I need to tell you about a nightmare I have, often.
I’ve told you about the facts of Black men killed by American state actors, hundreds of men-turned-hashtags daily and the numbers to which their lives are boiled down, but I need to tell you about this nightmare. This hurt.
I need you to know that I don’t care how you cast your votes. I don’t, though I obviously did until a few weeks ago. This isn’t about votes, though the post was inspired by yet another White Hillary voter telling me I must be so glad Trump is coming to office.
He spoke those words because he has no idea the weight I’ve carried the last few years. He has no idea that this Terrible Thing Just About to Happen in his eyes is already a moment from happening day after day after day after day in mine.
He has no idea that when I cast my vote for Bernie Sanders in the general election, it was because I already knew that Hillary Clinton was no savior for Black men.
“You didn’t find the right words,” people like this man have told me dismissively. “It can’t really be that bad, or I’d have noticed it.”
No, you really wouldn’t have, I’ve tried to say dozens of different ways. Your life is hard and scary and sad enough as is, even without looking beyond your own day to day.
You didn’t notice, and that’s understandable.
I did, because I had to.
I did, because every day I kiss my husband goodbye as I leave for work, I’m acutely aware of how I might never see him again.
So, please, follow my nightmare … and, please, for the love of God, do anything you can to see it doesn’t come true for anyone else, no matter who ascends to the White House next month.
I am sitting and playing with my two young boys in my living room when my cell phone rings.
“Ma’am, ma’am,” I hear, together with a jumble of addresses and words informing me that my Black husband has been shot.
“What, what?” I ask. “You’re kidding, right?” News so big can’t come in a ridiculous phone call while I’m surrounded by little boys’ giggles, can it? “Why would you joke like that?”
“This is no joke, ma’am.” One of Anthony’s front lights was out, the caller mumbles. He became combative when the officer asked him about it.
“No, no,” I say. “No. He’s–was?, God, no–the gentlest person you could ever know. No way he’d have fought. No way he’d have risked it, knowing the risk to his little boys. Why are you doing this to me? Why this terrible joke?”
“You’d better get here fast,” the caller says. He gives me cross streets. I barely hear the rest as I buckle my boys into my car with vision so blurry I shouldn’t be driving.
I think about the call as I race those two miles, the two miles to the last place my husband ever breathed.
The place where he died because he didn’t use a (subjectively) kind enough tone while accepting a traffic ticket.
(There was nothing he could say that would make him not a threat.)
Are there “good” officers? It doesn’t fucking matter to me in these nightmares, when I come running up to the yellow and black tape and see my husband’s body chock full of holes, blood oozing over the upholstery of the black Hyundai in which we shared thousands of miles of driving …
drops of warm
and I scream, and scream, and scream as I run toward him. His body.
As officers shout at me, as some try to intervene, I push through the tape and I run to my husband’s body. I scream and scream and scream, rocking as I hold bloody, lifeless was-him in my arms, as people try to extract him from me and I try to make sense of that
When I awaken from these horrible nightmares from which too many hard-working, loving Americans do not have the privilege of awakening, I nestle close to him. I breathe in his salty scent and savor his warmth. I thank goodness that, for now, for me, the nightmare is over.
Many, many Americans have lost their husbands, their partners, their sons, their fathers, with no recourse, nor hope for it, as long as White Americans think, “that was an anomaly, though. Every time it happens, every day, it’s just an anomaly.”
It’s not an anomaly. When one group of people routinely gets away with killing another group of people, with virtually no questions asked, it’s not an anomaly. It’s a pattern. It’s systemic.
For my husband to be safe, for Black men–and women–everywhere across America to be safe, you have to believe they’re not safe today … no matter how gentle they actually are, no matter how loving, or kind.
You have to be willing to believe that no politician, no matter how genteel or matronly seeming, holds the keys to ending this bloodshed … and to understand some won’t want to work toward its end, no matter what eloquent words they blast from podiums while elections are underway.
Only you can change this. Only you can make this nightmare stop playing out for people of color everywhere across America.
But for that to happen, you have to listen. You have to understand that the person screaming out not to be killed won’t have the magic words to make you hear if you don’t want to hear.
You have to choose to be willing to hear. You have to face that these one thousand consequence-free shootings a year aren’t anomaly, but pattern.
You have to face the terrible truth of that. I can’t make you. Facts can’t make you. Facebook memes can’t make you.
Only you can do that. Only you can stop and listen for you, and hear–in whatever words those screaming can find–the sorrow of those who know their lives will remain dispensable as long as White you and I don’t demand that the system change.