“Did you see it???? The video?” My husband asked, in a voice that conveyed both shock and disbelief. Without having to ask which video, I instinctively knew that he was referring to the video of the police killing of Alton Sterling.
I nodded slowly. I saw it first thing this morning as I looked at Facebook on my iPhone.
What I didn’t share with him was that, after watching it, I proceeded to cry silently in the bathroom for several minutes. Silent tears of anger and of rage. Silent tears of hopelessness. Silent tears of shame for feeling shocked and numb and scared--all at the same time.
And silence is what strikes me most as I reflect on this latest news from Baton Rouge.
Alton Sterling is the 558th person to be killed by police this year. He is the 135th black person to be killed. There are so many names and faces that I often have trouble keeping track of all of them. It’s easy to tune out if I want to. Another day passes and another black person is killed. Every 28 hours. It is an ongoing, seemingly endless cycle.
Police shooting of unarmed, black person. Outrage and cries for justice. Justice never comes.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Sometimes the deaths hit me like a ton of bricks and I find myself not sleeping well. My mind races for days and I’m afraid that I cannot walk down the street without fearing for my safety from those who are supposed to protect it. Other days, I feel numb and they just strike me as yet another headline in a barrage of information I receive as I scroll through my social media feeds. It is the latter that feels the most unsettling to me. The inner silence I experience when everything in my brain screams that I should be outraged but my soul is too weary to feel anything other than a lack of surprise and indifference.
Just like my tears went unheard this morning, it is clear that so too do Black people’s collective cries for justice. Society is so comfortable, so very content with black bodies being abused, beaten and killed in the public eye that it seems like yelling “Black Lives Matter” until we are hoarse does absolutely no good. We rant. We rage. We roar. Even though we remain unheard and change does not come, we continue to shout. But the response is only silence.
Like my tears and our collective cries, there is silence on the part of most of the white people that I know. And while that in itself is also not surprising, sometimes I experience that silence, in particular, as deafening.
Silent white people are on my Facebook feed--some of whom I’ve known for several decades. The same people white people who use Facebook to comment on literally everything and everything from their dog’s latest grooming appointment to what they’ve purchased at Walmart to what they are eating for dinner. Somehow they seem unable or unwilling to use their platform to let me know that they even remotely care about my life or the lives of the people who look like me. Silent white people--some of whom are my family members. Silent white people-- many of whom I know are in interracial relationships and raising black and brown children. They remain silent about Trump, silent about race and racism, silent about what is clearly an epidemic in this country.
My office is silent today, too. Silent because there are many people who are out of the office but also because the few people of color with whom I work and with whom I would normally find community and comfort during a time like this are all traveling. This kind of silence is especially painful. My professional career for the last 14 years has consisted of navigating my black womanhood in predominately white settings. That has lead to years of stress and anxiety. And in the midst of global anti-blackness and a war on black people in this country, connection with other black people and other people of color, today of all days, feels not like a luxury but a necessity. In the silence, I am reminded how often much I crave interactions with those who look like me and that our joy is a radical form of self-care and an integral part of our emotional emancipation. Since we can’t seem to be free physically, we can at least be free in our minds. But since I’m the “only” in the office at this moment, I don’t get to feel connected or feel black joy or feel emotionally free today. I just feel silent, only accompanied by the thoughts racing in my mind.
Silence fills my ears, my heart, my mind and soul.
Until today, I’d never really thought of silence as having a sound. But as it turns out, it does. According to science, silence is actually noisy. In silence, our brains create noise to fill it and that activity can manifest in sounds like ringing, humming, buzzing, even resulting in hallucinations and psychosis—imagining things that aren’t there.
So since my mind is creating much noise to fill in the silence today, I’m going to voluntarily imagine some things that aren’t real but that I wish to will into existence.
I’m imagining that Alton Sterling is at home with his children and his family. The same goes for the other 135 black people killed this year by police and for all the victims of police violence.
I’m imagining that instead of being bombarded with stories and images of unarmed, black people being killed by police I’m bombarded with stories and images unabashed, unapologetic black joy.
I’m envisioning all the amazing, innovative and revolutionary contributions that we black people make to the world and that we are thriving in our homes, communities, families, schools, churches, workplaces--any place else we are and wish to be.
I’m imagining that the silent white people I know will find it no longer acceptable to be silent about the fact that black lives matter. That they will find their voices to boldly proclaim that racism is a shameful part of our country that needs to be eradicated at personal, interpersonal, institutional and structural levels and that they will work toward it.
I’m envisioning that everyday I will have connection and community with other black people and that together we embrace all of our resilience in the face of pain and laugh till our faces hurt, share stories and cry tears of joy.
I’m imagining a world in which all black people can be free.
Finally, I’m not imagining, but instead speaking into existence that the sounds of silence around black lives will no longer be heard as silence. That instead they become the roaring, deafening sounds of action, justice and love.