The “silence of our ‘friends’” hurts my ears (2020)


What did MLK say exactly? Something like, “…in the end, what hurts the most is not the harmful words spoken by our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” I’m sure I completely botched the quote and truthfully right now Idgaf; this isn’t speech and rhetoric class. This is “real” “life” in 2020 America for Black people like me. Black people like my three sons whose very skins make them a target; like my precious daughters; like my husband who is only a few inches shorter than George Floyd and has a similar build; like my brothers, my nephews, my father, my uncles…what type of surreal existence is this that we have been birthed into? What kind of nauseating nightmarish version of “Groundhog Day” has entrapped us that this keeps happening over and over and over again? And again.

I can no longer keep track of the hashtags…I used to write them down in a journal. One I started keeping in 2013 after the despicable yet not surprising denial of justice that occurred when Trayvon Martin’s murderer was allowed to walk free in all of his guilty non-Black glory and continued to add to in 2014 after they killed  Michael Brown. Eric Gardner. Jordan Baker right here in my city. Dontre Hamilton. Ezell Ford. Yvette Smith. Little Tamir Rice. Akai Gurley. Then 2015 brought us the murders of Natasha McKenna…Freddie Gray…Walter Scott…Mya Hall…Meagan Hockaday…the Charleston Nine…Sandra Bland, and others. 2016 yielded the noxious fumes of the murders of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile…just typing out this (very incomplete) list is causing me to feel lightheaded and ill. 

It had been nearly two years since I have been able to muster up the ability to open the journal up and add more names to the overflowing list. Sadly, even devoting a page to each soul that was lost, there were still a number of blank pages remaining. Waiting for more names…more murders…more physical representations of injustice, racism, and state-sanctioned violence. More indication that our lives are of so little value that one of the most effective recipes for receiving paid leave or desk duty on the backs of taxpayers’ sweat is to put on a blue uniform and slaughter yet another pesky n*gger. 

Bonus points if you’re a white or white-passing cisgender heterosexual male; extra bonus points if the media finds a way to slander the deceased by mentioning evidence of a disability and/or a less than stellar past… isn’t that detention slip from fourth grade clear evidence that this person was a completely unruly thug whose very presence induces fear when under the white gaze? 

Cue “coincidental” release of footage in various places throughout the country of smiling urban children of color dribbling a basketball on a dilapidated inner city street corner with a fatherly white officer. And/or a news story about police officers buying groceries for an elderly Black widow or a struggling Black or Latinx single mom. Or an adorably “spontaneous” video of police officers beat boxing, or rescuing a litter of helpless newborn puppies from a cliff in an avalanche while hanging upside down by one finger. That surely compensates for some spilled Black blood, correct?

Wtf…what even is this?

Six years ago Ferguson imploded. Six years ago around the world a frustrated segment of the community begged people to acknowledge that #BlackLivesMatter – or at least, that they should. Six years ago Eric Gardner pleaded for his life as he declared in a raspy voice, “I can’t breathe!”

Five years ago, I had the opportunity, along with other volunteers, to be able to take an active role in helping to plan, coordinate, and carry out the Million Moms March led by Maria Hamilton on Washington Mother’s Day weekend where we protested police brutality, vigilante violence, and discriminatory policing policies that disproportionately impact people of color, people with disabilities, and other multiply marginalized groups.

Five years ago my baby boy, then a toddler, told me that he was tired of “marching because somebody died.”

This year, while gasping for breath as he died on the streets of my midwest hometown, George Floyd (coincidentally a longtime resident of the city where I now live, Houston, who had relocated to Minneapolis in search of opportunities that would help him to improve the lives of his children) echoed Eric Gardner’s cries of “I can’t breathe!” as he was asphyxiated by a heartless police officer as his fellow officers observed with detached amusement.

As the Cylons say in Battlestar Galactica, “This has all happened before. This will all happen again.”

How do I live in a world like this? How do I keep my children safe in a world like this, when their very skin causes them to be perceived as “guilty” upon sight?

How can I make sense of any of this? How can I keep going when each passing day brings exponentially more fear, rage, hurt, sorrow, helplessness, and despair? How am I supposed to feel knowing that my children’s skin color poses more of a threat to them than a newly emerged virus that has sparked a global pandemic does?

How am I supposed to ever trust those who are expressing more outrage over some d@mn looting than they can muster over loss of precious lives? You really think I give a FREAK about a ransacked CVS right now when the blood of my people cries out from the pavement of the “great” nation they were forced to build without compensation, their bowed backs laden with the lashes of the overseer’s whips and their mouths suppressing the agony of their empty stomachs, blistering hands and feet, ravaged anuses and vaginas, and browbeaten souls?

It must be really nice to have the privilege of choosing not to see what is so very clear. Of not knowing this angst, this fear. Of not having to wonder if the fact that you brought Black children into this world to dwell under these conditions makes you a monster who is complicit in their suffering. Of being able to pretend that this is all about some “leftist” agenda led by a bunch of “useless” ne’er do wells and encouraged by “triggered” “SJW snowflakes” who are blinded by “identity politics” and white guilt? You really think that, and you REALLY fixed your freaking mouth to SAY that?

You’re praying for us, right? Sending love and prayers and then going back to your peaceful lily white life while me and mine die inside? We don’t have the luxury of pretending that because even when the flames are seemingly gone, for us, the inferno remains. An insidious, pervasive heat that chokes the very life out of us. The injustice fills our nostrils like clouds of smoke while your hypocritical silence and inaction accelerates the burning that’s all around us, always.

And we cannot breathe. 

Recommended citation: Giwa Onaiwu, Morénike. (2020). The “silence of our ‘friends’” hurts my ears. Just Being Me...Who Needs "Normalcy," Anyway? [Personal essay.]