This time was not like the others.
Following the deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and Sandra Bland, I took to social media. I filmed and posted my anguish in response to the killings of black people by white police officers.
I dissected the root causes and cited decades of research by prominent black, female scholars in essays I penned for CNN and other publications. I admonished and cajoled white people to “do better” in Facebook posts and battled with white colleagues, classmates, and friends in the comments.
I co-founded a yearlong race conversations project with a white man who is now one of my dearest friends. I revealed my personal shame of being coerced into having sex with a police officer when I was 17-years-old to the embarrassment of my family. I told my story because I wanted white people to understand that police brutality also happens to nice black girls from good homes who color inside the lines.
This time was different.
No blistering essays condemning white people in every sentence only to reassure them in the final paragraph that their better angels have wings. No video rebukes. No list of book recommendations.
I attempted it. But no authentic words came. The words I had felt like imposters, strutting on a stage without an audience. So, I tried something new – silence.
I meditated. I walked to the beach. I studied the trade winds fluttering through the trees outside my window. While inside, I called my people. “You good?” I asked.
In the pause of meditation, I heard my ancestors’ wails on the hull of the slave ship and on the auction block when their mouths were pried open and skin branded. I felt the pulse of air contract of nonviolent protesters when white police officers beat them with clubs and dogs snapped within an inch of their faces.
Closer to our time, my meditations connected to the staccato chants of protesters as they screamed an expanding roll call of black death. #sayhisname. #sayhername. #saytheirnames.
I cried until I was hollow inside.
Ancestral lamentations scooped my insides like ice cream on a July day until there was nothing left of the old me. The sassy, fly, black girl you thought you knew is gone. She died when George Floyd cried out for his mama. Don’t call me. Don’t check on me. Don’t ask me how I’m doing.
Nothing and everything has changed in 401 years. You can paint the streets and change their names. You can wear Kente cloth and kneel on the marble floor of the same institution where you passed laws that deprived Black people of access to decent health care, education, housing, jobs, and clean air and water.
Domestic terrorism continues to dance with white denial in a centuries-old pas de deux. Things don’t change because white people are today years-old when they realized that anti-blackness in the United States is corroding the country from the inside. A book club never saved a black life.
Things change when the voice of the street roars. Its deafening rage smashes the glass ceilings, floors, and paneled conference rooms of institutions that profit from our labor but deny us opportunity. Confederate statues topple so that Black children no longer have to play in parks memorialized for those who tortured and enslaved our ancestors.
Corporations listen because they have not yet found a way to profit from the chaos. I find little comfort in their hashtag, carefully-crafted and vetted statements. Instead I look to two white friends whose office was damaged in the melee. They chose gratitude over anger and despair even in the face of loss. Their example of courage and grace widen the path for reconciliation after the national reckoning.
In the meantime, my bones rattle because the reapers are coming to collect oppression’s harvest. America’s rent has come due. The iron grip of white supremacy will not loosen willingly. It will require blood and sacrifice. That’s what the silence whispered to me.
Perhaps the pundits are right, and it is different this time. It’s different, not because white people have changed; but because I have. I am newly forged by silence, breath, and fire. I crackle and burn.