A Bittersweet Symphony
Update: On May 7th, 2020, the GBI arrested Gregory McMichael, age 64, and Travis McMichael, age 34, for the death of Ahmaud Arbery.
That beautiful smile and chocolate skin is all up and down our social media feeds. His bright eyes are inescapable. Another picture provided by his family — with that same smile and a Polo hat atop his head — reminds me of many Black men I know and love. I bet Ahmaud was Polo’d down to the socks that day. All those Georgia boys do that.
We heard from his mother, Wanda Cooper, about how Ahmaud had a sweet soul and a kind spirit. Ms. Cooper doesn’t look a day over thirty-five. She buried a son who will never get to see thirty.
Watching folks defend Ahmaud’s existence using measurables is unsettling. Being an All-American athlete or a kind soul should not be the reasons why we are upset about his death. He was a person who didn’t deserve to lose his life because he was running. It doesn’t even matter if he was running from something bad. He didn’t deserve what happened to him.
The sad thing is that Black folks plead to prove our worth in a world that eliminates our value due to our Blackness. We painstakingly plead for White folks’ co-signature for us to simply exist. White people became the standard-bearers of life and death, of existence. It’s the generational curse we’re struggling to break.
So as I watch White allies raise their voices against injustice, post photo essays lamenting the death of another unarmed Black man and ask God for justice, I remember how different things were in the past. Years ago, the cries of my people went unheard. We were called “divisive” by some and lectured into oblivion about how there is no such thing as race in the kingdom of God and Jesus doesn’t see color. We saw many of our White brothers and sisters in Christ unilaterally elect a President who continually refers to us as “the Blacks.” We were the problem childs in this body of Christ because we dared to say that Black Lives Matter.
So this moment is beautiful but painfully bittersweet.
Ahmaud Arbery’s death is unjustified. Even if he did rob a home as falsely suspected, Arbery’s punishment was not to be run down by two men in a pick-up truck because he was “haulin’ ass” down the street. He deserved to live no matter the circumstances. What we all saw seems too inhumane to be real. No way someone’s racism, prejudice and privilege ignites a flame burning of reckless vigilantism that the body of a Black man deserved three bullets into his frame. There’s no logic that helps this make sense.
It’s a sad state of affairs that as a Black person, I can rationalize racism and injustice. There’s no shock value in something that has always made sense.
“He was Black” is how it all makes sense.
These words do not seek to dismiss the growth taking place within this community. I knew we’d get here somehow and some way. Deaths like Ahmaud’s happen far too often for there to not be an opportunity for it to finally resonate with us all. It pains me that a body must bathe in cold blood for folks to find a smidgen of empathy.
Especially when the faith we all hold dear began with a death met by injustice.
We follow the ideals and standards of a man who sought to drive the wickedness of injustice and unfairness out of God’s people. A messiah who told the woman at the well that she mattered; who told the man lame at Bethsaida that he mattered; told the woman in the temple shamed for her mistakes that she mattered; sat with sinners and told them that they mattered and was here for the sick — not the healthy — because they mattered and he met an unjust death.
Just like Ahmaud Arbery.