Talib Kweli’s, “The Proud,” deftly plays through my iPhone earbuds as I write this (July 17). I remember the first time I heard the song, an album cut of Kweli’s “Quality,” which I came across on a road trip to visit a childhood friend in college. Over 14 years old, the song covers politics, the idea of terrorism during the Timothy McVeigh trial versus in the wake of 9/11, and police brutality. Listening to Kweli’s second verse on police brutality, there are parts that sound eerily prophetic:
“… I already know the deal but what the f**k do I tell my son?
I want him living right, living good, respect the rules,
He’s five years old, and he’s still thinking cops are cool,
How do I break the news that when he gets some size,
He’ll be perceived as a threat or see the fear in their eyes?”
On April 25th of this year, my life changed for the better. I became the father to a beautiful, black baby girl. The way she miraculously arrived in this world – a great story for another day – is just as beautiful as she is. One of the best parts of my day is going into her room and seeing her awake with a disarming, gummy grin. Not only heartwarming, it’s an intoxicating reminder of, “Wow. I’m a parent.” Partnered with that smile is the vibrant innocence in her eyes. It’s one of the most amazing things to experience.
It’s also scary.
Trayvonn Martin. Walter Scott. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Tamir Rice. All of these tragedies – the plunder of black bodies as Ta-nehisi Coates would describe – are incidents of police brutality. Highly publicized, they all involve black males while the stories of the black female bodies brutalized at the hands of police seemingly fly under the radar as if it never occurs. Then Dajerria Becton happened. And now Sandra Bland.
“Who they serve and protect? N*gga, not you!”
As a man, having a daughter makes you hyper-aware of women’s issues that you typically wouldn’t think about. Although she is just a baby, I daydream often about the things I wish to teach my daughter: Having respect for herself and others. Becoming a lifelong learner. How to think critically. Economic empowerment. No means no. The importance of faith, not indoctrinated in her but presented to her with the choice to believe or not. Never drink something handed to her at a party. No one has the right to violate your body be it parent, friend, relative, or stranger. And with the previous sentence, I feel like I am lying to her. Because the incidents involving Dajerria Becton and Sandra Bland are harsh reminders that police brutality is not limited to the black male body. Due to her skin color, the police have every right to violate her body. Mommy’s body. Daddy’s body. Due to her gender, there are visible and invisible odds, on top of her skin color, that she must face. It is a war on two different fronts.
Sandra Bland was killed for standing up for her rights. I say killed because she was wrongfully arrested. This wrongful arrest ultimately led to her death. She was taken into custody due to the ego of a state trooper who felt disrespected. Although he antagonized the situation, the officer has stated that he handcuffed Bland because he felt threatened. And that is the essence of white supremacy (and sexism): Pride. It is a perverted pride that, when light is shed upon it, converts into fear and anger. This fear and anger manifests in many forms: Violence. Victim-blaming. Making oneself the victim. White supremacy, in particular, is poisoned oxygen pumped into the mind, inflating it with pride, fear, and anger. It irresponsibly uses religion, science, and other means as its justification. It is nothing more than a concept, historically created to control access to wealth while giving a false sense of security. Historically, it was wielded outright, displayed with overt authority. Today, due to some progress and some politics, its authority functions more covertly. This authority of white supremacy is very much alive and well, expressed in the education systems, housing, and the justice system.
Sandra Bland is, sadly, another casualty of this authority. She was arrested, and ultimately died, for being a light. Today, we fight. We write. We tweet. We debate. We give. We continue to shed light on the poisoned fruit of injustice, grown from the seeds of white supremacy, planted in the dark soil of society’s systems. We shed light on the darkness of that soil so that we can, hopefully, dig up the seeds. We experience progress. We experience setbacks. But we still, hundreds of years later, continue to shed light. Ida B. Wells was a light. Du Bois was a light. Baldwin was a light. Martin was a light. Malcom was a light. The message in Talib Kweli’s song is not so much prophetic as it is an echo of these lights. If there is nothing new under the sun, police brutality, stemmed from white supremacy, are dark places that have managed to survive and hide from the sun’s light.
I pray that my daughter lives a long, full life, benefitting from progress that we make, while still not being afraid to shed that light.
“Kurt Loeder asked me what I’d say to a dead cop’s wife,
Cops kill my people everyday, that’s life”