Finding truth in silence: An internal reflection on racial injustice
I’ve been trying to write this for a while now. For days I’d sit down with my laptop open, sifting through words in my mind, only for day to turn into night while my screen remained blank. Each day I tried to gather my thoughts and each day—for a week—I failed. I didn’t know what to say, or rather, I didn’t know how to say it—I didn’t want to say it.
How could I describe the dissonant complexity of maintaining a Black existence in a country that, at its foundation, never intended on me achieving personhood? How could I compress the entirety of my life’s adversities into a nice, neat, few hundred words?
I realized after days of being taunted by a blank screen, that I can’t. I cannot explain to a non-Black person what it means to wear this skin each day, this skin that—despite who wears it—will always be marked and measured by the scars placed upon it by American hands, scars that I inherited from a past I did not know.
I cannot tell you what it’s like to feel rejected from a room before you ever even enter it, how you must will yourself to laugh off and dismiss ignorance from “friends” because speaking out against it would render you too “serious” or give them the satisfaction of fulfilling the “angry Black woman” trope, to feel the need to minimize your Blackness or shy away from the parts of yourself that you love because you want to feel accepted.
I force myself to write the words because I cannot explain to you the truth of what this life feels like, but I also wasn’t ready to explain it to myself.
Over the past few weeks, I recognized the evolvement of hopelessness and guilt within me. I’ve spent the entirety of my life trying to make my worth known, a shared plight amongst many in the Black community. For years our voices have been raised and our feet have marched for change, yet in 2020, I found myself again mourning the death of a man I didn’t know but kin nonetheless, replaying the video as he cried out to the inhabitants of a world that he would soon depart. I watched and I cried, but what did I do?
My TV glowed orange as the nation went up in flames. D.C. was on fire, Minneapolis in ashes. Police met protestors with barricades and batons. They tear-gassed the masked and the innocent, those who marched to make the value of Black lives known, a physical demonstration of what I’d tried to prove my whole life. And all the while I watched from a screen.
I was angry with myself. Silence was a being I’d never known, but somehow I’d made friends with it. My tears had dried and my optimism turned to despondency, leaving me with no words left to speak. I was exhausted, tired of having watched so many Black faces become another name on a T-shirt, fatigued by the majority rejecting our incessant fight for change.
In this time where vocality is most crucial, I’ve found myself recoiling, my silence and guilt the combined product of hopelessness.
When I got accepted into Washington University, I felt like it was something I had earned. I had worked hard in every class from kindergarten to 12th grade, having been a straight-A student for the majority of that time. I came to school early and left late, worked tirelessly to get to where many thought I didn’t belong. I had earned my seat at the table.
To some of the other kids at my predominantly white school, of course I got in. After all, I was Black. To them, that was it. They had diminished all of my efforts, gleaned over my accomplishments with the notion of affirmative action. Because why else would a Black person enter a high-achieving university if not to fill a quota?
It is purely exhausting to constantly try and eradicate this mentality, screaming “I’m worth it” to people who do not care. It hurts to know that no matter what I do, no matter what I accomplish, who I help or what I give, no matter how many words I write or speak, some people will never see me as anything more than a Black woman, a stereotype, a threat.
They’ll see my Blackness before they know my name, and for many, that’s all they need to see. They don’t need to know my name, see my accomplishments, hear my dreams, my fears, my goals. They see my Blackness, and they’ve known me before they’ve met me.
The officers and the racists, they saw the Blackness of Breona Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd. They saw their Blackness and decided that they knew them, a falsity that they used to justify murder.
And it is this fact that quelled my words and hindered me from speaking out. When every word you say to advocate for yourself is met with scrutiny and contempt or “I understand, but…”, when you’ve watched your own city burn as the product of injustice, yet the same crime that brought it to the ground was committed multiple times after, justice still far away, you begin to feel like no matter how loud you are, people won’t hear you. And there is some truth to that.
There are some people in this world who don’t see a problem because they don’t want to see a problem. These same people are content and comfortable at being on top, and are complacent in the mounting injustices because their lives aren’t at stake because of it.
But my life is at stake, and so are the lives of every Black person in America. I took a silence that was not mine to take, fell victim to my sorrow, but this is not an option, for if we give in, all the pain we have endured and the blood that has been spilled will be in vain. The system will carry on without us, which only opens a door for America’s past mistakes to become its future.
We’re not playing a game, fighting for a trophy at the end of a tournament. We are fighting for our lives. We take a knee to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who have lost their lives as unintended martyrs at the hands of the system. We protest to be seen by those who choose to turn away from what is too obvious to ignore. We fight because we must.
I’ve come to understand that everyone’s minds and hearts cannot be changed, as racism and the hatred that accompanies it are companions that some refuse to let go of. But for every person who chooses the path of hate, there is a person who stands beside us in our fight for humanity. The time of oppression has long since been outdated. We cannot and we will not give up until equity and justice wins out against racism and hate. We will march, we will protest and we will not stop until America knows that Black lives matter.