While Black

Illustration for article titled While Black
Screenshot: CNN (YouTube)

The “clip of a person killed while doing a thing while black” phenomenon is such a part of our national zeitgeist that the most passionate conversations about it now revolve around the ethics of viewing and sharing the footage. This sort of video-captured brutality and terror has become so common, so rote, that our discourse about it is meta—which can only happen when an act occurs so frequently that it’s become a genre.

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The uniquely absurd nature of life while black in America exists on a spectrum. On one end is the happy-sad comedy of the innocuous sort of microaggression that leaves you wondering why the server just offered you hot sauce for your pancakes. At the other end, of course, is death. Sometimes the death is an indirect consequence of a centuries-old ecosystem of intentional decisions, which is what’s happening to thousands of black Americans dying of COVID-19 today. There are black people reading this sentence who will become—or have already become—infected with a deadly virus that’s spreading today because of the residue of racist decisions made 100 years ago. And sometimes death is just death, as simple as the murder of a man out for a jog.

It’s equally terrifying and absurd that Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed while doing a thing intended to extend his life. A thing—jogging alone—that, because of that ecosystem of racist decisions, might be the only safe outdoor activity to do in America today. “Safe” is a funny word.

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I don’t quite know how to react to news like this anymore. You’d assume a form of muscle memory would develop, where I’d think the same thoughts and feel the same feelings I did the dozens of times this has happened before, but it’s not there. It was, but it’s gone now. To be honest, I’m not even that interested now in his murderers being brought to justice. I want it to happen, of course; I want them to suffer. I want them to die. I want Hell to exist so they can burn in it. But the prolonged public dance of protest, arrest, grand jury, trial, and verdict feels anticlimatic; a collective, trauma-induced burying of the lede.

I just want Ahmaud Arbery—and the Ahmaud Arberys that came before (and will come after) him—to be not dead. That’s it. Everything else is colored bubbles.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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DISCUSSION

feministonfire
FeministOnFire

“the prolonged public DANCE of protest, arrest, grand jury, trial, and verdict feels anticlimatic”

It’s the performative nature of that dance that makes it such a stomach-churning nightmare that you can’t wake from! The brazenness of the perpetrators, the stone-faced unrepentance they show for days, months and years. Their families’ and friends’ vocal support in the face of another family’s heart-rending grief and misery. It’s the media’s pretense of neutrally relaying of facts that are just subliminal cues outlining the victim’s faults and frailties. And the days of followup showcasing different aspects of the perps’ humanity. It’s all of those things that make these incidents so nauseating in your stomach and traumatic to the mind. Beside the tragedy of the event, the kinship, empathyk andtand sympathy you feel for the victim and his family, you also know you’ll have to reside, work and try to find joy in close proximity to such thinly-camouflaged demons in this simulacrum we call Black life in this world!