My husband comes over to kiss me goodbye before leaving the apartment to go to a photography shoot. “Be careful out there” I say to him.
As he shuts the door behind him, my mind swims with the images I’ve just seen of the moment Alton Sterling’s life was taken by a police officer. He was the 114th black man to be killed by police in America this year.
I feel sick at the thought that there are still five more months left before 2016 is over, which means there are five more months for that figure to get higher. And higher.
My husband is loyal and loving. He brings me fresh lemon and ginger tea every morning, he cooks dinner for us every evening. He’s my partner in creativity and my staunchest supporter. He’s not at the center of my world – he’s woven into every part of it.
But none of that will matter if he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
My husband is a black man.
My husband is a target.
When I see footage of families grieving for their black brothers and fathers, their sons and loved ones, there is always a part of me that thinks “Will that ever be me?”
But this is not about me. It’s about him. It’s about the way society sees him differently.
I remember the first time we got stopped as we were leaving a store together, the security guard asking to check our receipt. I remember being surprised that we had to provide proof of the purchases we’d just made. And I remember thinking “This doesn’t happen when I’m on my own”.
Our marriage has been described as progressive and I feel nauseous at the use of that word. The label is less about our individuality and more about our inter-racial relationship. It bothers me that science and technology advance every day, yet equality and acceptance are still struggling to be seen.
My husband moves through this world with a different set of danger signals.
The sound of a police siren is different to his ears.
The sight of a police officer is different to his eyes.
We are both law abiding citizens, free from convictions. But only one of us is free from racial profiling.
I was recently sexually harassed in the street. It was nearby my home and my husband was there within a minute or two. The guy that had made abusive remarks to me had already run off into the subway station. My racing mind was relieved. I knew that if my husband had caught up with him there might have been an incident. Which means there might have been police. And I do not want my husband near the words “incident” and “police”. Not ever.
We often attend protests and rallies together, peacefully marching for the rights of the marginalized and oppressed. Each time I’m mindful of what’s going on around us, of any change in the mood of the crowd, of any rising restlessness.
Because I know that in a single second it could be my husbands face that I see pressed against the ground. It could be a chokehold on his neck. It could be a gun pressed into his back.
It will not matter that there were witnesses who will testify he did nothing wrong. It will not matter there was video footage to back up those testimonies. It will not matter that he has one of the most beautiful hearts and brilliant minds I know.
It will not matter.
It will not matter.
He will not matter.
And that’s why I made myself watch the video of Alton Sterling losing his life. Why I watched the video of his son breaking down in tears.
How many more hashtags? How many more lives?
As has become the norm in the wake of such deaths, the Internet goes wild with justifications as to why taking a mans life was an acceptable act. There is talk of previous criminal convictions, questions raised as to worthiness of moral standing. Apparently this condemnation is appropriate. Apparently having a past legitimizes extinguishing a future.
Pull trigger first, assassinate character later.
I hope at the time of my death I am not subjected to public scrutiny as to whether I met a fitting end, as to whether I deserved it. I hope my family do not have to read scathing remarks about me in comments sections, written by perfect strangers living perfect lives.
As a writer, I’m committed to shining a light on issues that I believe need to be illuminated. Ensuring that black lives matter is one of them. I am an artist who lives out loud. I will not be quiet about miscarriages of justice.
If I don’t use my platform, and my privilege, to bring something of substance to the table then I will have abused the rights that have been afforded to me.
There are still too many people shying away from too many inconvenient truths. It’s 2016 and we are still refusing to digest the facts that we deem to be unpalatable. We are still looking the other way and we are still not acknowledging that we each play a part in paving the way for a better world.
We are still chanting Not One More as the death toll increases.
As I was writing this article I heard the news about Philando Castile. I watched his girlfriend recounting the horror she had just witnessed. I saw more hashtags that told me to Say His Name. And I did. I said his name and I silently, sickeningly said a number, too:
If we truly want there to be no more lives lost then we need to look at how we’re living. I question daily how I’m being the change I want to see in the world. How I’m making a difference. I have to know that I’m doing more than posting a meme and sharing a Martin Luther King quote. Because quite honestly, that’s just not cutting it.
Self enquiry is uncomfortable. It’s easier for me to blame police officers with guns than it is to look at my own hands and question my own actions. How am I culpable? How am I complicit? Can I do more? Can I listen more? Can I love more?
I used to think that it was enough just to know that I wasn’t intentionally doing any harm. Now I know it’s not enough unless I am intentionally trying to help. That means having conversations and getting into communities. It means lobbying for change and standing up and being counted. It means not being deterred or distracted. It means solidarity and support.
I don’t have all of the answers. I don’t know the precise path forward. But I do know that unless I start with me, I can’t ask anyone else to do the same.
I do not want it to be an accomplishment that my husband comes home tonight. I do not want it to be an achievement that he is not on the news as Number 116. I do not want the man I love to be a statistic, his memory pulled apart before my grieving eyes.
His life matters.
His black life matters.
Photo credit: Leon Cato