By O. Tracy Oguns || Contributing Writer
“I don’t see color.” Those four words are usually uttered by a well-intentioned person. They are paired with a smile and genuine eyes, meant to reassure me that the person is not prejudiced. Yet, the tension that follows thickens the air. I smile awkwardly or laugh weakly because I never know what to say. Thank you?
What I hear are erasure and dismissal. My identity as a black woman is the packaging. This statement diminishes the unique differences and experiences that I face based on the color of my skin. Although it is not all that I am, it constitutes a large portion. I am black and I want you to not only see my color but also acknowledge that it shapes the way I live my life. If you don’t see color, then you don’t see me.
There is a misconception that we live in a “post-racial” or color blind world. After all, we elected a black president, exemplifying that racism is obsolete, a thing of the past.
This concept is misguided.
Although there are no physical signs or blatant laws that are overtly racist, oppression is deeply rooted in American history and has acclimated to new challenges. The passing of the civil rights legislation was a huge milestone and has led people to not only deny oppression but also conceal it. Racism in our contemporary society is subtle enough to make it seem preposterous when black people demand equality, yet prevalent enough that it is rooted systematically.
On May 25, I was scrolling through my feed when I came across the video of George Floyd’s arrest. Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, while three other officers further restrained Floyd, or kept others from intervening. Floyd screamed out in agony for his mother and begged for release: “Everything hurts.” “They’re going to kill me.” and “Please, I can’t breathe.”
An uneasiness chilled me and I became completely numb. In 2016, I met Eric Garner’s mother, whose son pleaded those same last words, “I can’t breathe,” until his death. Those haunting last words became the slogan of many protests, but they fell deaf to millions of ears. To hear those same words from another black man being murdered by a police officer, was devastating. History isn’t repeating itself; it is sitting in plain sight in a cunning disguise of ignorance and denial. The video is completely horrifying and nauseating, yet it wasn’t anything new. Every other day when I check the news or social media, there’s a report of an unjustified black death. Raw anger grips me, sadness overwhelms me, I sign petitions and post my grievances, but before I can fully process the situation, a new death, even more, appalling than the last, is already circulating.
Being black in America is draining. It is worrying about the safety of my father, mother, sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, and friends every time they step foot outside of the door. It is hoping that they’ll make it back home but knowing that the boundaries of a place they call home do not ensure safety. It is the sound of sirens not being comforting, but rather fearsome. Who do you call when those who are supposed to serve and protect fail to do so?
I am overwhelmed because this fight has stretched beyond years that my mind can even conceptualize, yet no change has been implemented. I am fearful that all the activism and allyship I see around me are performative and will soon blow over. I dread that a month from now, I will watch another black person die at the hands of police brutality, and no progress will occur systematically. I want to be energized and optimistic, but there’s a certain fatigue that comes with fighting for the same thing relentlessly and receiving the same results.
Yet, I swallow the agony and hope that this time the world will hear the invocations of the black community and push for systemic change. Many friends have come to me in the past few days to express their ignorance and willingness to start the change by educating themselves. Although it is invigorating to see people acknowledging their privilege and take the initiative to engage in those difficult and uncomfortable conversations, recognizing racism is only the first step. I hope that people continue to share petitions, donate, and fight against racial injustices even when no one is around to commend them for it. This means carrying the conversation from your social media platforms to your dinner tables. In my perspective, being an ally requires a recognition of the systems that perpetuate injustice and devoting yourself to actively counter anti-blackness on a daily basis.
To George Floyd’s family, Ahmaud Arbery’s family, Breonna Taylor’s family, and countless other families that have fallen victim to police brutality, I feel your pain and suffering within my heart, and no words are enough to articulate how sorry I am. I am sorry that your pain is being broadcasted to the world and that seeking justice is interpreted as a radical concept. As a society, we must do better and dismantle larger systems of oppression.
Black lives matter today, tomorrow, and every day after that.
Senior Tracy Oguns is a Contributing Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.