They say we’re playing victims. Like this is theatre. Like we’re characters, roles, archetypes, actors. Like victim is easier than offender. Like America allows anyone who looks like us to be blameless.
They say we’re pulling the race card. Like we can flash it for access to some elite club of suffering. Like pain is a hot commodity. Like trauma is a delicacy. Like we can fill our tanks on that shit. Like we haven’t been running, for centuries, on empty.
They say to be grateful and stop complaining. Like they gave us what we have out of kindness. Like half-free isn’t half-bound. Like half-life isn’t one foot in the grave. Like half-safe is any real sense of security. Like our resilience renders them unaccountable.
They say there are many sides. Like we’re doing something to them by hurting. Like a Black boy on the pavement is a talking point. Like there are two sides to burying a child. Like we’re not grieving. Like we’re not aching for our kids who have to live in this world. Like we’re not aching for our elders who have to die in this world. Like there’s a wrong way to try to survive this.
They say change doesn’t happen overnight. Like it wasn’t urgent four centuries ago. Like another generation of this can be granted in good faith. Like no end in sight is something we can sit with. Like we don’t have better things to do, fuller lives to live. Like we can wait. They say this over and over, like they didn’t say it last time, like we haven’t heard it all, like we asked them.
They say at least no one can deny it now. Like our churches are burning for attention. Like our bodies are riddled with bullets to rile them up when they watch the viral video. Like Black death is an exclamation point at the end of their argument. Like they kill us to confirm who they are, to categorize themselves by their reactions or nonreactions.
They say that this isn’t their America. Like it’s ever been anybody else’s. Like they can opt in and out of their legacy. Like their opinion isn’t propped up on our backs, their birthright not written in our blood. Like this isn’t the foundation of their founders. Like history is whatever helps them sleep at night.
They say that they’re not like the others, that they’re sorry on behalf of all white folks. Like that means that white folks are sorry. Like reparations are a comment on an article. Like we’re the ambassadors of our respective races. Like we can forgive them for it. Like the sentiment can keep us safe.
They say death to white supremacy. Like they don’t listen to hip-hop ironically. Like they don’t affirm themselves by mocking us. Like they don’t feel entitled to what’s ours. Like they don’t call all our neighborhoods sketchy. Like they don’t wait to call the block up-and-coming ’til we’re mostly pushed out. Like they’ve reconciled their own participation.
They say that they hate being white. Like that’ll make them not white. Like self-deprecation is an offering. Like feeling guilty serves some higher purpose. Like we’re fighting to make them feel bad. Like all this is about their experience of it.
They say that now is the time to listen to us. Like it wasn’t before. Like it hasn’t always been.
So I say what I always say. What my ancestors said. What my peers do, too. I say that I’m angry. I say that I’m scared. I say that I’m tired. I say I want more. I say I’m a person. I say I’m unsafe. I say that I’m worried for my loved ones, for strangers, for myself. I cut through the noise for a second. I make them feel passionate enough to reply.
They try hard to summon something altering, but they say what I expect instead. And then, satisfied, they shut their laptops and let the world spin.