America, You Owe Me

Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

The day after the 2016 election, I rode the train to downtown Brooklyn, stoic amongst the various weeping of fellow commuters. That morning, among the range of emotions my colleagues were experiencing, I could only feel two, distinct feelings — one, the dread of knowing that no matter how much we tried, he and his agenda would win for the next four years, and two, the feeling of being hunted.

That day, I realized that America was not done with Black people just yet. That it was not done with torturing us in the way it had throughout history, that it had not yet grown exhausted with making us the target of its abject violence. I knew that Trump would further unearth this rooted, archaic thirst for our blood, and that even those who disagreed would do nothing to protect or insulate us from the fires he and his base would inevitably stoke.

Four years later, and the results of the 2020 presidential election have only temporarily arrested part of this country’s condition. Removing Trump was the right and necessary thing to do, but to blame all of this supremacist violence on a man with the sense of a small animal is nonsensical. There are many people responsible for this. Any person who has upheld a system or protected an institution that has perpetuated or benefited from this violence is responsible for years of trauma and the heavy threats that follow us around like a reaper.

Just nine days ago, in one of the Blackest cities in the country — Chocolate City is what we’ve called her when she was at her best — the Million MAGA march made its way through the streets of our Black and Brown communities, flags whipping and flying high from the back pick up trucks, battered Acuras and even some Teslas. It was not just a march but an intentional call back to a history that lives among us in silent perpetuity, a call back that may not have resonated with white people in the same way it resonated with Black Americans. Because it wasn’t intended for them, but for us.

With an understanding of complete immunity, ten thousand of the “million” MAGA white supremacists that the Trump administration promised us descended on D.C’s streets, blocking traffic, blasting Aerosmith, waving their flags, honking their horns, giving us the finger, goading people on the street, attempting to antagonizing counter protestors. Trump, in what may as well be a hearse, drove through the crowd and waved tersely on his way to the golf course, not even bothering to slow down or peek his head out for a party thrown in his name. Perhaps a more rational group of gatherers would find this strange, or feel slighted, but they didn’t really come for Trump — they came to set a humiliating fire to our blood, to see us bristle at their pride.

When the Klan of 2020 drove through my hood, their faces pink with glee behind tinted windows, I looked on with familiar shock, realizing that this city I have come to inhabit and love so much had, just overnight, had become a sundown town — and not a single person of power was going to do anything about it.

All four years of the Trump presidency, white supremacy called back upon itself in incredible familiarity, wanting us to identify it and know its name. Almost suddenly, there were confederate flags popping up amidst a once casual and innocuous drive, very fine people on both sides, a renewed debate on affirmative action. Hate crimes surged 20 percent. Black students were arrested for sleeping, Black people murdered for running, Black people taunted daily by prime-time news.

This year, when Ahmaud Arbery was killed by two white vigilantes, I cried from knowingness. When Breonna Taylors murderers were sent home with not even a slap on the wrist, I cried from knowingness. When a police car drove through a crowd of mostly Black and Brown protestors in new York City following the murder of George Floyd, I cried from that same knowingness.

I can walk by a white man in the street, on any street, look into his eye and see just how much he hates me, never breaking my gaze. On a summer drive, I pass a familiar bridge and wonder how many Black people were hung from it, the texture of memory alive in my head.

Trump is a symptom of a long realized condition of American life, and I am no longer willing to live under this condition with the patience of those who believe that relief comes with the passage of time.

What I want this administration and any that comes after it to know is that it owes me. It owes me, and it owes me right now. It owes me, my mother, my grandmother, my father, the expanse of my DNA. And I don’t expect that debt to be paid in well-placed cabinet appointments or trite reflections on the power of representation. I want much more than simple representation.

I want a recognition of this terror and I want an end to it. I don’t care what office President-elect Biden has to build to address this, and frankly, I don’t care how much it will cost. I don’t care how much time it may take, or the discomfort it might foster, or the part of the base it might sacrifice, or the swing voters in Wisconsin who will abandon the Democratic Party for good.

There is no version of the Klan that should be able to ride through our communities under the guise of free speech — if this is how we define free speech, I call bullshit on it. We must edit it.

Above all, America owes me peace from my memories. It owes me peace from the fact that my one singular body is filled to the brim with the embodied historicity of this country’s branded violence, while at the same time my body is tunneling through that historicity toward this country’s benefit. I want the government to have some self-awareness and make it its business to undo what it has sanctioned both in law and in culture.

This cyclical repeat and recall of history does not affect us all equally. Some of us are disgusted by it while others of us are eviscerated by it. Some of us are complicated by it while others of us are murdered by it in perpetuity. We have been patient, and America owes Black people whatever it has to give.

America, You Owe Me