Today is the anniversary of the “Not Guilty” verdict in the murder of Emmett Till.
Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam planned, kidnapped, executed and walked away from murdering a Black child. Everyone knew they did it. The entire country knew they were guilty, and yet Milam lived another 25 years a free man, Bryant another 39.
This country’s white supremacy is so fixed in its design that it laps itself. Every day is an anniversary for an inhumane racist act, and every day piles another on. Today is a day of white freedoms, somehow freer than all the other days when white people are already freer than everyone else. It is a day when, for a second, they pretend as if they are holding their breath, when in reality they practice circular breathing, inhaling and exhaling at the same time to sustain a note.
The urge to look for the details is overcome by the despair of knowing there is no point. The most salient detail is that there is no such thing as Black justice in this country. The whole world feels like a coffin today. For a few hours, there is the melting of realities on television and online, as outbursts of thumb-stamped rage slide by pictures of the Cobb salad someone had for lunch. We are asked to pull out our protest signs again, to ready our speeches, to twirl our paintbrushes and tune our guitars. Websites are already tapping their Black voices to somehow spin new silk out of this ragged cloth. Time to fight again, as if there was never not a time to fight. Whatever diversity training you had been getting since May probably left out the part where some of your co-workers will still be perennially murdered for free when it is over, just not in your zoom meeting masquerading as a safe space.
I remind myself that fighting for change is not the same as fighting for results. When it comes to racism, fighting for results will disappoint you almost every time. Change? Well, that’s for someone else somewhere down the line.
There is a feeling that comes to some of us in these moments, when the naked injustice of our very existence is on such brutal display that you go numb, that you can’t take the calls or answer the messages. You don’t bother fighting the numbness because you know it won’t last. Something will break through and command your attention or press your buttons or you simply have to get back to work. At this point there should be a word for this fleeting Black numbness, this reality check reckoning.
There is almost nothing left on the list to do while Black and not expect to die. What is less innocuous as a Black woman sleeping, finally able to rest and not contend with a world that can’t begin to know how to treat her? How to see her? How to not feel threatened by her side-eye alone? What can you do and not be killed in this country for being Black? And why is justice never the beginning of a new list? Can we even be bothered to dream about it? Maybe that is tomorrow’s work. For me, today’s work is writing through the numbness, trying to put words to that which cannot be said correctly this close to the burning eye.
Rest, Breonna Taylor. Rest while we do not in your name, while we struggle on to comprehend what you now already know about all of this.