Perhaps because I know where Falcon Heights is. Perhaps because he was my age, graduating high school the same year I did. Perhaps because by the grace of God I awoke from my cynical news slumber last night, when I heard and read and saw the report on the shooting of Philando Castile — after reading about the previous shootings and the ones previous to that. I immediately thought of a story I used to laugh at with my friend Eddie Bayard from Columbus, OH. He told the story of going into Wal-Mart to exchange a defective CD player.
At the customer service desk, when it was his turn in a long line, he reached into his bag to get out the defective machine and everyone hit the deck, thinking he was pulling out a piece. Knowing Eddie, a big Black man, and thinking of that story, we used to laugh about it. His laugh has a high pitched squeal of joy to it. I thought of that story and didn’t laugh this time. I cried instead. I thought of all my beloved Black brothers and sisters, particularly in Columbus and at Wabash (you know who you are, I hope you don’t mind my rambling about you) and the small handful in my academic Society. I love these people dearly.
In Columbus they welcomed me with open arms and taught me to be a musician and a person; at Wabash they let me teach them and honoured me with membership to their Institute’s brotherhood; at PES there is an unstated but strong solidarity. I thought of them, I saw their faces. I especially saw Eddie’s face and all those men I know, the women too. But especially the men in this case. I was scared. Not affected with a sentimental fear, but actually felt a sense of panic like I should call or message them to be sure they were okay. It is patronizing, I suppose, but I felt that rush of panic when I recalled Eddie’s story and read the news and realized that their safety is very different from my own.
I don’t have a rosy set of experiences with authority or cops or race, and I am not White, but this is of an entirely different sort and kind. My sorrow increased and my fear led to pride, to think of all the times and jokes and light hearts and courage I’ve seen, and all the benefits I’ve gained from their company and friendship. I have a Protestant Bible from a community I spend a short time with as a guitarist, where I grew spiritually and musically and that church’s perseverance also filled me. The Black intellectual and literary tradition is one I often refer to, but this is too abstract for a time like this, for the way I felt last night and awoke this morning. As the day has carried on, I can only catalogue these memories and the sadness and gratitude I feel. But also the outrage. The sheer anger, of which I take no joy but also feel no guilt, in the easy predictable excuses and silences and strategic cold rational judgements and delays.
Black Lives Matter is a necessary slogan, albeit a tragic one, today as it has been for hundreds of years of scarring and reopening the original wounds of Black slavery. Yet today the armchair historians, and kangaroo judiciary, and online detectives reign smug with their hefty keyboards and guarded scabby hearts. You disgust me. But I will answer you and debate you and listen and play your games and dancing off the beat. Of course all lives always matter and of course there is a universal dimension to suffering and oppression and of course no class or race or people is saintly and good and of course all the other obvious stupid platitudes, only meant to end discussion and delay remorse and healing, are all at some basic, defensive level “true.” But your truths are lies. Your facts are deceitful. They are not meant to shed light but, instead, to shadow, obscure, and cast doubts. The gotchas and selective memories and clever comparisons cannot undo these graphic testimonies of violence nor their legacies that are generational and even national.
I cannot speak for all nor can I hold within myself the proper proportion of equal sorrow; we cannot weep for all because we would lose the ability to weep. But all day today, since last night, I want to risk the embarrassment of sending all my love to you, my Black brothers and sisters. My Columbus musical fam and the good people of WCCO and my Malcolm X brethren: I want to name you by name–although I won’t–and tell the stories and profess my fidelity, I want you to know that this might all be a projection or I might need this written catharsis more than you, but most of all I want you to know that the part of me that hurts so bad is the part that is and is not you. The part that is proximate enough to laugh at the story but could never be the actual protagonist. I want you to be safe and live without fear, which is a total fantasy at this point.
So instead I, like other word warriors on Facebook and Twitter, type and type and try to reach out and somehow give you a sense of my prayers for you, each of you and all of you, today. May the memory of Philando Castile, shot in front of a four year old, gunned down at least in part for being Black as all the others, be lasting and, perhaps, bring this nation to conversion and repentance.
This meditation is continued in The Powerful Catholic Case for a Preferential Option for Black Lives Matter
Sam Rocha is assistant professor of philosophy of education at the University of British Columbia and editor of Patheos Catholic. He is most recently the author Folk Phenomenology: Education, Study, and the Human Person and has also released three albums of music.
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