I've had to be three people this week. They exist separately, in spaces that I'm better off keeping discrete for the sake of my own health. There's the guy who checks in at Kotaku and acts like nothing's wrong. There's the father who makes sure his kid is smiling and growing as much as possible. And there's the black person who is appalled at the ugliest truths of America.
It's not all that different from how I've lived most of my life. But, during the past couple of weeks, it feels like all of those Evans are about to collapse. The nihilistic inevitability of dying under racism has been stepping on my throat all week.
There's always been a set of computational cycles whirring in the back of my brain, dedicated to parsing racism in my everyday life. Do these people think I don't belong in their store? Do I get upset about that? Was that dirty look just a dirty look? Or was it because the look-giver thinks I'm an uppity black bastard? Lately, that part of my brain has been in overdrive, trying to process the death of Mike Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO.
Before cancer killed her eight years ago, my mom used to have high blood pressure. She was a single parent of three kids and, yeah, we stressed her out. She'd talk about the tightness in her chest when it ramped up, and swore she was going to have a heart attack at any moment. It was a little like living with Fred Sanford, only less funny. She threw that guilt our way constantly, to keep us in line. The hyperawareness of her hypertension was another stressor in and of itself. Knowing that her pressure was up wasn't going to help it get down.
Watching events unfold in Ferguson, my own chest has been tight for days now. And just like my mom, knowing what's bothering me doesn't diminish the discomfort at all. Every night for the last four, five days, I've sat in front of Twitter, watching my feed fill up with more and more uncanny bullshit done in the name of obfuscating the call for justice surrounding Mike Brown's death.
It doesn't escape me that, according to some of the metrics used to measure American life, I'm pretty safe as far as black men go. I went to college. I earn a decent salary. I don't live in an economically repressed neighborhood. I have healthcare. I probably won't die suddenly at the hands of a cop. So, yes, safe in a certain regard.
I shouldn't be tired. I'm working remotely this week from a rented house just steps from the beach, grilling hot dogs for my daughter's lunch and making sure she sees the stars that the city lights block out back home in Brooklyn. I've been working, too, but I generally like my job too much for it to be that big a drain on me.
But, existentially, I've never felt more in danger. I wonder at the world into which I've brought my daughter. One where black bodies still get used as props for the lies America keeps telling itself. I've watched terrible people try to attach awful pseudo-narratives to Mike Brown in the aftermath of his death. "He deserved to die because he shoplifted." "Well, there was marijuana in his system so, of course, he was a thug whose life meant nothing." There's nothing so galling as the contortion and erasure that happens to the lives of young black men and women who die violently at the hands of white people. A physical death isn't enough and never has been. They must kill his character, his reputation, his spirit, all of him.
That kind of smearing isn't new, but it's the feeling of resurgence that bothers me. Going to college in the 1990s, there was a sense among my black friends that we were going to have to face a different kind of racism, an evolved sort of racism. New legislation and a begrudging shift in social attitudes meant the strong-arm tactics of Bull O'Connor were a thing of the past. Those in Power would have to be a little slicker with their shit to keep us out and down. No more firehoses and attack dogs and billy clubs in broad daylight. But those tactics' modern-day descendants have been out in full force this week—sonic cannons, flashbangs, tear gas, tanks and night vision goggles, tools of international military engagement. All deployed because a community dares ask why a teenager died at the end of a policeman's gun.
One of the more bitter moments of déjà vu I've had this week is re-acquainting myself with the idea that physical and psychological violence against black people in America isn't ever ending. I can try and teach my kid to bob and weave and dodge it. That's practically required. I want her to be able to rage against it, too. To call out the injustices she sees other people suffering.
I did some political protesting as a younger person. Marched, yelled, carried signs. I want to raise the kind of kid who does the same thing when fucked-up racist shit happens in her life. Because it will. But then I see the faces of other children blasted with tear gas during a peaceful protest. Do I want that for her future? Will it be worth it for her to sacrifice her safety for something so Quixotic as the dream that America might one day truly reckon with its racism?
I don't have answer for that. I know that quiet acceptance of terrible systems doesn't make anyone's life better. But I also know it'd be stupid to think that things will change in my lifetime. I'm at the end of hope. Hundreds of years of denial have brought us to this place. It will certainly continue through my daughter's lifetime. I've dreaded having to tell her, after some future-Ferguson happens, that This Is the Way Things Are. Having to also admit that This Is the Way Things Will Always Be feels like too much to bear. It also feels inevitable.