The Reality of Breathing While Black

“I Can’t Breathe.”

Those were the words of Louisville native George Floyd moments before he took his last breath. For 8 minutes and 46 seconds, he grasped for air as an officer suffocated him by applying the pressure of his knee to Floyd’s neck. Floyd allegedly resisted arrest but was already handcuffed. He was accused of a counterfeit bill. May 2020.

1n 2014, Eric Garner uttered these same words when a New York City officer placed him in a banned chokehold. He screamed the phrase 11 times, but the officer didn’t budge. His alleged crime: selling untaxed cigarettes.

I’m tired but I’m processing. I’m tired of processing because the truth is, between slavery, colonization and civil rights, I’ve never not had to process. 

As I struggled to articulate my thoughts about the way George and Eric spent their final moments literally fighting for some air, it dawned on me that we, as in African Americans, have never truly been able to breathe.

Our hearts race when we see an officer, let alone a group of them.

We give a sigh of relief when we’re let go after we’ve been pulled over.

We hold our breaths and alter our tongues in academic and professional settings so we can appease our non-black counterparts.

We puff when these same counterparts make insensitive and ignorant statements regarding our race.

We gulp after doctor’s visits when we’re told we have not yet inherited the illnesses we’re at high risk for.

We inhale and exhale to calm our nerves every time we’re being followed while shopping 

When the work of our culture’s creators are ridiculed and later appropriated, we fume.

We gasp at the number of reports about raped and missing women that go unreported.

We “woo-sah” when our people are wrongfully imprisoned and unable to afford bail.

We breathe heavier when we’re pushed out of the neighborhoods we call our homes.

For every time a life is tragically lost, we hold our hearts and cry….and quite frankly, the list never ends.

George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, Atatiana Jefferson, Breonna Taylor, Alton Sterling, Oscar Grant, Sandra Bland, are examples of the tragic culmination of our daily crippling experience. While we mobilize, revolt and look for the right solutions, we’re only hoping for one thing: The day we will finally be able to breathe.

 

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