“I’m not Black, I’m Jamaican.” Following in the tradition of many immigrants and first-generation Black immigrants, that was the tune I sang for most of my adolescent life. I ran from my Blackness. My mother came to the United States seeking a better life. Until she stepped onto U.S. soil, my mother had never known a country where you could be shot and killed just for existing.
And then, over 21 years ago, the NYPD shot and killed Amadou Diallo. 41 shots. His death cut my family deep because, like my mother, Amadou had come to this country for a better life, only to be gunned down. I was nine years old when I realized that no matter what, the world would see me as one thing–Black. I remember then having dreams that I was Amadou, trapped between the police and a closed door.
Those dreams resurfaced again when the world learned (two months too late), via video, about the lynching of Ahmaud Arbery. Two white men followed Ahmaud, who was jogging, and shot him dead. The night the video came out, I had a dream that I was Ahmaud. I was visiting a small town, filled with white neighbors and a town sheriff who taunted me with the n-word and homophobic slurs. I can’t quite remember why I was visiting this town, but I remember wanting to fly home. In my dream, I knew that once I got home, I would go running because I loved running. The dream jumped and I was flying home to Georgia. As soon as I got home from the airport, I laced up my running shoes. Suddenly, the dream ended.
I woke up in tears, covered in a cold sweat. I was angry. I am still angry.
My anger is a manifestation of my inner child still trying to reconcile the questions I had after Amadou Diallo was killed. How many ways can one country message, through the media, through interpersonal acts of racism and violence, through state-sanctioned violence, that it does not want us? Why are white people so afraid of my Black skin? When will living in this Black body feel liberating and freeing, instead of terrifying? When will this country acknowledge this pain? When will we have to stop running on the wheel of white supremacy? When will we be able to breathe?
I am exhausted, too. All the Black people in me are tired. Collectively, Black people are tired. We can’t chill in a Starbucks. We can’t run down a street at night. We can’t run during the day. We can’t get into an accident and knock on someone’s door for help. We can’t be too loud in our joy. We can’t be too Black. We can’t go birdwatching. We can’t say “I can’t breathe” and expect to live. We can’t be. We are murdered and blamed for our own deaths. We are tired of running. Tired of being told that we are not enough. Tired of constricting ourselves into tiny boxes. Tired of screaming “Black Lives Matter” at the top of our lungs. Tired of mourning and grieving those we’ve lost — those lost to gun violence, those who’ve slipped through the cracks in our society, those we’ve lost to COVID-19. We are tired.
My liberation is tied to your liberation. I want collective liberation. I need collective liberation. I need to feel free in this Black body. Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC) need the time and space to dream, heal, and rest.
This is not a fight of our own creation. We are living and dying because of the fears and imaginations of white people. It is long overdue for white folx to join us in this fight. This feels especially relevant when the mainstream Jewish community continues debating whether Jews of Color exist, and cannot even have conversations about how Ashkenormativity in the Jewish community hurts Jews of Color.
It is no longer the time to stand on the sidelines and cheer us on (and it never was). If you love me, show me. Show me what the Jewish values of Tikkun Olam look like. Will you shield me with your body to protect me from the vicious blows that come from living in a white supremacist society? Will you move through the pain that comes with wading through 400 years of racist and white supremacist history to get to the other side with me?
Black people are magic. We make the impossible possible. We always were and always will be. It amazes me that despite the injustices, the maimings, the killings, and the collective trauma, we haven’t yet burned the world down. I suppose that given all our ancestors went through, we will not go down without a fight. Or, maybe we are just otherworldly and we’re here to inform you of new ways of being.
Dena Robinson is a Black, Queer, and Jewish civil rights attorney, educator, Afro-futurist, and diversity, equity, and inclusion facilitator.