“Remember they didn’t make arrests because they saw the tape; they made arrests because we saw the tape.” — Unknown
My father who usually jogged before sunrise, was preparing to make up for the miles that he had missed.
The year was 1992.
I can’t remember what was on television. But I’ll never forget what happened next.
An emergency news report broke into the regularly scheduled program.
The verdict was in.
A jury in Los Angeles suburb of Simi Valley acquitted four police officers who had been charged with using excessive force in arresting black motorist Rodney King on March 3rd, 1991.
The Sony Camcorder video of his beating went viral in the pre-social media era. The trial was merely a formality in the minds of most because we had all seen the tape.
It seemed like a forgone conclusion that these policemen would be convicted.
The newsperson on my parents television screen said “NOT GUILTY”.
Then Dad opened the front door and ran out the house.
I’m not sure if we just following him as family leader or because we had never seen him behave this way before, but we all jumped up and went outside.
That’s where my father stood on our small dead end street in a mostly white suburb and with head back, screamed at the sky.
Reminscent of a wolf’s moon howl if you added a little grizzly bear bass.
Equal parts rage, desperation, and pain was mixed in his vocal lament.
We stood frozen, feet rooted in the lawn, not sure what to do. When he was finished, my father stared at us and shook his head, “I am just so tired of this!”
Then he jogged away.
I was confused by his scream. I didn’t know quite what to make of it, and when he returned he was mostly quiet. The echoes of his anguished voice haunted me in my sleep.
I have long come to understand the day my Daddy howled at the sky.
This week when I saw the lynching death of Ahmaud Aubrey on that afternoon jog via video, I felt that same fury that gripped my Daddy’s bones.
I clenched my teeth, my chest got tight, and I wanted to howl.
Just like my father.
But because their aren’t many safe places to howl these days, I held it in.
I didn’t make a sound.
A single tear ran down my cheek as I thought of Ahmaud’s family, his friends, and the fear he must have felt as he fought for his life.
I thought of the history of lynchings and killings in America, like Ahmaud black men were hunted like animals for simply being black.
My heart howled, but I didn’t make a sound.
I held it in.
You see, showing anger as a black man is dangerous.
You are a threat.
In fact, your simple presence strikes fear in the hearts of too many white brothers and sisters. It’s the reason people get off elevators, cross the street, women clutch purses when you arrive.
It’s the reason you train yourself how to get small, speak “articulately”, and carry yourself carefully.
You understand that to navigate a white world, you must live with the knowledge that your skin, your history, your culture can be deadly.
Not for them, but for you.
Be black, but not TOO black.
Be free, but not TOO free.
Speak your mind but not TOO much.
You want to howl, but you can’t.
So you hold it in.
So conditioned to screaming in silence, that you barely express the pain in private.
As a flood of rage, pain, hopelessness and helplessness washed over me, a simple question popped in my mind:
“What if there wasn’t a video?”
What if we didn’t see this horrific tragedy on our digital devices in living color? What if all that was available was the account of the Aubrey family about what had happened to Ahmaud?
The story would have never been believed.
They would have been called liars or those that had misremembered the details and had exaggerated the truth.
They would have been subjected to a series of common behaviors designed to invalidate their experience, appealing to a larger commonly held Eurocentric United States cultural ethos.
Though taking various forms, these behaviors usually settle into six specific responses to incidents of racism.
Six Actions of Invalidation:
- Deflection: Flip the Issue or Make it About Something Else (Example: “Why is everything always about race? If we stopped talking about it, it would go away! What about reverse racism?” )
- Diminishment: Minimize Impact of Incident or Issue (Example: “Come on, already. Didn’t we have a black president? Slavery is long over, can you just get over it?”)
- Dilution: Expand the conversation to include unrelated information (Example: “Yes. But what about All Lives Matter? Don’t Blue Lives Matter? What about Irish slavery? Black on black crime? Shootings in Chicago?”)
