Original Artwork by Tomon Fox | Contributions made by Ruth Samuel
What more can we do to show you that we deserve to live?
We’ve built the streets that you walk on, the houses that you live in, the cars that you travel with. We’ve healed you in hospitals, defended you in court, and taught you in schools. We’ve married into your families, sat at your dinner tables, laughed at your jokes. We’ve bitten our tongues when you said something racist and assuaged your guilty conscience when you went too far. We’ve assured you that “mistakes happen” and promised you that we wouldn’t think differently of you, even when that mistake happens again and again and again.
We’ve created music that you enjoy. We’ve written stories that you consume. We’ve styled you and dressed you—shaping the fashion industry and setting trends that you follow zealously. We are your favorite actors and artists and musicians. You flock to our theaters and concert halls to watch us perform because the skilled, “non-threatening” Negro is your favorite. We’ve built the most beautiful and intricate culture on the face of this Earth, yet you steal it, to appropriate it, to take credit for it —and we have asked for nothing other than mere acknowledgment of our efforts. Mere acknowledgment of our existence.
We’ve fought in your wars and we’ve won them for you. We’ve led your country with grace and dignity, even in the face of unfathomably racist vitriol. We’ve worn your badges to “serve and protect” your family members, the same badges that sanction the murder of our own. We’ve supported your elections, canvassed for your candidates, and waited for hours outside of polling locations when you needed the “Black vote,” only to be habitually neglected by the federal government.
We’ve sat in the pews we built for you. We prayed in them with you. We’ve donated to your churches and adopted your pain and strife as our own. We’ve led your congregations and allowed you to join our services, even after you’ve bombed ours.
We’ve even walked on water and turned it into wine, even though you insist that your lord and savior was an Aryan.
What have you given us in return?
Murder. Lynchings. Rape.
For hundreds of years, you stole us out of our homes and away from our families and used us as currency. You erased our names and put dollar amounts in their place. And when we didn’t or couldn’t do the work you wanted, you ended our lives.
And when owning people went out of style, you created a new system to ensure that we could never be truly free. You made new laws to enslave us. New rules to entrap us.
The plantations turned into prisons. The masters into wardens. And for those that you couldn’t incarcerate, you sought to control or kill.
We begged and pleaded for you to help. To do something. You didn’t. So we did. We marched in the streets we built. We sat in your diners and in front of your buildings, protesting under the auspices of “equality” and “togetherness.” As we persisted, you ostensibly wanted to help us. But only the good Negroes. Only the right ones. The ones that wore black and carried guns were labeled terrorists. Legislation was passed to pander to us. And you passed some more to keep us in check.
When we continued to protest, you told us to “get over it” and that “it happened a long time ago.” You called our women angry and crazy, our men thugs and criminals. You exploited the children that you deemed fit to succeed and neglected the ones that didn’t meet your requirements. You called people to take us away. First, they wore white. Now, they wear blue. And when we got angry, when we said something that upset you, you forced us to take it back. You forced us to regret it.
And when we started to record the perpetual horrors that you’ve put us through, you gasped with fright. You turned to your Black friends and co-workers, saying “this is so sad” and “something should be done.” And yet, you do nothing. You sit. You watch. You repost. You forget. You wait eagerly for the next lynching to join in the clamor and prove to yourself that you’re one of the good ones, scrambling to like and retweet to make sure you’re the first to say “this is wrong.” And then, once again, you forget.
You forget to call out your racist relatives and have those difficult conversations with them. You forget to curtail hatred in your children, who may very well grow up to kill mine. You forget to hold yourself and your peers accountable for microaggressions and implicit bias. You forget to stand alongside us, march with us, and do the actual groundwork.
And what have we done in spite of all this?
We’ve continued to create for you, continued to support you, continued to accept you. We still raise you, feed you, heal you, entertain you, pray with you, vote for you, fight for you, die for you. We do this because we believe you deserve the benefit of the doubt. We believe in the power that humanity has and the good that humanity can do. Murder after murder, incarceration after incarceration, video after video, we continue to believe in you as people.
It’s about damn time you all do the same.
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