Yesterday was my birthday and I knew I needed a break to be happy and “free” from the constant brutalization of black bodies and the pain white supremacy inflicts on the black psyche. Calling in black felt amazing! Aside from avoiding Facebook and Twitter alerts of what was trending on Black Twitter I was able to sit back and enjoy my birthday for the most part. My day off to take care of me and my mental health was beautiful. I felt light and even airy as my “biggest worry” of the day was trying to make my train into the City. I realized that white privilege is like this 24/7 365 days a years. A white person is free to ignore anything that happens to the black community and be fine, yet even on my day off I was confronted with the realities of my blackness. A friend who called me to wish me a happy birthday ended up discussing a lot of the recent cases in the news with me and while going to view The Tempest in Harlem (it closes this Sunday so if you are in the area go and see it!) my sister and I encountered a protest passing through Penn Station which undoubted showed the cracks in my attempt to be free for a day.
As we made our way to the Subway to catch the 2 up to Harlem, I noticed a literal army of police officers there following the protesters. This plus with all the people trying to catch the train made for a very crowded station. Nonetheless even in this moment dread filled my mind as my sister and tried to navigate the crowd dotted with police officers. I told her to “be careful not to bump into one of the officers because God knows how they would react.” A vision of my sister’s black body being thrown to the ground violently like the girl from McKenney, Texas (that the media and society has so quickly forgotten) raced through my mind. I heard Sandra Bland’s voice come out of my sister’s mouth expressing the pain he was subjecting her to. I saw myself yelling at the officer and telling him it was an accident then another officer attempting to handcuff me causing me to get angrier and pull my hand away from his which then would have resulted in more officers coming to take me down. From there in my vision I could have easily been shot or strangled by the officers because of the furtive movements I was making or them thinking I had a gun. I thought of my parents hearing the news that either their daughter or son had been killed on a night that was supposed to be a celebration of my life. These thoughts flashed through my mind really quickly but it brought me fear on a day I was supposed to be happy and free.
Even when we got to the play, I found myself thinking about my blackness. The cast for this version of The Tempest was almost entirely black. Having never seen the play before I didn’t know what to expect but I knew that Caliban was supposedly evil. Watching the play and listening to how Prospero (portrayed by a black man) treated Caliban and Ariel (both black) made me think. Ariel in this version was a woman and I loved how the the theater company gave her a Caribbean-esque vibe (Think Calypso from Pirates of the Caribbean). She served Prospero doing all his bidding but then I found out that she was basically his slave who when she asked for her freedom early in the production, Prospero went on a rant about how she should be grateful that he freed her (sounds like white people who act as if black people should be happy with crumbs). I intially viewed Caliban as the opposite of Ariel as he was rebellious and actually wanted to kill Prospero but as the play went on I didn’t fault him and understood his anger and frustration. Caliban rightfully lived on the island where the play took place before Prospero came. Prospero came and took over and basically enslaved Caliban using his magic to inflict pain on “the monster” and bend Caliban to his will. Caliban wasn’t a monster to me but someone who wanted what was rightfully his (sounds like reparations). The play caused me to think about my placement as a black man once again in society on “my day off.” Ariel and Caliban are forced to do what Prospero wishes and expected never to complain and wait patiently for him to take care of them. Prospero wasn’t a hero in my book and his forgiveness of his enemies later on in the play did not impress me because Prospero represented the society we live in that uses and abuses black people and expects us to sit idly by and be quiet.
Perhaps the most shocking portion of the day was when it was over and I logged back in to check out what I had missed on my day free from the burden of speaking out against racism. At 12:05 this morning as I scrolled down my newsfeed and saw all the information that had come out about Sandra Bland and the other black people that had been killed I felt a tempest rise within me. I hadn’t noticed it all day but there was an emptiness in my heart where the full burden of black rage and despair had taken up residence and like a flood it came rushing back there as I looked at the news that Ava DurVernay said the footage was doctored (I believe it) and heard someone claim that Sandra Bland was arrested because she was being arrogant. I appreciated the day off to to attempt to only worry about myself but the truth is I will always be black first before being considered human. I will always be treated like Caliban an ” evil monster” that needs to be controlled or killed. I believe that we as black people need to practice self care because racial battle fatigue is real but when we least expect it white supremacy is preying on us seeking to harm us, just look at what happened in Charleston. My day off was great for a moment but deep down I knew I could never truly ignore what was happening. Even now as I scroll through social media my mind is inundated with the racism that makes this country function. It is no wonder that this 10 year boy ended up crying when he realized that the KKK hated him for being black. The truth is my blackness will always speak first and the tempest of black rage and despair will always exist as long as white supremacy playing the role of Prospero is allowed to abuse me for my blackness.
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