Black Lives Matter
One of the first times I ever addressed the Andover community was following Ferguson. When news broke that the grand jury was not going to indict Darren Wilson in the killing of Mike Brown, as people took to the streets of Ferguson, Missouri and cities across the world to protest the killing of yet another unarmed Black man, our students took to social media to organize and grapple with questions about the historical and violent legacy of racism, racial injustice and white supremacy in our country. Though we would eventually come together for a forum attended by well over 300 students and adults, in those initial days and nights we were not together and it strikes me that we are not together now.
Instead, we are in our respective spaces trying to make sense of the relentlessness of the news cycle following not only George Floyd’s death but that of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery–names you’ve likely heard–and others you may have not, like Nina Pop, a Black trans woman believed to be the fifth known violent death of a trans and gender nonconforming individual in the past month according to HRC. This list of names is staggering in of itself, but more striking is to know it is an incomplete list of Black people who have violently died in the last couple of months. Our distance from each other does not stop us from interrogating how at the most basic and fundamental level everyday, mundane acts of being and existing for Black people lead to their deaths when the same is not true of other racial groups, or to think about how these fears and anxieties are so acute for so many of us–peers, teachers, mentors, coaches, etc.
We need not look too far than to the interaction between Christian Cooper, a Black man and avid birder, with Amy Cooper, a white woman whose dog was off leash in the Ramble in Central Park. When asked to leash her dog, she threatened to call the police, weaponizing whiteness and exploiting racial stereotypes and tropes (remember Emmett Till, 1955 and the Tulsa Race Massacre, 1921), emphasizing in her call that there is an African American man threatening her . We consider Christian Cooper one of the lucky ones. Black folks around the world, myself included, collectively let out a sigh of relief, grateful that this time he’d made it home, even if with the ugly scars of that memory and the what ifs seared into his brain. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for Ahmaud Arbery, who was followed and cornered by three white men in their pick-up trucks and shot to death in what many are calling a modern day lynching. Or, for George Floyd, who while handcuffed, endured 8 minutes of police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck and for two minutes more, after he was unresponsive. His cries that he couldn’t breathe (remember Eric Garner, 2014) and his call out to his deceased mother were not enough to spare his life. Or, for Breonna Taylor, who was shot 8 times in the sanctity of her home (Atatiana Jefferson, 2019), leaving Black people all around the world to question, where exactly are we safe if not in the public or private sphere? Where is our reprieve if not in our own homes? What dignities are we afforded as Black people and people of color?
All of this is happening against the devastating backdrop of COVID-19. A staggering 100,000 people have died to COVID-19 thus far and as data about who is dying and why continues to emerge, so too does a familiar story. It’s tragically ironic that so many Black people have reported feeling safer from surveillance and violence since being in quarantine but have also had to contend with the horrific precision with which COVID-19 is impacting Black communities. A number of health disparities, including access to adequate, culturally responsive and preventative care, sufficient testing, and a lack of investment in social infrastructures and services, have resulted in high infection and mortality rates amongst Latinx, Black, and Indigenous communities. Those disparities are even more exacerbated when we think about the intersections of race, class, gender, ability; food and housing insecurity, high levels of comorbidity in our communities and when we examine who our essential workers are and their modes of transportation.
It all points to the same thing, a system built and sustained on the racial subjugation of Black people and other people of color. One that wholly undermines calls for equity and racial justice in this country and begs us to do away with old ways of being and knowing. Dismantling inequitable institutional structures requires naming and calling out racism, transphobia and other -isms when we see it and hear it and opening ourselves to the discourse of discovering a new way forward, leading with compassion and conviction.
As the world grieves these losses, and we bear witness to what is happening in Minnesota and now cities all around the world saying us too, let it not be in vain because the truth is I’ve written far too many of these emails since Ferguson. And though they make me weary everytime, I will continue to do so, trusting that in your time at Andover you have come to understand your generation’s voice and action are vital to building a more just future. It is imperative to support our community of color, particularly our Black community right now. Finally, a reminder, as you scroll through news feeds and social media, please, please avoid consuming videos and photos of these deaths. Their humanity is not in their dying.
Be safe and healthy.