Alton Sterling’s family. Photo credit: Maya Lau, The Advocate
By Erica Joy
Jul 7, 2016
I am sitting in the Library at Slack.
I plan to leave work today at 3pm because that’s when someone has the Library booked and I can’t be at work today unless I am in the Library.
The Library is my shelter and solace from the smiling, happy, faces of my coworkers. The Library protects me from their good cheer and protects them from the stew of negative emotions currently on a low boil inside me. The Library prevents them from stoking the flame.
Last night I learned that yet another black man was murdered by a police officer. There was video. I was unable to watch the video. I tried, but immediately broke down in tears when the police pinned Alton Sterling to the ground. I gathered bits and pieces from the endless tweets about it, from people close to me who had watched it, from the video of the store owner, Alton Sterling’s friend, who talked about it.
Alton Sterling was selling CD’s in front of his friend’s store. Somebody called the police. The police tackled him to the ground, held him there restrained, and then shot him point blank. They did not immediately call for medical assistance. Two 28 year old men, hiding behind the badges given to them by the city of Baton Rouge and the power given to them by the system that says white is right, murdered a black man, a husband, a father.
This morning on my way to work, I scrolled through Twitter while riding BART to work. I encountered a video of a press conference of Alton Sterling’s family. His 15 year old son was visibly and vocally destroyed. His father, doing nothing wrong, was suddenly ripped away from him. This young black man, who lives in this society where young black men are conditioned to be “hard” and “tough”, could not help but to bawl at the loss of his father. My heart broke. I closed the video and looked up at the ceiling in an attempt to hold my tears back.
I got to work and made a beeline for the Library. Headphones on, so I could pretend not to hear the cheerful greetings. Head down, so I would not make eye contact. I did not want to invite a discussion that would almost certainly include the sort of banter wherein I would be expected to be pleasant and smiling and say “Fine, how are you,” in response to a query about how I’m doing. In therapy I learned that I shouldn’t lie to people about how I’m feeling to protect them, but sometimes, I don’t want to deal with the emotional weight of having to explain my feelings to someone who couldn’t possibly understand them, no matter how hard they tried. This morning was one of those times.
Though many black folks joke about it, there is no such thing as “calling in black.” To call in black would be a radical act of self care, were it available to most black people. On the day after we have watched yet another black body be destroyed by modern day slave patrols, it would be helpful for us to be able to take a day away to process. To grieve. To hurt. To be angry. To try to once again come to grips with the fact that many people in this country, especially those in power, consider us disposable at best.
It would be equally helpful to be shielded from the smiling, happy, faces of those oblivious of what it is like to watch someone who could easily be your brother, cousin, auntie, or nephew be murdered in cold blood. To not have to force a smile when a coworker greets you with anything but grim remorse. To not have to think about the what it must be like to be so shielded, so protected, so blissfully unaware that you are able to utter the words “good morning” when the morning is anything but. To avoid the inevitable “Oh, I hadn’t heard,” belying that person’s “commitment to inclusion,” as to include me is to know that my people continue to be systemically marginalized and brutalized, to include me is to go out of your way to make yourself aware, to include me is to speak up about it. And today I don’t want to be reminded that I’m not really included.
But because most of us work in companies largely helmed by non-black people, there is nobody in a position of power who would even understand the need to “call in black” and so it does not exist, at least in my workplace.
And so I sit at work, in this Library, in my shelter, with my headphones on, as removed from anyone else as I can possibly be, while I process, and grieve.
Rest in Power Alton Sterling. You, like all those before you, did not deserve to be added to the list of hashtags.
Update: Yesterday after I published this, Stewart reached out to me to say this: “You, or anyone else, can call in Black any day.” Not 3 hours after that, I learned of yet another brutal and senseless shooting of a Black man by a police officer. I did not watch that video either. I cannot. I cannot continue to watch Black people die at the hands of police. And like yesterday, I am grieving, hurting, mourning, aching, worrying, angry, and scared. Unlike yesterday, I will do this in a safe space. Today I am calling in Black.
Today I will give myself the space to grieve for Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and every other Black person that has been executed and all those that will be executed by the police, until we finally say enough is enough and put an end to the terrorism that we call modern day policing. There has to be a better way. This way that criminalizes blackness is destroying families, communities, and cultures. So while I encourage Black folks to call in Black today, I am encouraging everyone else, especially White folks, to stop shaking your heads, and moaning about the tragedies. I am specifically asking you, White people, to police your police.
I am encouraging you to speak up, to rise up, to ask questions, to shine the same spotlight on your local police department that is shining on Baltimore, Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Minneapolis, and Oakland. I am encouraging you to educate and inform yourselves about the police force in your area. How frequently do they pull over and arrest black people? How often are officers put on leave with pay for excessive force? How many people have they killed? What are they saying on social media? Dig. Look into every record, into every background. Leave no stone unturned. I don’t want your thoughts and prayers. Your thoughts and prayers are clearly not helping. I want you to do something that will prevent another Black person from being summarily executed for merely existing.