I own a black panther wallet. When my wife got it for me, I was overjoyed. It’s black with a silver, metal Black Panther logo. I immediately put everything from my old wallet in this new, Black Panther one. Because T’Challa is awesome, you see.
One day, while driving. I looked over to the cup holder (where my wallet always is when I’m driving, never in my pocket where I’ll have to reach for it if I get pulled over and asked for it), I noticed that the way the black and silver metal played against each other looked kind of like not a wallet. Were a cop to pull me over, they might see that not a wallet looking thing and think, “That’s gotta be a weapon.” We’ve seen time and again across the nation that it doesn’t matter what an object actually is. All it takes for a cop to “fear for their life” when black men are involved is the belief they’re in danger. I’m a large black man, so that belief will happen as soon as they see me. Something that looks like not a wallet could, potentially, push a cop over.
So I stopped using the wallet. It’s in my desk now.
Last night, news of another black man being murdered broke. People everywhere were sharing video of this modern day lynching. I’ve only watched one of these videos, Phillando Castille, and I’ll never do it again. Something broke in me after seeing it. I think it was how calm his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, was after witnessing the murder, and how there was a child in the backseat when the bullets were fired. How cavalier the cop was with three black lives in the car. How easy it would have been for the child to be orphaned if Diamond had reacted in any way other than how she did. I’m forced to wonder how much a black life is worth.
I think it’s safe to say that most black people have rituals to try and mitigate danger. I know that my size makes me a target, and so I have worked to make myself smaller in public. During this pandemic, while many of us are wearing masks, I have moments of panic that the white people I pass in stores cannot see me smile, cannot see the efforts I make to show that I am not a threat.
When I get in the car, I make sure my wallet is visible. When I go into a gas station, I make sure that my hands can be seen. I make sure that I’m making eye contact with clerks. When we’re out with friends and an order is wrong, or we need to address the staff in any way, I make sure that my wife does. I would never want to be considered a loud, angry black man. But ultimately, I think what I struggle with is that none of this matters, because it’s only going to take one mistake. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One unfortunate encounter with the police. Because of the environment in which I grew up, violence makes me uncomfortable. I cannot stand when people yell. I watched a boxing match with friends and had random bouts of crying for a week after.
But I know that none of this will matter. If something were to happen to me, I would be painted in the most terrible light by the media. Every excuse to justify my murder would be made. I know that there are people value me, my life. I know this. I revel in the love and community I find myself surrounded by. I know that I’m lucky. But I also know that I’m not unique in this. I know that we’re loved by our communities everywhere.
Ahmaud Arbery was murdered on February 23rd. Today is May 7th. There is video of his murder, this modern day lynching. People in power, with authority, saw this footage and sat on it for almost two months. Ahmaud’s family were lied to. They have had to sit with a tragedy, with no justice, without charges brought against the murderers for almost two months.
This is how I know black lives don’t matter. And this is why I’m tired. I’m so sad that something like this is even possible, but the weight of not being surprised is even worse. It took this video being leaked to the public for those in power to do what they should have done on February 23rd.
This could have been swept under the rug and they had video evidence. I’m just here thinking about all of the people who are getting killed without footage being caught.
My wife tells me to stop going outside. The worst part is that she’s only partly joking.