I said I wouldn’t publish anything on this point as other people could do it clearer and more eloquently. Ironic coming from a writer.
I said that people would understand my desire (and right) to internalise my feelings. They did. But I didn’t.
Why risk friendships, my job potentially and the investment in this platform to address something that touched me in a way that took me by surprise when I saw that video from Minneapolis, Minnesota? Not worth it, right?
I said I wouldn’t write this out on a notepad beforehand, so bear with me if the rest of this is quite short, quite long or something in between.
On May 26th, in the early hours, I was just mucking around on Twitter when someone I follow posted a 10 minute video from that evening. The time difference between the U.K. and U.S meant it was a very recent event. It showed an officer kneeling on the neck of a black man, as onlookers barracked the officer and his colleague who stood by. My focus was on the unseen man calling the police names, and not on the man begging for his life. I hadn’t even noticed, so commonplace was that kind of restraint against people who look like me.
It wasn’t until the onlookers pointed out that the man under knee had stopped moving that I realised what I was meant to be paying attention to all along and missed. After learning that his name was George Floyd and that he had died, I immediately put down my device and felt something I had not felt in a long, long time.
I felt different, because this was different. Yes, I’d seen the John Crawford III video, sighed at the details of the Breonna Taylor shooting, and had shaken my head at the Ahmaud Arbery killing a few weeks prior, but this was different. It was public, it was captured. It was clear. There was no mistaking what was there, and it lasted 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
The reaction, and global action demonstrated it was not only different, but it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. People had enough. We had enough. I had enough.
It forced us to look at ourselves and our role in what is a very real problem. No longer was the immediate reaction that of “Oh, here we go again” accompanied by rolling eyes 🙄
The way black people were regarded and treated was no longer unseen by everyone else. “Oh, so they weren’t lying or being paranoid” seemed to be the refrain. The natural instinct to push back against meaningful discussion was no longer there. Of course, the discussion, slogans and symbols are experiencing pushback now, and the “Ok, you’ve made your point now” eye-rolling has resumed, but with less force than before.
As for me, I was in the midst of structuring the following parts of the ‘Today’s Date’ story I was working on. That was May 26th. I haven’t touched it since.
For the best part of 2 months, I’ve felt that most of my writing up to now has been meaningless. Where was the strand of truth in my short stories? My short films, though I’m proud of them, stayed away from social issues I could speak best about. Why was that?
The truth was the exact reason I haven’t raised it in team meetings and wasn’t going to comment publicly: I didn’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable, and because the rawness of the moment meant I uncharacteristically couldn’t be sure how I could articulate it.
It caused me to think back to the times I was profiled by the police, the time I was jumped trying to help another black person who was targeted. Insensitive to outright racist comments, being spoken to differently to lighter people, being compared to animals in behaviour and looks, eyed with suspicion on the street, refused entry to establishments due to unstated ‘policy’, being spat at, spat on, and labelled aggressive when I raised a challenge on well… anything.
And, let’s not forget being fetishised. You can work that one out.
Basically, the usual.
So while I am blessed to be part of this moment in time, thankful for the family I’m from, grateful for my name, heritage and upbringing, I’ve forced myself to examine what I’m putting out there and the message I’m sending.
If my amazing white/non-black friends can show out, then so can I through my art.
If actor Charles Dale can accurately portray (unconscious) attitudes via the medium of verse, I can lift my head and use my God-given ability to speak to you all.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to abandon my current work, or turn this into a socio-political platform, but I’m no longer going to shy away from that which matters to me now more than ever. I have a responsibility to people like me, people unlike me, my Queen and any children I have in future.
I said I wouldn’t, but that’s not the most responsible thing I said.