Imagine that you have a friend whom you’ve known for over 15 years.
You grew up together and while you are not the closest of comrades, you feel as if you have a mutual respect and understanding. Whenever you’re around each other, you have a good time and it seems this person feels the same. You are confident this friend is in firm possession of a number of traits, one of which they often tell you is a commitment to justice and desire for equality. In fact, though you have lots of people you know in common, this is one characteristic that sets this individual apart.
Then one day, when you two are not together, you are viciously attacked and for no reason. While walking through an alley near your home, you are jumped and savagely beaten by two people you’ve never seen before who don’t explain their motives. They fight you until you can take no more and leave you lying there in a puddle of blood.
Some bystanders help you.
You are heartened to look up and find out that there was a surveillance camera. The owner of the camera provides you with footage. A feeling of vindication courses through your body as you watch these people come out of the shadows without provocation, avoiding an entire sidewalk full of others to zero in on the alley and make it over to you. You have done nothing wrong, and the footage shows this. You cringe as you watch and re-live this beating…the only solace is that they will be found. There are clear shots of their faces. It is obvious that they are wrong.
You call your friend from the hospital to talk about the incident. You are so upset as you relay the events that you don’t even really take in the response. Your friend says they are “truly sorry about what happened,” and then they somehow find a way to get off the phone. No matter, you think, as you still have lots of people to call. Your relatives are in the lobby, supporting you. You know you have your friend’s support.
You obtain a personal copy of the surveillance and, during a visit to the hospital, you show it to a number of people, one of which is this friend. Everyone else crowded around your bed is aghast. They reach out to hug you, to reassure you, to share their horror at what happened.
Your friend, however, sits silently in a chair very close to the door. At some point, during which you don’t even notice because you are animatedly talking to the group, said friend gets up and slips away.
Once you notice the absence, you call up and ask what happened. Was this person you know and care about so upset they couldn’t stomach watching? Are they sensitive to violence? Did they have an urgent matter to attend to?
“No,” this individual you have spent so much time with, whispers. “It’s just that, there are certain angles where I can’t tell if you hit them back harder than when they first hit you. Also, I think we have to be honest…the video doesn’t follow you the ENTIRE day. I mean…did you do something to provoke them and then this is when they got back at you?” Sensing your shocked silence, the person you thought you knew, offers another piece of commentary.
“It’s just…I don’t think we have the whole story, not yet. People don’t just attack someone savagely like that for no reason. Why did you cut through the alley?”
Your jaw drops open. You cannot believe what you’re hearing. Here is someone you’ve known for years, spent time with who is, first of all, slow to express any kind of empathy for you. Second, they were begrudging even in that, uneasily finding ways to avoid the topic. Finally, when faced with evidence, actual visual evidence of what happened, still no overt support. They doubt what happened to you. Correction: they doubt you, period.
But there is one thing YOU can be sure of. A person like this is not your friend. Maybe they had a good time with you. Perhaps they occasionally are entertained by you, and vice versa. Deep down, however, they could not care less about what happens to you. Faced with an opportunity to support you, they failed. Offered the chance to stand with you, they slipped away.
I’m sure there are very few people who would disagree with this assessment in their personal lives: Who among us would ever want a friend like that? This is why it’s galling to observe how many are so puzzled at the anger, helplessness and disappointment Black people feel in the faces of corporations and entities that treat them in this way.
From the NFL shunning Colin Kaepernick for simply seeking justice for fellow human beings to H&M offering a slow and half-baked apology for a galling lack of judgement with their clothing campaign, we are getting a very clear message. It’s a message that Black people don’t matter. A message that we are here for amusement, but undeserving of empathy.
Yes, when it’s coming from corporate, it’s quieter and much more subtle in nature. It’s an unwritten policy that allows White customers to nurse one latte all day (or not buy anything at all) and sit unbothered in Starbucks. It’s a meme of our first Black President being hanged or auctioned floating around on workplace devices, eliciting snickers and giggles from those who agree with it. It’s being accused of stealing from an Old Navy instead of simply being a loyal customer (previously) proudly repping the brand. It’s being accused of credit card fraud for making an expensive purchase. It’s buying a home with a predatory loan.
It’s all of those things and many more horrific ones. Laying dead in the baking sun or on a jailhouse cot over loose cigarettes, a broken tail light, a raised voice during a traffic stop.
It’s so much that we’re collectively exhausted. This constant, demoralizing stimuli makes you the kind of tired for which there is no re-set and no rest. We don’t owe anyone second chances and benefits of the doubt. We aren’t obligated to listen to apologies for ingrained behavior that will happen again and again. Those who don’t act swiftly, and with righteousness, will know of our upset. A boycott is a small slight compared to what we suffer daily.
Reflect again on the “friend” I spoke of earlier who has the privilege of being cautious. That person has the luxury of trusting authority and believing what they say even when a camera shows otherwise. They can walk away from anything that disturbs their peace of mind. Of course, they have the right to remain blind and, in fact, it may be in their best interest to do so to maintain the comfort afforded to them by birthright.
But for the rest of us, we cannot afford the wait-and-see policies that blanket some in this country.
We’ve already waited. We already see.