Black stories are necessary in the fight against racism

Whenever a tragedy happens, writers use their words, artists use their art, and musicians use their songs to raise awareness. But, with the death of George Floyd, it wasn't my story to tell. So, instead of me writing about it, I wanted to get those who actually face discrimination — just because of the color of their skin — to write about it and share their stories.

Thank you to the outpouring of people who shared their voices with me the last couple weeks about what it's like to be black in America. You said it better than I ever could. You've opened my eyes, and I will never be the same.

Aalayna Green, Michigan State University student

One of the most difficult things about George Floyd's death, about Breonna Taylor's death, about all these deaths is that they never stop coming. Reconciling with the notion that the world we live in is at such a point that black bodies are still disposable, still seen as better buried than breathing, is almost impossible to work through when we aren't given a chance to breathe.

My hope with this new wave of wanting to understand and to correct systemic racism is that it won't end with a hashtag or a single pair of handcuffs, but that it will instead end with revolutionary change for minority communities.

Having been a neighbor to racism and prejudice, few of these stories are new to me.  These stories have been from friends, from family, from colleagues, from strangers. These black stories are necessary to tell not just for understanding, but also for black healing. With Floyd and Taylor, their names will forever be in power, and I hope that whatever rises from these ashes will be great.

Ashley ReNiece Tolliver, registered nurse 

The murder of George Floyd hit home as I have six black children  — four of them boys and young men. That doesn’t include my husband, four brothers and my nephews. Every time an innocent man or boy of color is killed, I have to sit down with my kids and have that gut wrenching conversation about ways to make sure they return home to me everyday, even though in reality they can do each and every thing asked of them and still get hurt, locked up or worse — killed.

It hasn’t been just George Floyd but Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Alton Sterling, Tamir Rice, and many more that I don’t even want to continue to name. It’s so senseless and scary. To know that a lot of people and I mean A LOT, don’t value the life of my brown brothers and sisters. I grew up in Pontiac, Mich. at a time when officers knew the kids in the neighborhoods, walked the beat, and we didn’t fear the police. So I certainly know not every officer is bad, but that is hard to explain to my children when, just in 2020, we have seen three black persons murdered for nothing or for, what many people have said, for being black. Then the hesitancy to charge the murderers and my kids asking me, "Why do they still get to walk free?" My response.: "I don’t know."

Every day is a little scarier for my children and I, trying to not let this define my family. But, at the same time, my sons think I’m crazy because I won’t let them go anywhere without me knowing their every move. No type of life for a kid but I don’t know what else to do. So many people have turned their heads. I’ve heard so many excuses as to why the killings have been ok, but it’s not ok. Then to live in a country where, if you express your anger and frustration, you are seen as angry and confrontational. What else can I be when I have so many black men and kids in my family?

The truth of the matter is that, beyond this anger that is being displayed is hurt, frustration, and unrest because things that most people can do without a second glance, black people can’t. How do you raise kids in that type of environment? They should be treated equally. They should be able to walk to the store, go for a jog, play with toy guns, sit in the living room and eat ice cream. Reality sits in though and you realize they may NEVER be able to do those things without the fear of being hurt, arrested or jailed.

Avenn Benton, mental health advocate at Common Ground

My generation has been forced to deal with this for the longest, but the death that woke us up was Trayvon. When he didn’t receive justice it was met with outrage. We realized exactly how the world saw us at that moment. I was in high school when it happened, a predominately white school at that. I didn’t have many people to speak with about it because my school silenced black voices. I turned to the media to find ways to express my thoughts.

Personally, Tamir Rice is the one that broke my heart. I couldn’t believe that someone could get away with killing a 12 year old boy. Then, Philando Castile was killed in front of his girlfriend and his daughter. HIS DAUGHTER. That was the first protest I attended. I walked up and down Detroit yelling and crying. I was raised by a single father so that one hit me different. I still have a picture of Philando in my room.

