Another week, another person of color gunned down in this country. Asian spa workers. A young Black man. A Mexican boy. All living in different communities, all killed in different circumstances, united in their violent deaths at the hands of those who disregard their right to live. The same horror song, stuck on repeat since our national founding.
Created in Genocide and Land Theft from Native Nations. Tuned through the Horrors of Slavery perpetrated on Black people. Practiced on the lives of Latinx, Asian, and Middle Eastern immigrants forced by the destruction of their native economies through Colonization or lured by the purported “American Dream”. Remixed through Racial Redemption and Racist Backlash. Reissued in Mass Incarceration, Voter Suppression, and Police Intimidation.
And now the song is so fluent, it doesn’t need us to sing it — it sings itself and we hum along, barely paying attention. Or at least you do if we are white like me.
I can ignore the underlying beat of the money-starved neighborhoods, where the residents have never been allowed to build up generational wealth and big business won’t go to invest. I can close my ears to the sounds of defunded schools that lack the staff to encounter and move through student trauma. I can distract myself from the police surveillance that communicates to young people that they and those who look like them are criminals.
I bask in the beautiful melody of my “safety”, my “good education”, my “attractive locales” — and do not think about what lies underneath.
It is much easier for me to look at Adam Toledo and sing the same song: “He was in a gang.” “What was he doing out at 2 in the morning?” “Where were his parents?” “Why was he with that grown man?” “He must have had a gun.” “The police were just doing their jobs.”
But if I can pause the music for one moment…if I can imagine my child subjected to the same neighborhoods, the same schools, the same treatment by police…then maybe when I listen to the song again I begin to hear the discord. I begin to hear the terrible grinding beat that exists beneath the seductive melody. I start to hear the beauty of what Adam’s family and community did to raise him in spite of the circumstances in which we have put them as a society.
And maybe I can start to hear a different song, sometimes fainter but far deeper. One that buoys up neighborhoods and schools. One without the incessant drumbeat of policing and where community issues are resolved through support instead of criminalization. One that raises up the inherent value of those Asian spa workers, that young Black man, that Mexican boy. I’m listening for that song tonight. I’m not sure if I can hear it, but I’m listening for it and humming it myself.
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