“Tell me what’s a black life worth / A bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts”

You might think I’m only going to write about race, and many of you might roll your eyes.  You’re right–not about rolling your eyes, but about the first part.

Some of you probably might even delete me because you’ve had it with me by this point, since everything I have been posting over the last couple weeks has been related to race and the current state of things.

However, I haven’t posted any blatantly anti-Trump things. I am normally pro-choice–the women’s rights stance, yes, but also the you-being-entitled-to-vote-for-whomever-you-want-stance, and I like to not get into politics on social media.

That being said, I can’t say that I particularly trust anybody who doesn’t believe that Trump is racist and out of his mind. He is harmful, hateful, and volatile. He is a 100-year-step-back for our country. Support expressed for him and his views causes me to narrow my eyes in the same way that a subtly racist or sexist comment one might make, however much in passing, makes me wary. I might appear to have ignored this comment in the moment, but for the rest of the time I know the person who has made said comment, I will always remember it. I will always wonder what this person thinks about me.

In another time (in another political climate) I would apologize for this rant, or for being so black-and-white, so quick to cut someone off because of what he or she believes. In fact, an urge compels me to do so right now. I’m notorious for saying sorry for things that aren’t my fault, so much so that people often make fun of me.

I apologize especially when I’m at work–if I reach for your money too quickly; if you accidentally drop your quarter when I’m reaching for your money; if I feel I’ve left you waiting too long at the counter. A couple of days ago, I had a hand in screwing up a customer’s order at work–the wrong food got put in the oven and the customer had to wait ten more minutes for the right food to come out–and I gave him a piece of pie to make up for it. I felt terrible, apologizing throughout the entire interaction, even when he was on his way out and didn’t seem the least bit perturbed. After all, I didn’t need to apologize that much; homeboy got a free piece of blueberry gooseberry crumble pie as a result, and he gladly accepted it. Even still, I felt guilty.

I’ve heard the rhetoric about apologizing: women are conditioned to do it so often for things they hardly need to apologize for. For things that many men won’t even think about apologizing for. I think this is true to an extent. But I also think that it depends on the person.

For me personally, “sorry” is often a social lubricant. When I say it, I want you to know that I am empathizing with you, or at least trying. I want you to know that I genuinely care about not making you feel awkward or uncomfortable. I know plenty of males who have the same problem with apology vomit–they “sorry” everywhere, all over the living room rug, and suddenly you’re knee deep in it and you’re vaguely annoyed because it’s irritating. But bad habits die hard. I should know.

I’ve been wanting to reach for my trusty apology baton and wave it high in the air more often than not lately, because I have had a lot of knee-jerk reactions to many of the events that have transpired over the past few weeks. The “#BlueLivesMatter” and “#AllLivesMatter” movements irritate me, mostly because they distract from the pressing problem at hand. The people who point fingers at Black Lives Matter for all of the violence irritate me. I feel bad for saying that I believe the policemen in Dallas and Baton Rouge and wherever else would not have been killed had more actions been taken to indict the policemen who have been caught, red-handed, killing black men because they were “scared.”

A few hours after I watched the ten minute video of Philando Castile die while his fiancee pleaded with the white officer wielding a gun, I had to walk down my sidewalk, get on a subway, and go to work. The graphic footage of Castile bloody and gasping for his last breaths played in my head over and over again like a scene in a Quentin Tarantino film as I served customers–99% of which were white–pie and coffee.

When customers asked me how I was, I wanted to ask, Do you really want to know? Instead I smiled my best smile and made minimal eye contact, secretly envying all of them for being able to go about their business and buy treats. I wondered if they’d known what had happened to Castile the night before, if they’d woken up that morning and watched the entire video and cried like I had, if they’d explained to their children–who were again, mostly white–what had happened to Castile and why it had.

I wasn’t myself that evening. I hated everyone–not everyone, obviously, but that obscure “everyone” that you hate after you’ve watched Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing or Crash or something else of that polarizing nature. But with this hate came guilt. I kept apologizing to my (white) coworker over and over again because, bless her heart, I couldn’t be happy or fake being happy, or small talk. Nor did I want to.

Once I filled her in on the Castile incident–she hadn’t been aware of it before–she told me I didn’t need to apologize. Even still, I felt bad, embarrassed, weak, for being unable to leave my emotional baggage at home and grieve in private away from the cheery, upbeat Gowanites and Park Slopers.

Later on that evening, I went home and promised myself to cheer up with a Lethal Weapon movie marathon instead of going on Facebook because what was the point? It just made me more upset. But I went on Facebook anyway. Why? To tear open some more wounds that I’d finally gotten over when my coworker and I forced customers to indulge in a Disney playlist during the last couple hours of our shifts, I suppose.

A Facebook friend–I can’t remember who it was, but whoever it was, thank you–shared a post called “An open letter to my white coworkers on days like today.” I couldn’t believe how spot-on it was. It expressed my own feelings succinctly, even though I don’t work in a cubicle, and even though my coworkers are some of the most open-minded people on the planet I’ve ever met. The piece didn’t apply just to coworkers, but friends, strangers, and anyone I came into contact with that day or the days that followed. This idea of having to have two sides resonated with me, and I’m sure it resonated with many other black people.

So this goes back to me and my more-vocal-than-usual online presence (shameless plug for my Twitter here). I’ve tried to get into Twitter so many times it’s ridiculous, but it never worked out–mostly because I had nothing to Tweet about, nothing that I necessarily felt people needed to hear instantly.

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Latasha Harlins, who was killed in 1991 by a shop owner in L.A. for buying orange juice. She would have turned 41 a couple of weeks ago.

It’s different now. Something is beginning to be exposed, finally, after so so so many years, and we need to keep it visible. As my lovely coworker re-posted shortly after that night I was crotchety and frustrated, “Things are not getting worse, they are getting uncovered. We must hold each other tight and continue to pull back the veil.”

We. This image of us all holding one another tight and continuing to look at injustice–not just for blacks but for all minorities who have been left out of the “Make America Great Again” (and we know what that means) mantra–is one that I must cling to in order to, and refuse to apologize for. I intend to keep speaking out and trying to make anyone who will listen understand, no matter how annoying people may find it to be. Go ahead and unfriend me if you must.

Because as much as I want to apologize for speaking my mind–I don’t like to offend anyone, or make anyone feel guilty of something that they didn’t do, or generalize–I know that it can’t be helped. It musn’t be helped. Otherwise there will continue to be more Philando Castiles, Eric Garners, Alton Sterlings, and Latasha Harlinses.

(Note: The title of this blog post is taken from a Tupac song called “I Wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto.” When I was doing research for my piece on the O.J. Simpson documentary, I learned that the killing of Latasha Harlins had been referenced in more than one of his songs. “I Wonder if Heaven Got a Ghetto” was released posthumously in 1997; one of the later verses of this song is also featured in “Keep Ya Head Up”–which, by the way, is explicitly dedicated to Harlins. So, her memory continues.

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2 thoughts on ““Tell me what’s a black life worth / A bottle of juice is no excuse, the truth hurts”

  1. Zee, my dear — powerful stuff. Love, Dad

    P. S. We should talk.

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

  2. Beautiful writing about hard things. I’m sorry you ever feel like you have to apologize, and it makes me sad to think about anyone ever rolling their eyes at this.

    Liked by 1 person

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