George Floyd — I almost feel guilty at how long it took me to read the story. I was tired of people displaying dying black bodies, and with the pandemic, I didn’t have the emotional labor to go through this again. So many hashtags in-between Philando and George, and I found myself ignoring it so I didn’t have to feel. Maybe if I ignored it then it didn’t happen? I feel awful admitting that but it’s true.

The death of George Floyd, Breona Taylor and Tony McDade — God wasn’t going to allow me to keep avoiding them because their families aren’t allowed to avoid them. It isn’t another hashtag for them. This happens so often that I was ignoring the hashtag because I couldn’t bear to continue dealing with the pain. They project our dead bodies all over social media to the point that some people are numb too it. I’m not some people, I FEEL THOSE DEATHS. I mourn and grieve with those families. I listen to their stories. I become upset because I shouldn’t have to know their names this way.

So how does his death affect me? Well I can’t say it’s just his death. It’s all the names I have in my head. It’s all the stories of these people doing mundane things and being killed for them. It’s the fact that, even during a pandemic, we aren’t safe. We aren’t safe in our homes, at the park, at the gas station, in the car. We can’t even make the mistake of forgetting to put on a blinker without them killing us for it.

My boyfriend leaves my house at night a lot of times. He’s from the Ivory Coast and dark-skinned. I can’t sleep until he calls me and tells me he’s home safely. I literally watch the clock and, if he’s been gone too long without telling me, I freak out. When my dad spends time with his friends late at night, I can’t sleep if he hasn’t come home yet. It’s irrational but I just can’t. Both of them are “intimidating." Bigger built black men. Cops could make any excuse and kill them.

I’m scared to have children in this world. I would love to raise kids but I don’t think I could handle losing them to this war outside. They haven’t even been conceived yet, and I know they would be my heart outside of my body.

Cur Smith, Detroit resident

As a person of color, the George Floyd killing brought to the forefront that the police do not see African Americans who interact with them as human beings. The George Floyd incident was captured on video. However, there are many more incidents of police abuse that end up in death and even more that don't. This is not new to the African American community. Even worse, often the police don't even get charged or are acquitted, often by using the phrase, "I feared for my life."

The incident that unfolded in Minneapolis causes fear because I could have been George Floyd. The bigger issue is that this incident is not new to African Americans. The list is long. It makes you believe that the police culture does not see African Americans as human beings.

Dan Carter, lead singer of Ann Arbor's Jake Lives Band

My approach to life is simple. When all is said and done, it's love that wins. Love alone will triumph over hatred — and that's an absolute fact.

Dr. Ebone' Jordan, periodontal specialist in metro Detroit

Close friends have shared with me the blatant racial prejudices that they have experienced (i.e. being called a black bitch by an unknown white man, being pulled over by police and having their cars searched for no justifiable reason, having a beer can being thrown at them while playing baseball with friends in rural Florida, or being told by a white counselor that they should consider aiming for community college or trade school instead of a university). These overt instances do not happen with the same frequency that they did 60 years ago because, as a whole, American society has shunned these types of outward and obvious acts of prejudice. However, many black Americans can likely relate to more subtle and insidious incidents, which are still severely harmful.

My experience as a black woman is fraught with covert microaggressions that may not be as clear cut to a non-black person and can be disregarded as a misunderstanding or overthinking. I have been outright ignored by a store associate and, minutes later, I witness the same person greet a white customer.  I have had white coworkers change their vernacular to greet me, assuming that I prefer to be called "girlfriend" or "homegirl" just because I am black. I have had well-meaning colleagues tell me that I am "very articulate" after I have given presentations, as if it is shocking and deserving of mention when a black person is able to speak well and has a grasp of the English language. I have had white women be so intrigued by the texture of my hair that they feel entitled to violate my personal space and run their fingers through my hair, as though my body is accessible to them at their whim. The list goes on.

