When are we going to put our politics and prejudices aside? When are we going to just do the right thing?
As I began to shape my ideas and prepared to write a new article this week, I had no intention of delving into the recent events surrounding a grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson and charge him with the murder of Michael Brown. Every website under the sun - or should I say, inside the green Matrix internet binary code - will be running a piece about it and as much as I have an opinion, at this point I do not see myself as being somebody articulate enough or even minutely qualified to provide an educated look at the current state of race in America, or more specifically, an accurate statement on being Black in America.
But as I shuffled through the thoughts in my head, I kept imagining what it must be like to wake up in Ferguson, Missouri, after protests and riots enveloped the city in chaos. The smell of smoldering cars and buildings in your clothes, glass and empty tear gas canisters littering the streets and an overall cloud of tension still looming in the air above. Put simply, they are the remnants of a moment that will stretch on for eternity in the memories of all those present.
There’s a certain type of numbness that overcomes you after tragedy strikes. Everything feels surreal. The world looks like you’re staring at it through a thick glass shield and everything is slightly off center. Even the most basic aspects of your daily routine seem foreign and something in the very fabric of space and time has shifted permanently. This is how I imagine waking up in Ferguson today - and maybe even waking up in Ferguson for the past few months - must feel like.
I can feel that emotion stirring around inside of me now. I can recall the many mornings after catastrophe ripped into my life and I sat quietly as I stared out into a distorted reality through red eyes still swollen from an outpouring of sadness the night before. I can vividly remember all of the instances in which my life changed forever and I said goodbye to somebody or something that made me whole.
I don’t pretend to know what it’s like to be Black in America. Unlike a lot of the writers, journalists and television hosts out there, I refuse to take the liberty of assuming what it’s like to live in that skin. I have to be honest with myself, and in that honesty, I have to admit that I am an outsider. In saying that, rather than writing a long drawn out op-ed about the Black struggle from a perspective that has not shared that exact experience, I’m choosing to fall silent and stand behind the voices that need to be heard.
Where I can relate, however, is in the pain that most, if not all, Black Americans must be feeling right now. The deep seeded anger that bubbles in the pit of your stomach and erupts when, once again, you are told that your life, in its entirety, is worthless in the eyes of the system you are surrounded by.
Half of me wants to reach out through this article and tell you to be better than what they’re expecting of you. The local, state and federal governments predicted how you were going to react. They brought in the National Guard weeks before the grand jury’s decision because they knew shit was going to hit the fan. So instead of giving them what they were prepared for, stop and protest in peace. Show the government, the grand jury, the National Guard, the police and every person in the world watching that you are smarter than they think. Organize and work within the system they created. Eat the beast from the inside out.
The other half of me wants to tell you to (in the words of Killer Mike) burn that motherfucker down. Your voice has not been heard and peaceful protest is no longer an option. They have beat you down yet again and there are no amount of picket signs or passionate speeches that will change it. Your peaceful protests are falling on deaf ears and they will use the police and military against you the second your cries grow louder than a whisper. This is the time for the hammer to fall. This is where the people must come together and lash out in order to be acknowledged.
The truth is, I’m not you but I understand the anger and disparity that you feel. As the product of an American Indian single mother (or Native American for the PC folks), I know what genocide looks like - here in Canada I see it constantly. My family tree has been torn to shreds by it and I watch helplessly as many young Native men and women are swallowed by that same monster every single day. It feels like pieces of your spirit splintering off and dying every time you’re reminded of it. I’m not you, but I can relate to your pain and if I were you, I’d be standing behind a blockade on a reservation with my face covered and a rifle in my hand right now.
The world is listening. What you have in front of you is an opportunity to hold this injustice under a cultural microscope and force an examination of the system’s flaws. The racism that flows beneath mainstream society has been exposed and if approached cautiously with the energy focused directly at the heart of this system, the beginning steps towards true racial equality can be taken.
Black people, I wish I could say that we're in this struggle together, but I won't pretend to share your oppression. It's black bodies that are piling up in front of the guns of police. What happens next is entirely your decision. Just know that a healthy number of outsiders are looking out for you, and standing next to you.
[Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for DJBooth.net. You can read/download his free eBook, "This Is My Rifle" and listen/download his most recent album, "Pyramids in Stereo". You can also contact him here and here.]