Am I Next? This is a thought that does not come to mind everyday, but when it does, it’s enough to make any person challenge and be angry at the ideal that, “All Men are Created Equal.” It angers me to see my brothers and sisters continually being unjustly murdered in the streets. Every time I embrace my wife and 3-year old daughter, I am flooded with the same question: Is this the last time they will embrace me.
AM I NEXT?
The past three weeks, for me, have been filled with roller coaster emotions. I have felt these emotions before, but this ride has been much more intense. We all saw Ahmad Arbery running, fighting for his life, and ultimately murdered. We all heard the cries of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe! Please! Your knee in my neck!”
His cries for help were not unfamiliar to Black Americans for we have heard cries for help from our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, cousins, grandparents, and friends. We also saw Amy Cooper weaponize her white privilege in an attempt to show Christian Cooper how inferior he was to her when she stated, “I’m taking a picture and calling the cops…I’m going to tell them there is an African American man threatening my life.”
This one call could have ended like so many real-life scripts that we have seen, in which a Black person loses their life.
AM I NEXT?
The situations Black folks experience in America are not isolated events. Since 1619, history has been the marker with which we can see the long list of millions of Black folk that have been enslaved (246 years), lynched, segregated, deprived, marginalized, murdered, discriminated, discounted and not believed. 12 years after the 13th Amendment, which actually freed enslaved Black bodies, Black folk were more prosperous than we had ever been.
“The situations Black folks experience in America are not isolated events.”
Nonetheless, the Great Compromise of 1877, fueled by white jealousy of Black success and prosperity, unleashed 103 years of Jim Crow on Blacks across the U.S. This destroyed businesses, the ability to own a home, congressional positions held, human rights, and denied Black folk the ability to build wealth, which kept people like my 5x Great Grandfather, Anthony Lewis, who was brought here as a slave, from leaving any legacy to his children and grandchildren.
AM I NEXT?
According to Roland Martin, 2013 NABJ National Journalist of the Year, the marker when Black Americans were technically fully free was 1970, meaning you could work anywhere, live anywhere, or eat anywhere. My mother was born in 1958 and attended a segregated school until 5th grade.
This means that my three sisters and I are the first generation in our family to be born technically fully free. Even though we had important legislation such as the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Fair Housing Act of 1968, there is a mountain of research and life experiences that show how Black Americans continued to face lynchings, segregation, deprivation, marginalization, oppression, murder, discrimination, discounted and not believed from the 1960s forward.
AM I NEXT?
Fast-forwarding to the 1990s were Black folk, mostly men, have been the targets of police brutality, mass incarcerations, devaluing of life, and the subject of fear in the minds of people. This fear people have displayed for centuries has led to Black folk to work even harder to assimilate to the dominant culture.
As many Black leaders have noted, if Black people in this country do not master the ability to bend, this system of systemic racism will break them. We’ve changed our hair, we’ve changed our clothing, we’ve learned to adjust the way we talk when in white spaces, and more. This assimilation is something that most Black people do not even realize anymore because this has become such a survival mechanism.
Nonetheless, research shows that more than 80% of white people have very high levels of unconscious racial bias. This bias has lead and continues to lead to the denial of access to much-needed resources and dehumanization merely because of the color of one’s skin.
AM I NEXT?
As a Black man, husband, father, and son, I ask that all Americans, especially my white brothers and sisters, not just stand with me, but also do the work of learning about the full history and injustices that plague Black Americans.
Why am I asking this? Because I DO NOT WANT TO BE NEXT.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated that “Negros hold only one key to the double lock of peaceful change. The other is in the hands of the white community…we have written a Declaration of Independence, itself an accomplishment, but the effort to transform the words into a life experience still lies ahead.”
King Jr., Martin Luther. Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? New York, Harper & Row Publishers, Inc, 1968.
Martin, Roland. “Anti-racism activist Jane Elliott & Roland Martin 2017 WCTF Conference Keynote Address.” YouTube, 15 October 2018, https://youtu.be/LNgS78-Wjcc?t=1500