By Katherine Tinsley
I have been grappling with how to properly articulate my emotions surrounding the deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and most recently George Floyd. Language has always been a powerful tool to effectively articulate emotions. However, it is limiting. I often think about how, as a Black person in America who frequently navigates White spaces, being articulate and properly capturing the variety of voices within my community becomes a requirement.
However, at this moment I cannot truly find the words to effectively capture how I feel. Black people aren’t a monolith but the pain we are experiencing is felt by all. That pain and raw emotion that we know too well is now creating a larger space for dialogue and is sparking sympathy and compassion throughout the country regardless of race. Even with the constant hashtags and support, what I see on my timeline is not erasing my pain, my fear and my understanding of the fact that Black skin is criminalized and Black bodies are policed even when it is not being recorded. It is also very clear to me that the conversations occurring, not only in my household but Black households across the nation, might come as a shock to many non-Black people.
While looking at the riots and the amount of #BlackLivesMatter hashtags on my timeline and social media feeds, it is clear that I am not the only person who is emotionally, spiritually and physically drained from the realities of being Black in America. I didn’t have to know George Floyd or travel through Minneapolis to know the injustices experienced by Black people. George Floyd is not the only George Floyd but becomes symbolic of all the Black people we know in our own lives who were beaten, threatened and/or murdered by the police. At the age of 20 the names of Emmett Till, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald and now Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd have all become a part of a list of names of people whose stories I know better than my relatives—these names also were a part of my coming of age and understanding of the country I was inhabiting.
One of my earliest memories is my mother telling me the story of Emmett Till. He was born and raised in Chicago (my hometown) and when he spent a summer with his family in Mississippi, he was accused of whistling at a White woman. A few days later, he was abducted by her husband and accomplices and then beaten, mutilated, shot, and left in the Tallahatchie River. Emmett Till was 14-years-old when he was murdered. He became my introduction to understanding not just racism and hate against Black people, but how the pure hatred, abuse, and evil that exists is the foundation of the country I call home.
Till died in 1955 which was 92 years after slavery ended, but many of the unthinkable crimes and tragedies that occurred during slavery were carried out and normalized after emancipation. I grew up having to talk about Emmett Till, lynchings, and even seeing videos and photos of it in school. I was not allowed to have a blind eye to things or to be naive, but the story of Emmett Till felt like a story I was somewhat removed from because his death happened four years before my parents were even born.
When thinking about Trayvon Martin, I was in middle school—a time when Juicy Couture bags and Victoria’s Secret lip gloss seemed to be everyone’s greatest priority. However, that sense of innocence and indulgence that comes with being a preteen was once again shattered in 2012 with the murder of Trayvon Martin. This was the first time I was hearing a story of brutality within my generation and one that made national headlines under the first Black administration.
I remember my father telling me that Zimmerman would be acquitted because Black boys being killed by non-Black men isn’t going to be treated like the crime it is. My mother told me there is no way a Black boy killed in Florida would get justice. I remember thinking it was odd that they had such little faith in the justice system. Zimmerman was without a doubt guilty in my eyes and the eyes of many Americans. However, in 2015 my heart dropped when George Zimmerman was acquitted. The little bit of faith I had in the justice system was dwindling, but I still felt somewhat removed from what occurred. At that point in time, all the stories I associated with brutality had occurred in the south and I lived in the north; it didn’t seem to fit my understanding of covert racism that I had felt my whole life growing up in Chicago.
However my bubble popped in 2015 when the “16 shots and a cover-up” that occurred in 2014 were revealed. LaQuan McDonald was shot 16 times at 1400 S Pulaski Rd on the West Side of Chicago. This occurred in my city and to someone who was the age as some of my classmates. The murder and coverup of LaQuan’s death destroyed the faith that was previously dwindling.
All of these moments have become woven into American history and my coming of age story. However, there are aspects of the narrative that now as an adult I have begun to question. Why has the narrative of brutality not been inclusive of all Black women and the Black LGBT+ community that also are falling victim to brutality? But their stories are just less likely to be told or overshadowed. There are multitudes of conversations that need to occur surrounding the realities of Black people. However, immediately addressing my current thoughts on the climate of our country felt crucial. I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend to Black men and though I struggled with writing this and discussing the topic, I felt as though I had a responsibility to put words together. I am no longer surprised by the overwhelming injustices that occur in this country, but I am emotionally exhausted and I, like many, have dreams of true change.
Katherine Tinsley is an editorial intern who specializes in building the bridge between the industry and culture, self care, and fostering difficult conversations.