- Devaluation: Questioning the credibility of the story/story teller by magnifying absurdity and illustrating humanity’s goodness (Example: “So you are telling me, in year 2020 you are being discriminated against? No way, I am pretty sure that they are like most people, they don’t even see color. It doesn’t matter if you are green, purple, polka dotted, or blue. People are people.”
- Demonization: Villainizing the Oppressed (Example: “You know he had a criminal record right? What was he doing walking through down THAT street at night?”)
- Destruction: Eliminating Dissenting Voices from Dialogue (Example: “If they don’t like it, they can go back to Africa!”)
One of the biggest challenges I see in the aftermath of Ahmaud Aubrey’s death is that in the midst of the hashtags, social media postings, screenshots of our 2.33 mile runs is that too many of us clearly don’t understand the issue.
While these things do have value (I ran too), if we see racism solely through the lens of extremism, then we have largley missed the point.
Victor Lee Lewis in the landmark documentary, “Color of Fear” describes from where the worst forms of American racism originate:
“It comes from moral, fair-minded people who believe that they are lovers of justice, “church-goers,” people who experience themselves as decent, and actually very nice folks, and it is there that I find my fear.”
The most toxic forms of racism are not found in three Southern white men riding in a truck with shotguns hunting a black man who “fits the description”.
They’re just branches of a larger tree that’s regularly watered and fed by the Fair Minded.
If we only get angry at the fruit the branches produce but neglect the roots from which the branches spring, then we will continue relive this loop of racial disharmony that America has been circling for centuries.
We kill the tree not by chopping it down (that comes later), but by starving it first.
This starvation occurs when fair minded good people remove the mask of power and privilege, stop looking for extremist branches, but come to the startling realization they are feeding the tree by watering racism’s ugly roots.
- Every time the Fair Minded share a racist meme, video, or image on social media, the roots are strengthened.
- Every time the Fair Minded make an excuse for a political figure’s racism, the roots are strengthened.
- Every time the Fair Minded employ one of the Six Actions of Invalidation, the roots are strengthened.
- Every time someone cracks a racist joke or makes an overt or covert racist statement and the Fair Minded allow it to go unchallenged, the roots are strengthened.
- Every time the Fair Minded stay silent, look the other way, stay out of it to “mind their business”, the roots are strengthened.
That is why it took over two months for Ahmaud Aubrey’s killers to be arrested. It’s the reason why American civil rights took almost 200 years to become enforceable law, why Native Americans were enthusiastically exterminated, and why lawful brown skinned asylum seekers are being brutalized today in the United States of America.
When the Fair minded look the other way racism gains momentum.
While it’s great to jump on the social justice social media bandwagon, we must demand more from ourselves and each other.
Five Bold Behaviors for the Fair-Minded
- Get Quiet: Make Space to Listen and Learn-
(Example: “I have never walked that road. Please teach me through your experience.”)
2. Get in Line: Become a Follower and Learn to be Led by the Marginalized-
(Example: “Show me the way. My privilege has blinded me and made me deaf. I need your help.”)
3. Get Uncomfortable: Move Out of Cultural Comfort Zone -
(Example: “Hey, why don’t we watch that documentary on racial injustice with our new friends and sit down and discuss it?”)
4. Get Courageous: Be Brave and Take a Risk-
(Example: “Now that I have listened, learned, and followed, where can I help?”)
5. Get Confrontational: Break the Silence and Do Something-
(Example 1: “Hey _____, I’m sending you a private message because I saw what you posted today. I am sure you didn’t mean it like that, but that image is extremely offensive. I am going to ask you to take it down. Let me share with you why.”
Example 2: “Whoa, _______. I know we are doing the family meal and all that, and I don’t want to break up the holiday spirit, but I have to tell you I can’t have you talk like that around me or the kids. That is just wrong.”
We mourn for you Ahmaud, like we’ve mourned for so many before you.
You are our son, our brother, our nephew, our cousin, our friend, our family.
We pray for your mother Wanda this Mother’s Day where she will undoubtedly weep for her lost son.
My heart is heavy and my soul is tired.
28 years after I watched my father do it, maybe tonight I’ll howl at the moon.