not ready it is too hard you need more. Who lacks agency?
Truth, I say, and finally you accede. Then you bid me buffer it. You bid us cushion candor, that it might be more amenable more comfortable more nice to your colleagues to your peers to your family to you. To those who claim to care.
Do you think this anger inappropriate unfounded uncomfortable still?
You have faith. You say don’t worry, the kids are alright. The next generation will change the world. The future is bright. We worry our children will not survive to see it. We cannot trust that in you, in this burden to change a world that can crush their bodies their spirits their souls before their time comes.
Our teens, not yet in high school, have seen the air pushed from George Floyd’s lungs. Have you forgotten? Our tweens have heard and seen his last words over and over on video, more trauma for your proof.
Our mamas wonder what dread comes next which woes will befall our loves when, whom horror will claim and how.
How many times has Mr. Floyd’s daughter watched him cry out for mama, watched Daddy’s mouth hang open and his body lie motionless, just as Philando Castile’s children did? How many more have worried their lives will be quashed like Ma’Khia Bryant Adam Toledo Fanta Bility, at 16 at 13 at eight?
Will you push process and patience to these youth? Will you beseech them to bottle their fear to favor your calm?
Because in a room 1,000 miles away from where he lay, a child in my chosen family takes a pink school eraser to their thigh to rub out their Blackness
wishing praying hoping that Mr. Floyd’s fate will never be theirs
and I refuse to look into confused nine-year-old eyes and beg patience in your name.
You say it takes a village but ours burn far faster than yours. Maybe you see this, and maybe, just maybe, you fight for change. You line up next to us, you stand with us, you have our backs, but rarely do you take the frontline. Until you negotiate scrap and bone on our behalf because you are not starving. Do you think choking better? Or do you think bone will not gag when your time comes?
Scopes and timelines shift for the pandemic. Deadlines pause not for our lives. Too many mornings I tissue tears or ball up fists till tiny pink half-moons mark my palms. I pray blood does not flow as I examine your plea for normal, even as we show the many ways normal stifles us still. How many more hushed hashtags will appear before rage consumes poise entirely? How many more meetings before tired frustrated anger rips through now gossamer blinds? How many screens how many rooms before you feel his pain their loss our fury worthy of true reflection gumption action?
Do you think this anger soothes me?
He was tall and strong, like my brothers are now, as we hope their sons will be. And he is gone. Snuffed in a terrible, horrible, public manner that can never be struck from the mind of any nonterrible human.
He is not alone. Not the first the second the last the final.
You brand each one a martyr for a fruitless cause none ever wish to join.
Still you say change takes time.
We say we are dying. You ask how many.
We say there are hundreds, there are thousands. Is one not enough?
You read that one essay that one report that one damn book.
You changed little because you are unsure you feel powerless it is not your purview.
Then as cities burn you raise bare hands and judge them unblooded.
Still you find relief when a single man is called to account for an entire system that has been growing like brushfire since before any of us were born. With kerosene lips you say it will be okay they got him they will punish them there will be justice for all soon one day. As though one team one case one moment brings change. As though you have not witnessed injustice for decades and more. As though you have not seen hundreds felled since before Rodney and Amadou to now Ryan LeRoux Latoya James Jason Walker Amir Locke Patrick Lyoya. Their justice delayed denied unanswered like so many of our elders siblings children. Yet you choose your own norms your own feelings your own damn comfort over mine.
Still you wonder must they protest this way must they block this route must they stand just there it is inconvenient it is discomfiting you want to look away. With each murder you wonder if we will return to nights that hold no peace for you. When sirens replace claxons. When the pop pop pop of bullets pierce the veil of sleep. They come always with batons. Do you hear them strike too? Do you imagine the fractures bruises craters that they cause? Canisters of tear gas join broken glass. Do you hear them crunch beneath their boots below our bodies? Do you taste the air they pull from our lungs?
You still think this is not about you. It cannot be.
You are not one of them. Because you get it.
You are not even like them. You understand.
You care. You are not racist.
You are awake now but already you say you are tired.
You beg forbearance to regroup to refuel to recharge for the work.
Can you say you’re more weary than people who have been marching starving fighting dying for 400 years and more? Does your fatigue stretch to the depths of the ocean where our ancestors drowned? Does your exhaustion obscure the stolen ground where our forebears lie? Does your lethargy cover the bodies of our loves our families our communities in streets supposedly meant for all?
Where brutal forces spin righteous action into cruel spectacle?
Where cameras capture only our ire?
When those cameras leave, your calm returns.
Still we hear see feel the whispers that greet Tony McDade.
Pleas for Elijah McClain. Regret for Rayshard Brooks.
When order knocks for you do you fear that you might be killed in your home in your bed in your sleep like Breonna Taylor? That they might ignore your seeping body on the ground for 20 long minutes? That they might malign your love your life your work your name?
We fail her them us yet again and
still you beg calm composed compassion of Black not blue.
With each shot each strike each shroud
I await a roaring crowd knowing that I will again
hear see hold their unanswered need in the pit of my soul.
While you slumber I lie awake wondering
if when how my rest my mourning my people will be hindered next.
Yet you bid us reach for healing, calling for civil, boundless unity with those who harm us still. You focus on banishing our anger more than the root of it. Do you encourage blind positivity because it would uplift me or serve you?
Do you yet concede the indignity of foisting your joy your hope your fervor onto me?
Or do you not see how unsatisfying how frustrating how damaging
longing for such fleeting pretense could be?
Do you think I like it here?
Maybe I could embrace your approach
if you would imagine a strategy a style a system outside your own.
If you would perhaps join me welcome me
simply accept me in this anger.
If you would only acknowledge that
this moment this movement cannot thrive within
your fucking comfort.
You are searching now for a ray of hope of relief of redemption. You seek a path forward. You want to have drinks to pick my brain to jump on a call, anything to work beyond this anger. You find this rage marginal to the point. You focus on that margin because it is visible it is tractable it seems tangible. Or maybe you don’t yet feel the stagnant rotting core that eats away at us all. Still you say that this fury is too much too intense you cannot manage you cannot cope be easy. But the work is not.
Zabe Bent is a Jamaican-born New Yorker, a writer, and an urban transportation planner.