“So what’s going on with all of the rioting and looting?”
It was 6:53 a.m.
Most mornings, I’m not even out of bed by 6:53 a.m. Yet, there we were.
It was going to be that kind of morning.
My white coworker had opened the door to the conversation that’s being heard on news stations, at dinner tables and around virtual water coolers all across the world.
She posed the question to both me and a fellow black coworker.
So the three of us sat down and began to have a conversation.
“Have you ever had people watching you when you walk through a store?”
This was something she had heard about, from the experience of another black person, but it was never anything that she personally had to think about.
Due to my sheer disdain of shopping, I would like to say that if I have ever had people watching me, I was too busy to notice, as I scrambled to make my purchases and quickly exit stage left.
But I did share with her about one incident that I remembered.
My dad and I were walking into the grocery store when we came across a white woman in the parking lot. As we were about to pass her, she clutched her purse closely to her body, as if my dad was a threat to her wallet and her safety.
Never mind the fact that my dad graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in mathematics, was a father of two highly opinionated young girls, started his own successful consulting business, and had no interest whatsoever in the contents of her dusty purse.
His skin color appeared threatening, so she acted accordingly.
“Have you heard the name Emmett Till?”
This question was one that I asked her.
He was a 14-year old black boy from Chicago that made his way down to the Jim Crow South to visit with family in 1955 Mississippi.
When he was in a grocery store all those years ago, he was accused of whistling at a white woman.
The punishment for this grave crime? The woman’s husband and her brother-in-law beat, tortured and killed him until he was beyond recognition. Despite his mutilation, his mother, Mamie, was adamant about having an open casket funeral.
“Let the world see what I’ve seen,” she stated. “The whole nation had to bear witness to this.”
“Have you seen a picture of what he looked like?”
Me again, asking her.
No, she replied.
So with the quick taps of my thumbs, I Google’d his name.
The first picture I saw was how he should be remembered. With his round smooth face, big brown eyes, a simple smirk on his lips and a fashionable fedora on his head. His was the face of a young boy who had his whole life ahead of him.
But that wasn’t the picture I was looking for.
When I found what I was looking for, I asked “are you sure you want to see it?” Because if you have seen it, it’s not an image that you easily forget.
Yes, she said.
So with the turning of my phone, I showed her an image that unveiled the deepest, darkest and most evil parts of humanity.
The face of the completely disfigured Emmett Till.
She quickly looked away.
“But why the rioting and looting? What does that have to do with avenging the death of George Floyd?“
I couldn’t fault her for this question. Not at all. Because this is something that has stumped many people. Truth be told, in the early stages of all of this, it stumped me as well.
Why riot and tear up your own city?
This isn’t the way.
Why not take the approach of a peaceful protest, like the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
Well my city of Birmingham, AL is no stranger to MLK, as this is where he penned his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” His protests were that of peace and non-violence. He may be revered for it now.
But he was killed for it then.
For a more recent example, one needs to look no further than Colin Kaepernick. In his effort to bring awareness to the injustices and oppression of black people, he silently and peacefully knelt on the field during the National Anthem. In response to this, his jersey’s were burned and he was ostracized from the NFL. It looks like his peaceful attempts were thwarted as well.
If this isn’t the right way, and that isn’t either, would you let us know what is?
And if this isn’t the right time, would you be so kind as to pencil us in on that imaginary date in the future?
George Floyd was the catalyst. His death was the boiling point. And we have tipped over.
Now just to be clear.
Do I plan on visiting my local Target today and stealing a TV? No.
However, if they have disinfectant wipes, I would be more inclined…
I don’t love that it’s happening. I hate that it’s gotten to this point.
But I understand the anger. The exhaustion. The years, decades and centuries of oppression. The justifications for “I felt threatened.”
The noose and the rope may be gone, but the knee and arm does the work all the same.
“I’m surprised that you feel this, considering your age and because we are in the year 2020.”
I can not and will not pretend to know the experiences of those who have gone before me. The struggles and hard fought battles of generations long gone.
But within the almost 30 years of my existence, it is clear that these injustices were not laid to rest on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28th, 1963.
Or erased from our society with the historical win (not to mention epic White House swag surf) in celebration for 44.
Because we still say the names of Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Ahmaud Arbery, Atatiana Jefferson. To read the full list of names would be as daunting as reading the genealogies in the Old Testament.
We can talk about how a lot has changed, but we also must realize that quite a bit still remains the same.
“I have never had to think about this. And if I’m being honest, I brushed it aside because it didn’t affect me.”
And that’s it right there. These incidents are always sad and unfortunate, and we will continue to pull out our never-ending “thoughts and prayers” like we are reaching from Mary Poppins’ carpet bag.
But this isn’t solely a black issue. This is an American issue. And it should affect everyone.
As our break was coming to a close, she asked one final question.
“So why is it that we can have a conversation like this? I mean, you’re not mad and I’m not mad. But why can’t our leaders and politicians?”
I wasn’t prepared for this one. It was a great question, but I don’t think I’ve ever given it much thought before.
Though I was surprised by it, I answered almost immediately.
As we were seated at a safe distance of at least six feet, I pulled down my mask so that she could really see me and hear me. And I simply said —
Because I love you.
That word gets thrown around a lot, doesn’t it? Love.
And we have been commanded to do it.
Not in a “well-you’re-wrong-and-bless-your-heart-but-I-love-you-anyway” kind of way.
This coworker of mine grew up in my parent’s generation and is a mom to a son that’s my age. She stands tall and sassy at her 5 ft., while I tower over her with all of my 5ft. and 4in. She’s white, I’m black. And if you saw the two of us together, you might deem us an odd pair.
But me and her? We’ve gone through some things. We’ve both said words that we wished we hadn’t. We have laughed, cried and absolutely torn up the dance floor, one robot at a time.
She knows me, I know her.
And I love her.
That’s how we were able to calmly sit across one another and discuss such an exhausting, heartbreaking and uncomfortable part of life. A life that she has never had to live, but is trying to better understand.
So I’m ready. To sit down over a chai tea latte and talk about some hard things with you.
Because I love you.