I wrote these words a little over an hour after forty-year-old Brandon Bernard took his last breath strapped to an executioner’s chair. The right words do not exist to describe how it felt to read the news of Bernard’s execution knowing that he was not alive to see it and that his previous position behind bars betrayed a similar evil of deprivation. The tears pooled in my eyes simply do not seem like enough to mark the indelible void domestic terrorism continues to leave on the mental landscape of the African-descended. Bernard’s execution took place in Indiana, the same place that sentenced a then-fifteen-year-old Ronald Sanford to 170 years in prison. Indiana is easily a wallet-sized portrait of the global contempt reserved for black men where blacks must die for the very deeds that engender white livelihood.
The domestic terrorism that yields black murder is an act of cultural genocide that leaves a social residue on the minds of the collective. This social residue breeds an insatiable need for validation in some, a deep, intractable fear in others, and instills, in a small few, a deeper purpose for their time on earth.
We, as a people, and I want to be specific that I am talking about black people here, are not free as long as we must watch, sleep, live in a space where we must experience injustice with no systems in place to combat the legal cruelty cast against us. For those who counter my claims with constitutional addendums, the ambiguity of the constitution enables the wiggle room necessary to allow for the wrath of white supremacy to remain legal. Additionally, the liberties extended to the black collective cannot combat the rights of our adversaries.
I can’t put into words how it feels to live in a world bearing the color of a national scapegoat where you watch those who look like you become tarred and feathered, masked and slaughtered, and you are supposed to just go about your day. For this reason, comments that speak to the complexities of the present moment trigger anger in the invisibility afforded to the black experience that continues to only “matter” when someone white says so.
The black optic exists to detract from the truth caged with the human beings stripped of their humanity and given the stripes of an animal in the form of a number that becomes their name or the tag placed on their foot. Black millionaires and the shallow portrait of black success remains rooted in the poverty of anti-blackness that continues to permeate this nation.
A country where the laws do not protect black people, should not be able to kill or imprison black people. It’s really that simple. Because the legal system systemically and cyclically disenfranchises blacks, they should not be able to reprimand blacks who act outside of laws that legalize their murder. Existing in America is becoming a lot more like trying to keep afloat in a sea of hot black blood where the choice is to drown in the pattern of our past or stay afloat as the sea receives its daily contribution of America’ promise: black bloodshed.
Thinking back to how previous scholars conceptualized similar dilemmas takes me to W.E.B Dubois’s now-famous inquiry, and I paraphrase: “What does it feel like to be a problem?”
To implement a similar query to encapsulate the horror of four-hundred years I ask: What does it mean when your nation bears the same promise of death that life makes you upon birth?
The question, while rhetorical, yields only one answer that speaks to the incomparable experience of global blackness.
Rest easy, black man. May you rise in power.