Being black in today's world means having to navigate my everyday encounters with an automatic secondary evaluation of my experiences through the lense of perceived racism and prejudice. When a white customer is called to the register before me, was the cashier just not paying attention?  Or was he or she purposely making me wait? This type of thought process can be psychologically and emotionally taxing. To make matters worse, we often do not get the luxury of having our stories validated by non-blacks because the situations are ambiguous. However, to another black person, the experience is often understood, recognizable, relatable and all too common. The perpetrators may not even be acting with intentional malice, but they are already riddled with unconscious biases that perpetuate these subtle but prejudiced treatments.

The take home point is that there is an ongoing mental war that black people have every day.  Being black in today's society means dealing with the constant psychological strife of evaluating your immediate circumstance to decide if your mistreatment or negative experience is because of your skin color or because the person is having a bad day.  This is a burden that white people do not have to carry.

I think the easiest tough question a white person can ask themselves is, "What if these things were happening to me? Or my brother? Or my aunt?" That basal level of compassion can be the first step in human empathy and understanding. From there, an in-depth evaluation of self should follow.

With these recent events in America, a term that has come up a lot lately is anti-racism. This means adopting beliefs and pursuing actions that intentionally work AGAINST racism. It's not enough anymore to absolve yourself just because you have not intentionally or consciously been racist.  Racism is so ingrained in our culture that dismantling it has to be felt in many areas.

The first step is to educate yourself. This education can come from listening to and believing black stories of systematic racism (both subtle and obvious), learning about and searching oneself to identify unconscious biases, reading books specifically dedicated to explaining and illustrating the pervasiveness of racism in our society, or watching documentaries that demonstrate how this country was assembled to perpetuate racism.  These explorations may be uncomfortable because they can result in a harsh wake up call about the world as one knows it.  However, it has to happen.

The second step is to take this education and use it in actionable allyship.  Pay attention and be aware of instances of racism, prejudices and injustices around you.  Speak up and speak out against it —in the grocery store, in the boardroom, in the bedroom, wherever you are.

Grove GT Tigue IV, musician

It is NOT just about George Floyd. He is an example of years of why I modify. The woman calling the police on the black man in Central Park while literally hanging her dog is another example of why I modify. People pushing the “All Lives Matter” agenda is another example of why I modify.

I have decades of horrible memories of witnessing brutality, injustices, and flat out bigotry that wasn’t filmed, therefore no proof. The hardship is ignored, and whites go scott-free.

My biggest reason for modification is hope. I always look for the good. I cried several times on due to my spirit feeling relief that maybe this is the day that folks will start caring and doing something about it. I am a man that could write an encyclopedia of the evils that I’ve faced due to my skin color.

I’m hoping that May 24, 2020 was the last day that my american brothers and sisters were too busy to recognize how we’re treated daily. May 25, 2020 is when the video of George Floyd was first shown. He’s not even close to being the first. This actually feels more like Rodney King. I can still remember believing “Finally people will see what I’ve seen and  people won’t stand for this brutality." It didn’t happen almost 30 years ago; my Hope will never be diminished.

Marcell Jackson, Waterford resident

One way that this has affected me personally is that it has shown me that people who I have known for years, some I have looked at like brothers and sisters, are most likely racist. Their lack or response or the attacking of people who are hurt by this shows it. The minimizing and not truly seeing what is going on hurts, but, at the same time, it is welcome to show how these people truly feel, rather than hiding and not being genuine.

Paris Harris, owner of Ebony & Ivory Photography

As a mother, you are ingrained with fear — fear of them falling and hurting themselves, fear of them getting bullied, or fear of them getting sick. But as mother of a black child, especially one of a son, your fear is unmeasurable. It goes beyond skinned knees and runny noses. You fear them being at the wrong place at the wrong time, you fear them spending the rest of their lives in jail for a crime they didn’t commit, and that’s if they even make it there before being gunned down senselessly as soon as they’re approached.

As a wife to a black man, I can’t even sleep if I know my husband is in a car somewhere because I’m so afraid. I wish it was only car accidents I’m afraid of for him, but it’s beyond that. It’s him being pulled over for just being born black.

