There has never been a moment in my life where I had to stop and consider where my next meal would come from. I’ve never worried about the cost of books, about how I would get from one place to the next, or even where I would live. I have never wanted for anything in this life and I recognize that my parents, to the best of their ability, have spoiled me with privilege. While I may not be upperclass, I don’t come from any means of significant economic struggle. I’m not ashamed of or feel the need to apologize for the fact that economically I’ve rarely if really ever struggled. I’m forever grateful to my parents for what they’ve afforded me, to my grandmother who cleaned floors for 20 years so I could be born in America; but I will also never pretend to understand the daily frustrations of those who are not afforded the same opportunities or lifestyle that I am.
I recognize that there are people in Baltimore who have been given very few if any real legs up in the world, and when you’re consistently beaten down by those who don’t understand your struggle, how are you supposed to feel? How are you supposed to feel when you consistently lose people in your life to the circumstances of your surroundings. When you lose someone at the hands of those who are designated to “protect and serve” you? Would you honestly be able to “Chill Out”. How would you feel if your community leader, whose face resembles yours, whose skin is your skin, took no real provisions for ensuring your wellness and healing your pain?
I’ve always been raised to understand that the destruction of property is senseless, purposeless, and wrong, so I can honestly say that riots have always made very little sense to me. I can’t say whether I agree or disagree with some protesters in Baltimore who have chosen this option. What I can say though, is that I can’t pretend to understand what fuels people’s decisions to respond this way. It’s easy to judge and condemn, shake our heads and click our tongues, because we haven’t lived their experience. Rioting would most likely not be my choice of protest, but aspects of my life have not warranted such a response, my community hasn’t failed me, my school system isn’t ineffective. I do not know their lives; but what I do know is that those faces filling the screen each night are mine. I know that I can’t wear respectability politics on my sleeve to protect me from becoming another hashtag. My privilege does not ensure that I won’t be Freddie, or Rekia, or Trayvon, or Amadou, or Eric, or Emmett.
For every moment spent lamenting over how awful the destruction of stores and property is consider how many people did not feel that lament over the loss of a life, something that cannot be replaced. I cannot pretend to understand how a person can be more frustrated over the loss of property than they are over the loss of life. I can only understand that those faces are mine, their skin is my skin, their blood is my blood, and we will always carry that common hardship.