It’s ironic that Americans are caught in a pandemic, which the CDC has us wearing masks. The masks are supposed to protect us from the air of other people that may be infected with coronavirus and protect others from us, in the case that we are an asymptomatic coronavirus carrier. But, even in this pandemic and crisis, when so many of us are grieving from loss and sorrow, we are again faced with being “breathless” in America.
During this pandemic, we discovered that the coronavirus was affecting black people at a disproportionately higher rate than any other population. According to the CDC, the virus attacks the body with flu like symptoms, leaving its victims with the inability to breathe on one’s own. This disease has hit our communities hard, and all of a sudden. Many of us have suffered the loss of loved ones, without the inability to say our proper final goodbyes.
We have learned, and constantly had to relearn, that no mask can save us from a virus of the heart. Historically, Black people in America have been screaming, crying out, and dying “without breathe or air.” Beginning from being enslaved, watching our families dismantled and children sold to the highest bidder to the destruction of Black Wall Street and Rosewoods to a civil rights movement that only exposed more inequities and created the institutional, individual, and systemic racism that we live with and in today. The revolution has always been televised. On July 17, 2014, an unarmed black man named Eric Garner died on Staten Island, N.Y., after police officers threw him to the ground and put him in a chokehold. Garner’s last words, as recorded on a cellphone video, were: “I can’t breathe.” He repeated the phrase 11 times.
Within the last six months, three black bodies have been innocently claimed by white people: Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd. Two of those killings were videoed by bystanders or witnesses, allowing the whole world to witness the modern day public lynching of Ahmaud Arbery, a 25- year old young man who was jogging through the park in Georgia, chased and killed by two armed white men, and, George Floyd, a 46- year old man, arrested for a non-violent crime in Minneapolis, was killed by a white police officer, who kept his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, while he cried, “I can’t breathe.”
We have to realize that even the air we breathe isn’t free. Christian Cooper, a Black man and avid bird watcher was in the park, when he asked a white woman to put her dog on a leash. Instead of being in compliance with the park’s rules, her privilege became insulted when challenged by a Black man, and she called 911 on the man claiming he was threatening her and her dog. No matter what we are doing, who we are, or where we are, Black people must always stay on alert, especially when dealing with law enforcement.
As serious is this virus is and as many lives as it has claimed, nothing can compare to the lives that have been senselessly lost to racism throughout the years. And, are wearing our masks and still can’t breathe. We are mothers of Black sons, and we can’t breathe. We are wives of Black men, and we can’t breathe. We are fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, friends…of someone Black, and we can’t breathe. WE are tired… this is the millionth time we are here again… protesting, crying, calling for change. While we are waiting for change, and hoping that it comes soon, many of us, are left again, in America, “the home of the free, the land of opportunity,” breathless. “We can’t breathe.”