I was a nine-year-old when I saw Rodney King viciously assaulted on Univision 34 in Los Angeles. I remember everyone seemed to be in disbelief, but I wasn’t sure why.
For a little over a year, the Rodney King beating and subsequent trial became part of our daily lives. As the days and weeks progressed, I was confused by the public’s outrage regarding the King beating. Having grown up in a Mexican foster home, discrimination towards Black people wasn’t always apparent to me. After seeing the video over and over on TV, I personally felt the police were just doing their job. Some of my peers expressed different sentiments, while others were indifferent.
After the verdict, my city literally went up in flames. School was cancelled. Some businesses closed. It snowed ash. We lived under a strict curfew. I can distinctly remember the smell of burnt charcoal, like what many Americans cities are experiencing today.
While my immediate family felt differently, how my community seemed to feel about Black people was clear. We talked about Black people like they were the scum of the earth -- except those who entertained us on TV. As we saw it, Black folks were just lazy, living on government handouts, and prone to criminality. Therefore, as a young child, I believed Rodney King, nor I, deserved to be treated with dignity.
My lack of empathy stemmed from my deep seeded hatred for Black people. Obviously, retrospectively, I hated Black people because I always felt abandoned by Black people. I did not have Black parents, Black siblings, Black friends, or Black neighbors. Growing up in East LA, all I had was “la raza.” As a result, I was embarrassed to be Black, I hated being Black, and I certainly didn’t feel Black.
After I moved to New England, the world started to box me into Blackness, whether I liked it or not. I could feel people looking at me with suspicion. I could feel my senior chief in the Navy look at me as undeserving and lazy. I could feel white people’s discomfort in elevators. I could feel I did not belong in certain places, especially predominantly white establishments. This feeling is so overwhelming, you internalize it and move through life avoiding it.
It is not to say these forms of discrimination did not happen in East LA, but no one imagined I spoke Spanish; I was able to make them feel uncomfortable and turn it into a joke. The world outside of my sheltered East LA existence, however, was very different. And no matter how hard I wished away my Blackness, to the world, I was just another suspicious Black man. I bought a U.S. Navy license plate holder for my car in the event I would get pulled over by the police. I thought maybe just maybe they will see me as anything other than Black. It never failed but once.
To say the least, race in America is complicated. So, I’m not going to write pointless political platitudes that mean nothing to those seeking change and make white people feel comfortable. Instead, let’s be honest with ourselves. From peaceful protests and demonstrations to looting and violence, the consciousness of America is on full display all across this Nation. The fabric of this collective consciousness is laced with race as a concept, racism as an institution, and racist people. As a result, today, that conscious is angry, sad, disappointed, grieving, complicit, sorrowful, mad, enraged, willing to look the other way, unable to look the other way, and God only knows what else.
It’s the story of America, and it’s not always pretty. It can be down right stank.
Today, I’m 39 years old and a proud Black American. Three decades have passed since I first saw a “brotha” get brutally beaten at the hands of police. In those 3 decades, it hasn’t stopped. Here we are today, bearing witness to another unnecessary, cold blooded murder of George Floyd by police, Ahmad Aubery by wannabe police and so on. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once lamented, "A riot is the language of the unheard." For three decades people have gone unheard. We’ve allowed this to fester in our consciousness long enough.
And now, our collective consciousness is being manifested by our young people in the streets of many cities throughout this country. They are fed up. I am fed up. You should be fed up. And, we all should be willing to acknowledge that the racist ideas we’ve been raised to believe created this moment.
As we move through this time, I’ll be expanding the focus of my “Community Conversations” to include youth voices and topics related to the current unrest. Join me in figuring out how we realize our aspirations of wanting to be a full just and fair society.