The death of George Floyd was absolutely devastating and has affected many, many people around the world. I cried that day; I still cry! I feel like a speak for many people who look like me when I say this, but that day, watching that man be murdered in front of the world, I imagined the nightmare of it being someone I knew. It could have been any of us that day, it could me my uncle, my cousin, my BABY laying there begging for his life! I’m hurt about this. We’re all hurting.

I have said this before and I will say it again — if you want to do your part and help combat racism, SPEAK UP! Recognize that it’s here and it’s alive and well! Check yourself, learn about it, study it, teach your kids about it, and CHANGE it.

Raquelle Harris, host of podcast Rocki's Reality and owner of Write Down To It, LLC

This isn't about just one issue, situation or perspective. This is about all of the George Floyds, Breonna Taylors and Ahmaud Arberys. This is also about the countless others who haven't received media attention and the families that grieve without reprieve. We are not uplifting them as martyrs; we are demanding a shift in the paradigm of humanity. Our ire is a culmination of pervasive disenfranchisement, unsolicited hate and blatant racism.

Since our inception, America’s foundation has supported conditions of control and power over minorities that were deemed insubordinate, simply because of their outer appearance. White men made laws defining race to intentionally marginalize and denigrate blacks. Those who oppose the statement "Black Lives Matter" are ensconced in privilege that protects them from the atrocities Blacks have endured for centuries.

We are being unjustifiably slaughtered in the streets and in our homes! The disparities in access to and resources for health care, education and residential environments are egregious. But our leaders continue to support archaic systems that intentionally reinforce these atrocities.

It’s sickening that we had to come up with a statement like "Black Lives Matter" to fight the constant covert and overt assault on our lives. Anyone who has an issue with it, is again, cushioned in privilege and also tone deaf to what humanity means.

Jane Elliot asked an audience of white people to stand up if they would trade places with a black person, or would be okay with being treated like a black person. No one stood up.

THIS is why "Black Lives Matter" is necessary. We are done asking; we are now demanding justice and a fair chance to LIVE!

Trish Rose, consultant

From the time I was a child — and I do mean a child — I was advised by my mother that I had to be twice as good as someone white because I am a black person.  And three times as good because I am a black woman.  Her experiences in her life taught her that she would continue to be asked to train someone that just arrived in her department with no experience because she’s “the best” at what she did, but would then watch that person be promoted over her. She had to fight tooth and nail for every promotion she received.

She said that, despite all of that, I would still struggle because some people would not want to see me succeed, even if they didn’t realize that’s what they were doing.  Because I am “other."  She told me they will go for the people that look like them over you every time if they can.

My mother had time to teach me, to talk to me because she didn’t work two or three jobs to support us, but she worked constantly. She insisted from the time I was a child that I had to make sure I spoke without any slang or vernacular that was outside of what was “accepted." If I used a slang word, or didn’t enunciate my words, I had to stop whatever I was saying and repeat the word or the sentence 10 times before I was allowed to continue.  And while, eventually, this would serve me well, it also created a rift at time with those that didn’t have that time.

Although there are millions of African Americans working in corporate America today, all with the ability to be every bit as articulate as their counterparts, we are still approached with awe if we manage to publicly string together a few sentences with, “Wow, you’re so articulate! Or “You’re really well spoken."  Despite my being part of the most educated demographic in the U.S.

My mother told me, "You have to make sure you are very passive if you are pulled over. You have to make sure you say yes Ma’am or Yes sir if an officer stops you.  Even if they’re treating you horribly. You comply as much as you can because it’s more important for you to come home than to worry about your hurt feelings.  I’m worried about your hurt body."

I was pulled over once after leaving my home with a white friend in the car. I stopped at the stop sign and then, a block later, was pulled over.  The police officer asked if I knew why I was stopped and I said no. He told me I was speeding 50 in a 35 (I was NOT). He said I rolled through the stop sign (I had NOT). Try to imagine my terror. There is no other word for it. My white friend yelled he was a liar and that I didn’t have to put up with that.  I was terrified because I knew this could go horribly and I could wind up dead because he didn’t like how SHE was talking to him.  Thankfully, he backed off and I left with no ticket, no warning.

