I ask because I sit stunned by your silence. And now, I am so overwhelmed by yours that I feel the need to break mine.
Do you think that a police officer will take the time to get to know me? That he will take the time to know of my prep school education and Ivy League degrees? That he’ll let me tell him that the first CD we danced to together was Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill? That we’ve vacationed with your family in New England, laughed over high tea in London, traded secrets in French…that I can actually tolerate a couple country songs? Perhaps these things have erased the fact that I am Black. Has our familiarity, our friendship, our experiences, erased the color of my skin in your eyes?
Yes, I have walked in your halls and laid on your lawns of privilege but make no mistake — I do not share your privilege. I travel to the South and have friends “in the hood.” I have the freedom to inhabit spaces that exist up and down the economic through-line that intersects race in America; yet the vast majority of those killed do not share my same ability to ‘lower the odds,’ if you will.
That said, I am Black and should such a nightmare dare befall me, all the officer will see is my Blackness. God forbid, I attempt to reach for my phone to show him a picture of me hugging you over candles on your birthday. I’d be shot the minute my hand moved in the direction of my purse.
Is it possible then…that in the case of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others, individuals who you share no familiarity, all you see is their Blackness? These men and women who had families, friends and hobbies, is their plight irrelevant? How is your gaze then different from one of these murderous officers who may one day gaze upon me?
Or am I assuming too much? That in the instance of an attack on my person, you might actually speak. The media might dig up old parking tickets and paint me as an irresponsible individual, a tactic now all too common in police brutality narratives: “wow, I guess I didn’t know that side of her.” Or as you watch me plead for my life in some bystanders’ scratchy phone video, recognizing the same outspokenness you once praised in class debates: “why didn’t she just keep quiet?” Or perhaps it’ll be the restlessness you’ve seen whenever Whitney Houston is played: “why didn’t she just keep still?” This is how the mind rationalizes an accepted system of oppression.
So I ask again, are you waiting for it to be me? Or one of your other Black friends? Colleagues? Neighbors?
I can only guess you might be afraid of saying the wrong thing, I feel I know you too well to think these tragedies don’t make you feel something. I’ve witnessed you post and repost on other matters of death, injustice and depravity. I know you don’t have a single friend in Brussels. In Paris. In Orlando.
So it must be some insurmountable fear of tripping on the land mines that any engagement around race seemingly sets that you willingly block any expression of compassion or anger. Well, I’d rather you say the wrong thing than nothing at all –it’s your silence that hurts me most. It’s your silence that contributes to this madness.
This letter has been peppered with my hypotheses and questions for you, and “you” is no one in particular. I am trying to make sense of your inaction in the same vein that I try to make sense of these tragedies. There is no lightness of being a Black person in America.
To close, when you see images of Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the other “names turned hashtags” likely to come this year (we’re only six months in and the official count is at 115)…all I ask is that you speak their names and should you be so inclined — march in the streets — in a simple prayer, protest, that one day you will never have to speak mine.#altonsterling #philandocastile
Funa Maduka is a film executive based in Los Angeles. I had the privilege of meeting her when I taught at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls 5 years ago – Funa was Student Rep for 3 years – and adored. She then went to the Sorbonne to immerse herself in the French language (for future NGO work in West Africa). She went ‘home’ to Nigeria to work on the Production of ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ – the film version of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel in which I starred, directed by Biyi Bandele. Funa has also held leadership and strategic positions at McKinsey & Company, the Clinton Foundation, and Goldman Sachs. She holds a B.A. in History from Cornell University and a Masters in Business Administration from Harvard Business School. She remains involved in various social causes in her community and beyond. Clearly, she’s a total loser, heh heh x Thandie