The comedian Richard Prior made an album in 1976 entitled “Bicentennial Nigger.” As always he used very colorful language as he critically took a look at this nation we live in. One of the sketches he did was called Bicentennial Prayer. In this brilliant piece, he said using the voice of a Black preacher that “White folks have had the essence of dis-understanding on their side for quite a while… we offer this prayer. And the prayer is. How long will this Bull**it go on? How long? How long?”
I was reminded of this idea over the past few days when viral videos once again spread of police officers firing guns and killing a Black man, Trayford Pellerin, who was clearly walking away from them allegedly with a knife in his hand. He had been acting erratically by walking into a convenience store in Lafayette, Louisiana with a knife and then walking towards another store after being tased by the police officers who eventually killed him. Of course there is another viral video that I’m now calling “snuff films” of the incident. This 31-year-old man was killed in a hail of bullets while bystanders filmed on their cell phones on August 21. His family says he had mental health problems which are never solved by bullets.
Just two days later on August 23 in Kenosha, Wisconsin another viral video emerged of police officers shooting Jacob Blake who was at the scene of a fight trying to break it up according to witnesses. He is seen being shot in the back at close range by officers right in front of his children as he attempts to get into his car. As of this writing he is in Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee being treated for his wounds.
As is always the case, the officers in both cases are on desk duty, the videos have gone viral, protestors have responded, the families have called for justice, people have condemned the killing of Trayford Pellerin, we have heard that Pellerin had mental health issues, etc. etc. etc.
I feel like I am living inside the movie Groundhog Day. In that 1993 film the main character played by Bill Murray wakes up each morning reliving the same day over and over again. I will not watch another video of Black people being killed or shot by police. I’ve seen far too many.
I will not wait patiently expecting justice because for Black people in this country justice is fleeting and for way too long a pipe dream.
“There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I Have a Dream speech 1963
I’m tired of hearing certain things. I’ve become numb. I no longer want anyone to say to me:
“The protests are working. Look at all of the White allies we have”
“White people are woke.”
“Defunding the police is the answer.”
“Look, another Black Lives Matter mural. Isn’t it beautiful? Doesn’t it show how much progress we’ve made?”
“How wonderful that another Confederate monument has bee torn down. Doesn’t it make you feel good to not see it anymore?”
“The police need more training.”
“Deescalation training is the solution.”
“All Lives Matter.”
“We Back the Badge.”
“Blue Lives Matter.”
“Make sure you vote. That’s how we get justice.”
“There are always two sides to the story.”
“We didn’t see what was going on before the video started.”
“We’ve come a long way.”
How long will I continue to hear the same things a million times? How many fake commercials and ad campaigns by companies and sports leagues telling me, “We care” do I have to endure? How long will peaceful protests last with no discernible change in the way police do their jobs? How many more statements will I have to read from police unions supporting officers who brutalize and kill unarmed or non-threatening people of all races? How many times do I have to hear police say they are afraid? I don’t believe it anymore. I know and acknowledge that the job is dangerous.
I have friends who are law enforcement officers or former law enforcement officers. I hate to see police officers be killed as much as the next person. But this does not make me blind to the thousands of people police kill in this country every year. It does not allow me to be blind to the unarmed Black people whose names we all know all too well now. We keep adding names to the list. We keep being outraged. We keep waiting for the officers to be identified quickly. We keep waiting for charges to be filed. We keep hearing it’s justified. We keep seeing officers who kill multiple people keeping their jobs. We keep hearing about lawsuits filed by the families. As taxpayers we keep paying the settlements reached in police brutality lawsuits. We keep spending money on training but seeing no measurable results. We keep hearing that reform is real.
I’m tired of many things that people refuse to call out in 2020.
I’m tired of people refusing to wear masks knowing a pandemic has killed over 800,000 people including nearly 180,000 in this country. I’m tired of people being afraid to point out the obvious, that most of the people refusing to wear masks and protesting against mask mandates are white. I’m tired of these people protesting their “right” to not wear face masks. I’m tired of police leaders saying they will not enforce mask mandates when their governor or other leaders tell them to. I’m tired of people clamoring for football, baseball, soccer, basketball and other sports as if they can’t live without them. I’m tired of being told that we can safely reopen schools with so-called “protocols” in place. I’m tired of people criticizing teachers for refusing to work in the germ factories we call schools while applauding millionaire professional athletes for opting out of their seasons to protect themselves and their families.
I’m tired of Black women and men not being allowed to be angry, to express anger, and to show anger when everyone else can. The angry Black woman trope makes me sick to the stomach. I’m tired of people telling us to be peaceful but not telling white supremacists to leave their guns at home. I’m tired of the President of this country not being challenged daily by reporters for supporting white supremacists and their ideologies.
I’m tired of hearing how successful the Civil Rights Movement was. The famous 1965 Voting Rights Act is in tatters. The 1968 Fair Housing Act has never been properly enforced. The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision was a joke and schools are just as segregated if not more so than they were back then.
I’m tired of middle of the road politicians who refuse to take a stand. I don’t need to watch you pander to people who are comfortable with the status quo. I don’t need to hear anymore about how wonderful the Founding Fathers were and what they built because it has been nothing but an absolute disaster for Native Americans, Blacks, Latinos, and many Asians in this country for so long that it seems never ending.
I’m tired of being tired.
I’m angry and I dare anyone to tell me I should not be. My anger is what I call righteous anger. I spoke about this idea of righteous anger in my TEDx Talk What I learned From A Lynching Survivor About Anger. It is more than justified. It is channeled into the work that I do. It drives me to advocate for change. It makes me speak out when others are afraid. It makes me confront the lies we teach about this country’s past, present and future. It makes me acknowledge the horrors of the lived experiences of my ancestors and other people in this country who have and continue to face constant racism.
It makes me challenge the easy path people want to travel in moving towards this mythical racial and social justice space. I say mythical because I’m yet to see either in real life manifest itself without a constant fight, a constant challenge, a constant pushback.
It makes me call out movies where white people are always the heroes, and television shows where the cops are always the good guys. It makes me call out the whitewashing of Dr. King and Malcolm X by America. It makes me repudiate the asinine idea that Black people are their own worst enemies.
This righteous anger I feel everyday makes me ask, how long? It is the driving force in my life because I want better days to be forthcoming. I want the lies to stop. I want the deception to stop. I want the foolishness of white privilege to end. I want the resource hoarding that has been a foundational principle in America by White people to be a thing of the past.
I want White moderates and liberals to stop hiding behind a Black Lives Matter sign or t-shirt to stop acting as if they can’t do more. I want woke White people to get off of their behinds and change this country. I want them to call out the racism they see whether it is conscious or unconscious. I want them to fire people who are clearly racists. I want them to wield the power they have to create real justice, not just empty promises of equity teams, and equity plans and other such wonderful sounding initiatives.
The answer to the question Richard Pryor asked is explained by this Frederick Douglas quote.
“The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”