Thursday, January 23, 2014

When being Black is Tragic


My cousins family buried him last week. He was my second cousin and leaves behind a wife and two small children. I think my cousin, his father, said it best on his Facebook today when he posted, "I asked God why and He said, because I am God!!!"

It reminded me, of course, of Qur'an, 2:30, when God introduced the concept of human beings to the angels:

2:30 (Asad) AND LO! Thy Sustainer said unto the angels: "Behold, I am about to establish upon earth one who shall inherit it." They said: "Wilt Thou place on it such as will spread corruption thereon and shed blood -whereas it is we who extol Thy limitless glory, and praise Thee, and hallow Thy name?" [God] answered: "Verily, I know that which you do not know."

Those were the words of a father, a man of God, struggling to understand why his son was taken away from him, from his mother, from his wife and his children. Those were words of a father, a man of God, who has dedicated his life to preaching a congregation in the way of God and is facing perhaps the hardest thing he ever will in his life.

He is a father who had prominence in his community to call for action and justice sooner than the families of other such slain black men were ever able to and still, the case is wide open. We still don't know.

And yet, so many other black men were killed similarly, senselessly, that week, last year, whatever. I don't know the stats, but there are many, and most of them (like all crimes, regardless of race) were intraracial crimes.

So-called "black-on-black" violence. So-called because most white people are killed by other white people, yet we don't call that white-on-white.

I get tired of the lame-o analyses, "I don't see black people marching when a black person kills another black person." Whoever says that doesn't know any black people and doesn't care to know anything about black people. We are deeply saddened, outraged and crying out for justice each time one of our own is killed. Will we be perhaps louder when there is a case like Trayvon Martin that harkens back to uglier times in the history of our nation? Yes, but that doesn't mean we are silent when our people are killing our own.

And calling these black people who have been killed "my people" and "my own" resonates with me even more now. This was my cousin who was killed. Months before, another one of my cousins killed someone. The cycle of violence, unfortunately, is full circle in my family.

In the wake of MLK's birthday and my realization about how little about the man I know, my realization that school's now been out for me for over a year and half now and anything new I learn I'm really going to have to teach myself, in the wake of my counseling patients who have lost their loved ones in similar, violent ways, I've arrived at a new state of being.

Sometimes, too many times and in too many ways, being black in this country is tragic. My cousin's case is a prime example. He was a man far removed from the streets, well-grounded in his faith, an honest man who worked for a living and lived to serve God. But he was robbed and killed in a neighborhood where he was the more likely target because he was black, by other black people who recognize that our lives are more dispensable in the public eye. Killed over a few bills and the chance to run free to rob another day. Tragic. He married his wife and was a present and loving father and now his children will grow up like so many black children in this country, without a father. Tragic.

So my new state of being? I recognize that being black in this country is often tragic and I want to do my part to help people grieve through those tragedies and to prevent those tragedies, if I can. No one else can do this but us. And when I say us, I mean my family, I mean black people. This is my purpose. This is why I'm still here. And I will work until the day I'm gone from this world at it.

Because the tragedy is greater and more far reaching than innocent lives (and not-so innocent lives) lost to crime. It's greater rates of prematurity, it's our children falling behind in school, it's the poverty of our schools, it's the achievement gap, it's the failings of affirmative action, it's lower university enrollment, it's failure to graduate, it's vacuums in mentorship. It's the prison-industrial complex, it's the war on drugs, it's red-lining and its legacy, it's post-racial assumptions. It's poverty. It's illness, it's greater mortality rates. It's poorer health for black women, our mothers, and it's the multifactorial loss of black men, our fathers.

As a black female physician who plans to do my own part to eat away at the social determinants of health, I plan to do my part, insha'Allah. Because if others are going to disregard human life, then I should be one to revere it.

Why would God place humans on earth, knowing our tendency for killing and corruption? Why are we here? No one has the answer. We are left to the mercy of the All Knowing, and we accept that mercy or we deny it.

I don't know why we're here, but I know it's not just for us to inflict pain on each other. With the potential for great evil there is an even greater potential for great good, and I pray to be one of those vehicles for good.

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