Survivor Guilt in the Midst of a War

It has been exactly one year since I wrote my piece “Walking While Black.” Yesterday I watched the Unite the Alt-Right rally on a live Facebook feed and saw a car plow through a crowd of anti-protestors. America is at odds with herself over Colin Kaepernick not being signed to an NFL team over his silent protest of the unjust treatment of African Americans in America. I am at present looking at a photo in an article titled “White Supremacists Beat Black Man with Poles in Charlottesville, Va., Parking Lot,” and yesterday I found myself explaining to someone that there is no proper or correct way or time to protest racial injustice in America.

When I originally sat down to re-evaluate what has changed in the past year since I was arrested, other than the attorney general dropping my case that the district attorney adamantly fought to try in court, I planned to write about survivor guilt. I wanted to express the feeling of living through an experience that killed Freddie Gray. I wanted to express what it’s like to wake another day, knowing Michael Brown and Alton Sterling and a litany of African Americans who fell at the violence of police never will again. I presently live, with the common denominators that killed them: being black while living in America.

It’s time we all admit America is racist. I cannot write about survivor guilt because the war is still going on. If you think for a second that African Americans can exist in the same space as racism, and that it is not as violent a battlefield as the war on terror, then you live in a very privileged bubble.

These events seem so distant from our reality. Colin Kaepernick is a quarterback who can’t be signed, yet the cause behind the protest is being ignored. Three-hundred and nine African Americans were killed by police in 2016 at a rate three times more than whites (according to mappingpoliceviolence.org). While many argue that a Sunday afternoon pastime is not the place to be reminded that African Americans can die just because the color of their skin is a threat to police, I personally appreciate that someone is making you take notice of my plight.

Nothing demonstrates police fear of black skin more than iconic photographs of peaceful protests. There’s the photo of Leshia Evans in a long flowing dress and flats, peacefully presenting herself like a virgin sacrifice to a ferocious beast, being detained and dragged off by militarized, battle-clad police officers. Compare that to the recent group of photos of white nationalists and alt-righters attacking anti-protesters while police, in the bare minimum of riot gear, stand on the sidelines allowing it to happen.

In November 2016, RI was split between blue and a man who ran his campaign on hate, racism, elitism, xenophobia and flat-out being mean. That brings the events happening around the nation closer to home. When asked of her son’s anti-protestor car-plowing rampage, Samantha Bloom, the mother of the accused James Alex Fields Jr. responded, “I thought it had something to do with Trump. Trump’s not a white supremacist.”

There has been an increase in hate crimes since the election – 1,094 in November 2016 [Southern Poverty Law Center]. The presidential campaign, to many, was seen as the harbinger of what was to come while others waved it off as false prophecy, like a village idiot who screams the world is ending. I am scared of the silent majority who keep their intentions cloaked under “ghost skins.” My life could possibly be in danger in a large portion of the state in which I reside. Sure, the last time an African American was killed at the hands of a police officer in RI was in the year 2000, and he was an off-duty police officer wearing plainclothes and his black skin. What Charlottesville proves is that it only takes one incident before we wake up to the fact that this kind of hate is real, drinking beers with us in our living rooms watching Sunday football. But, I only have this one life to live.

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