A piece of our worth was stolen on January 6, when a mob brandishing the flag of the Confederacy and the campaign flags of the outgoing president stormed into the Senate Chamber.
The trauma of seeing the respectful treatment of white insurrectionists on the heels of hateful maltreatment of BLM demonstrators in 2020 felt like an ambush in our homes—through our TVs. We witnessed the audacious display of white privilege in the halls and on the steps of our Capitol during an attempted coup. This act of insurrection was simultaneously an assault on democracy and an attack on the souls of Black people.
And more personally, it was an attack on the soul of my son.
As Jamaal and I watched the coverage of the unfathomable, I noticed the quickening of his breath and the trembling of his hands. Finally, there was an agonizing outburst:
“We’re just people who don’t want to be killed!”
With tears of fury and frustration, he stormed to his room. I understood to the depths of my own soul everything that came over him. Jamaal was inconsolable at that moment.
Unfortunately, seeing white people free to be so casual and unafraid of law enforcement after committing atrocious crimes isn’t new for Black Americans. The recognition that America doesn’t value the lives of Black people was immediate because the trauma lives in our memory and in the cells of our bodies.
We have seen it before, over and over again. We saw it in the arrogance of the men who murdered Emmett Till (falsely accused of whistling at a white woman). We saw it in the joyful family picnics under the swinging Black bodies hanging from the trees (many for nothing more than being Black). It was in the celebratory smiles of the officers who beat Rodney King (drunk driving). It was in the smirk on the officer’s face as he was killing George Floyd (for an alleged counterfeit $20 bill).
For generations, the shadow of racial hypocrisy has loomed over the intersectionality of being both Black and American. In the words of Dr. Bettina L. Love in “We Want To Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom,”
“Mattering has always been the job of Black, Brown and Indigenous folks since the ‘human hierarchy’ was invented to benefit Whites by rationalizing racist ideas of biological racial inferiority to ‘those Americans who believe that they are White.'”
I fully understood that the repeated showing of America’s racial hypocrisy is what shook Jamaal’s sense of “mattering.”
When he’s ready and emerges from his room, I will remind him why he matters. I will remind him that he inherited my affinity to speak up for the marginalized, stand for the disenfranchised, and embrace those who have been otherized. I will remind him that his ability to clearly see the racial hypocrisy humanizes him. I will remind him that as a young Black man, he represents the resilience of a people who know the potential of America’s liberation when equity is afforded to all. I will remind him that when he sees injustice, it is a call for him to contribute his thoughts, strengths and abilities. This is how you fit in the world, Jamaal. This is why your life and our BLACK LIVES MATTER.