black politics final

Illustration by Jaye Elizabeth Johnson.

That time your hometown wants to silence your voice and rid the streets of your kind. That time you let them.

I was far from my Cincinnati home when I stumbled across startling news of it. For the first time, I was hours away from any family and attending a week-long seminar at the Savannah College of Art and Design with hundreds of other prospective students. Sitting on the steps of a school building, I watched Sam DuBose die in his car on the screen of my cell phone. Through headphones, I heard the shots reverberate, only ten miles away from my neighborhood. He was shot in the head by a University of Cincinnati police officer. It had happened the month before, July 19, while I was eating dinner at home, twenty minutes away. Back in Savannah, waiting for the bus, surrounded by strangers, I bowed my head, hiding the beginnings of helpless tears. I thought back to a YouTube video I’d seen just days before, figuring a way to “call in black” to the activities planned for the evening ahead of me, while resisting the switch from Safari to phone app to call my mom. I needed a sympathetic, familiar black ear to hear, to understand, the sadness and disappointment and anger brewing in my heart and clenched fists.

I sat alone on the bus as boys my age lamented the stupidity of “the blacks” and mocked their ramshackle homes. Maybe I could have been angrier, but I was only numb. How can people be so cruel?  Where was my city in this time of injustice and hatred? Why hadn’t I known?  I searched my mind for answers, but I already knew them. Maybe I was trying to fool myself, convince myself that my anticipation of that fatal moment was really surprise instead. Maybe I was telling myself that his death, in this country, in this time, wasn’t a matter of when, but if, it would happen to us. But it was a matter of when.

Cincinnati is one of the most segregated cities in America. Its suburbs are either black and crumbling or white and affluent, and downtown is divided the same way. Over the Rhine, a former urban nightmare, full of violence and dark faces, is cleaning itself up, taking out the black trash. Greedy, white developers are investing in evictions and cute popsicle stands; they are the saviors of the vintage-but-new millennial world, clearing the obstacles, destroying the lives. I myself love popsicles in weird flavors and yummy waffles and art that is easy to digest. I myself love the new, clean streets near Washington Park where they’ve set up a coffee stand and bluegrass nights. I invest in these abuses. I am not guiltless.

And maybe that is where my fear and anger lie, in my participation, my residence, in what is rich and white and racist. I live up in a squeaky-clean suburb where my first grade self was accused of not being black because I was smart and nice and fun to play with, where everyone carries designer bags and owns fifty Patagonia jackets. The thing is, I want a Patagonia and L.L.Bean boots. I want to participate, and a not-so-little part of me wants to assimilate.

But I also want to get angry. To yell at the white boys in AP US Government who sympathized with that cop, who said Sam DuBose was a “meth head” so, somehow, he deserved to be gunned down. So what he had a record? So what he smoked pot? Does that erase his humanity? I want to kick and scream and throw punches and slam the door on my way out. But I also want to be welcomed back into the arms of my white friends, and I can’t have both.

So I stay quiet, wishing I had a community to hold my pain and the courage to voice it. I wish I taken that day off in Savannah, skipped that gov class, “called in black” when my sense of Cincinnati safety was shattered. I walk to my science lab, pass unfeeling white faces. Sam DuBose has been killed. What if I’m next? My eyes plead. No one is concerned. Instead, I am stopped to discuss rides to a concert at Music Hall. “Maybe we can grab a bite in OTR!”