On Eid morning, I watched Alton Sterling’s 15 year old son sob uncontrollably while his widowed mother spoke to the press. He is heard saying, “I want my daddy”. I learned that from the caption, because I couldn’t bear to watch the video with the sound on.
That afternoon, I watched my 5 year old niece play while my parents were engaged in conversation. I heard her say, “Let’s pretend I’m surrounded by police, but I didn’t do anything wrong.” I was so taken aback, I couldn’t react. After a few moments of silence, she hopped away, her child mind drifting off to something else.
My father used to always tell me that I will never truly understand the African-American struggle, and as such it is insulting to appropriate it. At some level, he’s right. As a first generation Sudanese-American, my history is not the same. I’ll never truly know the struggle of overcoming centuries of lethal oppression. My family’s makeup and lives have not been affected by this history. It is not a part of my DNA.
But what my father fails to realize is that as a first generation Sudanese-American who is visibly Black, it doesn’t matter whether I understand it or not. That while the history is not mine, the modern day struggle is one that I personally experience and an unavoidable part of my life. That whether he likes it or not, we are a part of and participants in this sick dynamic of American society, and that our ethnicity will not make us immune to it, or save us from it.
And the proof is everywhere. It’s in that morbid game my niece was playing on Eid afternoon. It’s in my mother’s fear whenever my father goes out for a walk by himself. It’s in the lump that gathers in my throat with each new name. It’s in the anger, frustration and terror that I feel realizing that as Black people in this country, we have been reduced to names, that our lives are governed by the time it takes for another one of us to be terminated by the state, that our existence is deemed so worthless that after 114 of us have been killed by police this year, no one wants to see a pattern. No one wants to ask any questions. No one wants to hold anyone other than our dead bodies responsible.
That night, I watched my Twitter feed share links to the video of Philando Castile’s death, taken by his girlfriend as she watched her love die at the hands of police. Her 4 year old daughter is heard saying, “It’s okay, mommy. I’m right here with you” from the back seat. I learned that from the caption, because I couldn’t bear to watch another man die.