Cell phone videos and the internet make it impossible to hide from the truth about America, that it openly harbors a murderous impulse toward African-Americans. The post-racial myth I learned in school during the 80’s and 90’s is long vanquished by the grisly racist reality recorded by hand and shared with a few taps to millions of screens countless times in just the past five years. The reality on the screen was never not the reality for black people in America, but it was never so difficult as now for white people to avoid experiencing it with our own eyes.
In my comprehension of the history of racist violence against African-Americans, the killing of Michael Brown in August, 2014, is not a watershed moment. It was not a thing that had not happened before, and the protests it ignited were not unprecedented. But in my mind “Michael Brown” is the first name in a list that rapidly grew to include Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Philando Castille, Tamir Rice, Laquan McDonald, and many, many more, a list of black Americans whose deaths and their tragic consequences have been viewable on social media. These are names you can’t not know and videos of murders you can’t un-see. If you don’t know their names and you haven’t seen what was done to them, you’ve made a choice not to.
Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd are the latest additions to that damnable list. Their killings were recorded. You can watch them too. I can’t say if you should watch them or not, but you must come to know them, and it’s not hard. There is no un-knowing the violence America is still unleashing on its black citizens, and the inevitability of that knowledge should lead us to grieve, to rend our garments and sit among the ashes, to mourn what we are and what we have wrought.
Outrage is critical. Analysis is indispensable–we need to understand privilege and systemic racism and implicit bias and institutionalized white supremacy. And still, performance of outrage and analysis can short circuit lament, and I can’t see any way through this hell that doesn’t get neck-deep in sorrow, not as an alternative to action but as its proper motivation.