Do We Deserve?
It took me too long to write this essay. Nearly an entire day passed that consisted of me typing, deleting and starting over. The pressure pounced on my shoulders every time I tried to write. How would I write a great essay that would somehow END centuries of racism? How would I be able to explain every single prejudice I’d ever faced in a way that’s easy to consume for others? What philosophical truth could I possibly have to share?
This is what it’s like to be Black in America.
To prove your life has value, you have to offer something spectacular. When given a platform, you have to make it quick but say something profound. “Black excellence,” they call it. To be Black in America, you have to do something extraordinary to be a life that matters. In a recent Instyle Instagram livestream, writer and activist Rachel Cargle made a point that I furiously typed into my phone. When discussing Chris Cooper, the Black bird watcher in Central Park who had a white woman sinisterly threaten to call the police on him, Rachel said, “People say things like ‘oh he went to Harvard, he watches birds, etc’ to justify why a Black person should be alive. You don’t have to be an exceptional black person to remain alive.”
When you say “Black Lives Matter,” you need to make sure you mean every single Black life. Not just your favorite actor, not just that professor you took a class from, and not just the few Black people you know. We are fighting for so many people we don’t know, and may never know personally.
In all honesty, we are currently fighting for the bare minimum. It boggles my mind that people are just now realizing that Black lives “matter.” It took too many Black people being killed for people to screw in the light bulb all the way. But then again, I shouldn’t be so surprised. This country wasn’t built for people like me. It was built by people like me, for people who would rather fight an entire war on their own soil than think about people like me. Things like plantations and segregated drinking fountains have been condemned, but since then, this country has relied on its sneakier forms of prejudice. It found new, cunning ways to make people like me feel othered for their entire lives.
This country made makeup products suitable for darker skin tones a rare find rather than the norm. It made media about crime or slavery the only places we could see ourselves on TV or on the big screen. It made us quietly accept racist jokes, or even make them ourselves, because we felt like doing this was the only way to keep our “friends,” entertained. It made me ensure my phone case always faces outwards, so the black screen isn’t mistaken for a gun in my hand. This country quietly slipped drugs into Black communities to hinder them for generations. It made it risky to wear the hood on our jackets. It made people question a Black victim’s lifestyle rather than that of the police officer or white supremacist (or oftentimes, both) that killed them. “They’re Black, so they must have something in their past that proves they deserved to die. They weren’t a scholar, so they probably deserved to die. They weren’t ‘excellent,’ so they probably deserved to die.”
You don’t have to be excellent to keep your life. The non-Black majority of America is proof of this! I shouldn’t have to justify why my life and lives like mine, matter. You shouldn’t be seeking reasons why our lives matter, you should just know. The time has come to fight for, listen to, and protect Black people, whether you know them or not. You’re a little late, but nevertheless we’re glad to have you.
Thank you, Eliza, for taking the time to share your words with us. Yes, we’re a little late–thank you for helping us along.
Love the Land
We asked Eliza if she’d be interested in sharing a charity of her choice and she has chosen The Loveland Foundation, a non-profit that provides financial assistance to hundreds of Black women and girls to go to therapy. We are placing a donation today and encourage you to do the same.
You can find Eliza on Instagram @e_lizardd
Eliza Jackson is a marketing copywriter and freelance editorial writer based in Utah.