Photos: How it feels to be Black in America right now

Black in America
Alina and Jerome swing in Rainier Beach. (Photo by Damme Getachew)

I’m so tired. My energy is low and my smiles fade faster than they start. I don’t have any words. You’ve taken them from me, and rendered me voiceless.

Alton Sterling and Philando Castile joined the others last Wednesday, at the top of a long list of black men fatally shot by bullets from a policeman’s gun. This list is even longer if we include the innumerable black bodies that were abused at the hands of our American police forces.

I hold my little brother even tighter. He’s an eight-year old with a dangerous combination of unfailing energy, fearlessness and black skin.

I didn’t want to be comforted Wednesday night, so I laid on the floor. I told myself that I wouldn’t be sleeping tonight, but instead, vicious dreams threw up inside my head.

Scrolling through my Facebook feed was even more exhausting. I could see the trauma in my friend’s status updates, the pain fused into every raw word. Notions of “deja vu” and “repeat” as the news of Castile’s death blew up the internet less than 24 hours after Sterling.

I’m taking a break from social media and limiting the news. It’s not because I don’t care. I can’t read another article or watch another video reminding me that the reality of our world is divisive and my black body lies at the pointed end of the spear.

I logged off, wanting to check-in on the local Black community here in Seattle in person, instead. I visited different neighborhoods and struck up conversations with Black Seattleites, young and old, asking simple questions like, “How are you really doing?” and “How do you feel?”

Here is what I found:

Gosay, 21 -- Downtown
Gosay, 21 — Downtown

“This isn’t anything new… No matter how educated I get, no matter how educated any African American gets, we’re still targeted by the police, we’re still fighting a system that we’re supposed to be supported by.

 

Yedidya, 32 — Downtown

“You can deny it and ignore it and just walk away from it, but you cannot deny the fact you are the target. [If you do,] you’re going to be the victim tomorrow. So before it’s too late, it’s better to fight now than to ignore it.

“If I was given a choice, I would not be black, I would be something else where I don’t have to suffer, where I don’t have to look over my shoulder wherever I go. But it’s not a choice. But police brutality is a choice.”

“I’m scared for my life…tomorrow is not promised, just because of your skin color, tomorrow is not promised.”

 

Nunu, 26 -- Rainier Beach
Nunu, 26 — Rainier Beach

“I have two jobs. I don’t have time to look at the media, but when I do, I’m getting tired of reading about somebody else that got shot.”

 

John, 36 // Capitol Hill
John, 36 — Capitol Hill

“If we change within ourselves first and care about others…then the world will be a better place.”

 

Black in America
Cashanova, 20 — Capitol Hill

“I moved here from California four months ago after my uncle Che Taylor got murdered by the Seattle police…me and my family started an initiative called I-873 to hold police accountable.”

“We gotta keep that fire, don’t let them get you tired. That’s what they want us to do. It’s time to hold officers accountable, but it’s in the laws — that’s what makes them get away. So we’re fighting to change the laws to hold them accountable.”

 

Johnny, 51-- Rainier Beach
Johnny, 51– Rainier Beach

“You find something positive and you do it. Go after it. If you have a dream, go after your dream. Stay positive because it will come.

“Don’t listen to the world. You have to divide yourself from the world, you had a dream before the world came and told you ‘no.’”

 

Alina, 13 & Terrell, 12 -- Rainier Beach
Alina, 13 & Terrell, 12 — Rainier Beach

The world should be a safe place for everybody. Its sad that you have to watch out everywhere you are. Wherever you are walking, you have to look over your shoulder…I think it’s unbelievable.” — Alina

“I don’t know what to say… I feel angry and sad. I would do something about it if I could. I can’t start a march by myself.” — Terrell


The political power of self-care

In the midst of raw emotion, our first thought is not usually to take care of ourselves. Trauma, heartache and confusion rule the mind as we mourn the ones that are lost.

It’s easy to forget ourselves and put all of our energy into somehow making things right again, says Reagan Jackson, a fourth-generation black feminist who also writes for Seattle Globalist.

She uses Audre Lorde’s term “the political power of self-care” to explain the necessary steps black women and men must take in order to stay afloat.

“It’s my responsibility to take care of myself and to hold space for others to do the same,” she says.  

“We are super high-functioning, and all the while I am grieving Sandra Bland because this is her deathiversary, Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and the Dallas cops,” Jackson goes on, referencing the struggle to keep up with her daily routine amidst a wave of terrible news. “There at some point needs to be acknowledgement of a need for rest and a need for renewal.”

It’s counterproductive to neglect our personal beings in the thick of a hostile environment. But sometimes, Jackson points out, we ourselves don’t even know what we need. Whether it’s protesting or going home to sleep, we should recognize that all of those are valid responses, and not pressure each other to respond in a particular way.

The best way to encourage self-care, she says, is literally just providing space for other people to ask themselves, ‘What do I need?’

“Self-care is an active political rebellion against a culture that is desperately trying to erase us.”

This post was produced as part of the Globalist Youth Apprenticeship program. The program is funded in part by the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture and the Community Technology Fund.

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3 Comments

  1. Here’s a shocking idea:

    How about you stop lifting up criminals and acting like they were angels or killed for their skin rather than what they had done.

    Philando Castille? Honest mistake because a cop pulled him over in a high-alert area that was on the hunt for a robber.
    Trayvon? Assaulted someone and tried to beat his head into the concrete.
    Sterling? Had a rap sheet a mile long including a sexual offense. Tazed first, continued to resist, was armed and attempted to reach for his gun.
    Clark? Shot for preventing paramedics from reaching an assault victim. An assault victim that Clark had attacked….and was his girlfriend. Oh boy.
    Walter Scott? Tried to grab an officer’s stun gun and ran from the police because he didn’t want to pay child support. Also the cop who killed him is being charged.
    Michael Brown? Robbed a convenience store with use of violent force. Reached for an officer’s gun and punched said officer in the face. Officers are trained to shoot in this situation.
    Sandra Bland? She was detained for being a loud, disruptive person during a routine traffic stop and killed herself while high.

    Shall I go on? Cops are shooting criminals.

  2. @Rigato Caravel Please sit down and be silent. Having a broken tail light, selling cds in front of a convenience store, selling loose cigarettes, carrying a toy gun, or carrying a real gun that you have a license for are not crimes punishable by death. I am so sick of people trying to justify murder and posthumously put these victims on trial. Just stop. Your barbaric lack of humanity is grating on my last nerve. You are part of the reason we need more articles on self care. Not only do we have to fear police violence, grieve the murders of people in our community, but now we have to defend ourselves against your racist ignorance. You and people like you are the problem with America. You are illness. JUST STOP ALREADY. @ Damme, beautiful first piece. The pictures are so great. Keep writing.

  3. @Reagan, THANK YOU. your response is far calmer and more tactful than I could have managed. @Damme, you put words to the feelings I could not articulate. I appreciate your voice.

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