Daunte Wright. Pulled over for an air freshener. The same age as me.
Each time a new name makes the headlines, it sets off a familiar chain of thoughts and emotions. The feeling of emptiness in your chest, the sucker punch to the gut, the pain, the fear, the anguish. The inescapable knowledge that my Black life means so much less to the public than it should. The deafening silence of my non-Black peers.
When I close my eyes, I see my brother’s little face, his sweet smile, the way his eyes light up when he looks at me and shouts, “Hey, sissy, guess what!” I see him curled up on the couch in his Sonic the Hedgehog pajamas and Super Mario slippers, mouth going a mile a minute as he unloads all of his knowledge about dinosaurs. He’s so small, so pure. But I know that it’s not enough. It wasn’t enough for Aiyana Jones or Tamir Rice. And he won’t be six years old forever. No matter how many years pass, I’ll always look at him and see the gap-toothed kindergartener who adores Super Mario Brothers and gives the best hugs, but the police will simply see another Black man, another threat to be eliminated.
The day of George Floyd’s murder, I hugged my brother fiercely as my tears soaked his shirt, squeezing him to my chest as if I could will him to become part of me. Hoping that somehow, some way, I could keep him in my arms and keep him safe forever. I lock eyes with my mother solemnly in the toy aisle when he asks us for a toy gun like the boys in his class have. Every day I fear that his name will be the next hashtag, and I know that it would utterly destroy me.
So many of these thoughts are with me on a daily basis. When people ask me why I don’t have my drivers’ license and I laughingly reply, “I just didn’t need it!” knowing full well that the reason lies in my crippling fear that any seemingly routine traffic stop could be my last. When cop cars linger just a bit too long on the street corner as I let my dog out at night, and I begin to hyperventilate as I feel their eyes on me, unsure if it’s less suspicious to leave my hands in my pockets or to remove them suddenly, if I should leave my hoodie up or if lifting my arms to pull it down would be seen as a threat. On the happier days, when I find myself beginning to dance to the music in my headphones as I walk, then promptly remember Elijah McClain and stop.
These are the aspects of my blackness that you do not see – buried within me as I fight to pretend that my classes are the most important thing going on in my life at the moment and shut my emotions off when class discussions turn dehumanizing. Knowing, as many other Black students do, that I would be expected to use my “white voice” in the classroom. None of this comes as a shock to other Black students, but the willful ignorance of our peers is overwhelming. The summer of Black Lives Matter protests achieved many things, but the wider public response was often performative at best. And when #blacklivesmatter was no longer trending, that deafening silence returned. We are living in a constant state of anger and fear.
I do not have the luxury of removing my black skin or going through life without these thoughts. Many days, I feel like I’m drowning. We are exhausted. We can’t possibly continue to beg our peers to care. We’ve already established that the black square on your feed from last June means nothing. The performative activism punctuated by periods of silence means nothing. You need to do the work, or admit that you don’t care. Pretending is only more harmful to the both of us.
TRISHA VICTOR is a sophomore in Benjamin Franklin College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.