• Sophia E. Aguiñaga

What's Killing Black People?

Updated: Jun 5, 2020

I need you to know what's killing Black people. Is it police violence? Absolutely. It's on everyone's mind right now. But, what may not yet be clear to you is that the infinitely nuanced and complex nature of systemic racism breeds a host of other threats to Black life. Countless threats, both subtle and overt, many of which are so commonplace you may hardly notice them. Maybe you even participate. And yet, we feel each of them, and they're killing us just as readily as the police violence you’re protesting.

It’s not just police violence that kills us. It’s so much bigger, runs so much deeper than you understand. Facing an anti-Black world every single day that intentionally limits our capacity for realizing our fullest selves in this world, the pain and trauma of that perpetual reality make us more susceptible to chronic disease and suicide. It kills us when we’re met with doctors who invalidate us and our bodies when those health issues do arise.

Being subject to propaganda that tells you we’re violent, inherently irrational, uneducated, born for imprisonment and welfare, that we don't feel pain the same way you do kills us. You believing and projecting those stories onto us, on however subtle or unconscious a level, actually kills us. Feeling those projections so frequently, so consistently and enduring the material, social, and psychological impacts of those projections literally kills us. Finding parts of ourselves believing those lies because they're so globalized, so pervasive, so tactically enacted kills us.

Being forced to contend with the world reflecting back to us day in and day out that we aren’t whole, that we’re subhuman kills us. Anti-Black racism has people on every continent of this planet believing that we’re deserving of constant violent oppression and the consequently limited nature of our opportunity in this world, and it kills us slowly if the police don’t get to us first.

Your invention of "the race card" and imagining we somehow benefit from “pulling it” so you don’t have to face your own racism? It fucking kills us. Gentrification and food deserts kill us. Remnants of trauma in our DNA from periods when white people did surgical experiments on our ancestor's bodies with no anesthesia? That kills us too. It kills us when you try our children as adults. You not talking to your children about racism makes it more likely that they will intentionally kill us one day. You not talking to each other about racism kills us. Your silence in the face of our genocide? Yes, it literally kills us.

It kills us when you compare us to your Eurocentric standards for beauty. It kills us when you dance to our music on TikTok but refuse to acknowledge the full depth and breadth of our complex and nuanced experiences and lives and turn our culture into a caricature for your entertainment. It kills us when you keep us from a promotion or a raise or steal our ideas and take the credit. It kills us when you require us to identify as low-income, high risk, minority, underserved, or otherwise commit to a lowly station to gain access to resources for our betterment. It kills us when you demand justification for Black reparations. Working 10 times as hard only to get half as far, showing up 10 times as articulate only to be half as heard, all while having to justify our presence in a space built by and for whiteness the entire time? You guessed it. That kills us too.

It kills us when you ask us, "What are you?" It kills us when you ask if you can touch our hair. It kills us when you make fun of our names and refuse to pronounce them correctly. You exoticizing us kills us. It kills us that you require us to adhere to your Eurocentric standards for intelligence and education for us to meet any success in this world. It kills us when you dismiss us for not speaking King’s English to perfection in a tone suitable to your sensibilities. It kills us that you appropriate our culture while requiring us to assimilate to yours to be considered valid.

You being so damn fragile kills us. It kills us when you don’t see or acknowledge how systemic racism uses you as its mercenary, regardless of whether you “like Black people.” It kills us that you seem to believe there’s a way for you to be anti-racist without committing to the endless work of scouring every inch of your internal landscape for the tendrils of supremacy and domination that create and perpetuate the world that kills us. It kills us that you use the words ally and anti-racist like blasphemy, so rarely fully understanding what they mean yet touting them as badges to soothe your sense of self. That you’ve been so shielded by whiteness that didn’t already know all this kills us. Me explaining this to you is an act borne in defense of Black life and it is killing me.

All of this, far more than this, contributes to our higher mortality rates and lower life expectancies. It literally kills us. Do you hear me?

Do you hear me?

So, miss me with that “people of color” talk. Say Black with a capital B and say it with your whole chest or don’t say a damn thing.

Because anything less is literally killing us.

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