I have had people reach out to touch my natural hair without asking permission as if I am someone with no body autonomy and no ability to say, "Yes, you may touch me."  As though my feelings on the matter meant nothing because their curiosity was much more important than my ability to make an informed decision about how I wanted to be treated.

In a predominantly white college in my freshman year, there were 30 black students out of 1,600.  And the number of times I was questioned about my choices, from how I did my hair to why we all sat together in the cafeteria, was up for discussion.  Have you ever had someone question your existence?  Every aspect of it?  Because when I’d asked them why they sat with the people they sat with all the time, they would say, "Well, those are my friends. " And after a while my response would be to just stare at them until the silence became awkward. Waiting for a lightbulb to go off for them.  Of course, I had friends of other races there; I’m still friends with a few from college because they saw ME.

Has your boss ever looked at your hair and shook their head as though the way your hair grows out of your scalp was a tragedy?  I have. Because obviously, straight hair is clearly much more professional and becoming than hair that is neatly braided or styled. There are STILL people telling us that our hair isn’t accepted to this day.  School policies are geared toward policing our hair and our appearance more than others.

I have been followed around stores, blatantly and subtly — despite the fact that I have always been a “middle class” American and I've never stolen anything.

My son has autism and is non-verbal.  When Tamir Rice was murdered, I had a white friend that I was very close to. We'd been to each other’s homes, been to restaurants together, talked on the phone together for HOURS. When I saw how quickly Tamir was shot and killed, I expressed my fear for my son because she was my FRIEND. And do you know what her response was?  “Well that won’t happen to him because YOU’RE raising your son right.”  All of MY choices as a parent mean nothing if someone decides, in a three-second space of time, that he is a threat.  What I heard from her that day, very clearly, was "YOU’RE ONE OF THE GOOD ONES." And yet, I tried to maintain some semblance of a relationship because I cared about her. I was in her wedding. And then she started talking about how white privilege didn’t exist. She started talking about how much she believed Donald Trump would be a great president because he said he would be the law and order president. And I knew that our relationship had died.  It had died that day, and I had dragged that friendship around like it was a Weekend at Bernie’s, hoping that I’d make her understand, that I’d help her to see how she was wrong.  I never did, and I stopped trying. I just stopped reaching out. I didn’t unfriend her, I didn’t tell her what caused this rift. She recently unfriended ME because of my posts about Black Lives Matters. I should have been strong enough to walk away before then. She left with no fanfare, but I decided to check after several of my posts and saw she was gone and the sense of relief was profound.  I blocked her so that if she decided to come back, she wouldn’t even find a trace of me.

In the work force, I have been accused of being angry so many times — simply for asking a non-confrontational question for clarification or pointing out an error. They have never seen me truly angry because to be truly angry would mean I would be unemployed.  WE are not allowed the latitude to be angry at work. A frown on my face seems to carry more weight than others.

I’ve spent so much of my life watching white be labeled right and white being centered as the truth of the world that “other” is wrong. Other is foreign and therefore bad — instead of celebrating the differences and the beauty that is the African American culture.

Watching our school systems struggle because, instead of fair and equitable funds being pooled and then divided evenly among schools, they use this antiquated system which means that these neighborhoods with lower tax values are always going to be behind. They will always see less money when their students need the most help. To watch this is to see no end to the clear injustice. And every time the "All Lives Matter" and "Blue Lives Matter" crowds come out, America sits back and takes the side of those that oppress us by parroting those phrases or talking points or saying NOTHING.

I will end with this quote: “Black people haven’t been trying to convince this country that our lives have value JUST this past week. We’ve been doing it our whole lives, just like our parents, their parents, and their parents. There has NEVER been a time in this country where it has been safe to be black, emotionally or physically. NEVER.” - Alanya Kolberg

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