I’m An Angry Black Woman. This Is What I Want White People To Know.

This a photo of my great-grandfather, Booker Howze.

The author’s great-grandfather, Booker Howze, as a young man.

I never met him. In fact, my dad never met him either. He passed away when my grandad was barely a teenager. Over the past few years, I’ve spent some free time trying to discover as much about my family history as possible, connecting dots of information across yellowed, torn sheets of paper that contain snippets of the people who came together and thus produced me.

A copy of the author's great-grandfather's prison record, via Ancestry.com.

A copy of the author’s great-grandfather’s prison record, via Ancestry.com.

On one of the sheets of paper shown above is my great-grandfather’s name. A Mississippi native who went North during the Great Migration, he was arrested in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania (greater Pittsburgh), at the age of 24. His crime? “Suspicious person.”

Let’s pause for a moment and take that in.

My great-grandfather, at an age where most of us have barely graduated a college or snagged a decent job, was taken to prison because somebody felt he looked like a dangerous, dishonest young man.

When it comes to matters of race, I used to focus on how to fix it. My thoughts always consisted of things like, How do we solve it? Is there something new we could try? If everyone did one little thing, it could create a ripple effect. I grew exasperated at older relatives and neighbors and even peers who had grown “jaded” by the system, believing that they simply were choosing not to look on the bright side, insisting that their “complaining” and apathy was not how civil rights were “won.”

Then Trayvon Martin’s killer was left to walk free. And then cop after cop was not arrested, or arrested but not indicted, or indicted but not convicted. And then I understood.

A photo the author took at the "The Mere Distinction of Colour" slavery exhibit at James Madison's Montpelier in 2018.

A photo the author took at the “The Mere Distinction of Colour” slavery exhibit at James Madison’s Montpelier in 2018.

I discovered how modern policing has its roots in slave patrols and not gun-slinging sheriffs in old Westerns as I’d once believed. Through research like the 1619 Project and the ”Mere Distinction of Color” exhibit at Montpelier, I finally realised that Africans were enslaved long before ― hundreds of years before ― the Constitution was even written, which means, of course, that when it was “signed, sealed and delivered,” it was a lie. White supremacy is just America’s big brother. Although they’re always trying to be better than him, they learned everything they know from his example.

When I realised these things, my feelings changed.

I no longer want the system fixed. I just don’t want the system at all.

Black Americans have consequences for our actions that are almost always potentially equal to our life. Try to pay for groceries with a counterfeit bill in the middle of a pandemic that’s left half the nation economically deprived and you end up dying in the street for the world to see. Play for your music too loud with your friends and a random guy can shoot you in broad daylight.

Yet on the other hand, calling the police on someone who’s done nothing illegal and who hasn’t harmed you could lead a white person to lose their job, take a hit in their reputation, and have people say that’s gone too far. To think that threatening or harassing someone based on race or prejudice should not have consequences is ludicrous. And it’s privilege.

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