The morning of May 4, I was on a run for my usual three miles. The clear sky and sunshine with just the right amount of wind made it the perfect day for my outside, socially distanced activity. I run three times a week to be in my own little world with my detoxifying pores, my thoughts, my music. And most importantly, I run to feel breath entering and leaving my body as a reminder that I am alive.
Unbeknownst to me, the video of Ahmaud Arbery’s death went viral on Twitter May 4 and awaited me when I finished my workout and exited my utopia.
I cannot recall my initial reaction to watching a father-son duo execute 25 year old Arbery in broad daylight while on his run in a Georgia neighborhood named Brunswick. In fact, the only response I remember is a deep sense of numbness and lack of shock that such a recording exists in 2020 — a century with innumerable amounts of Black death that if it weren’t for technological advances, it would be the spitting image of 1820.
Becoming desensitized to racism and its harm is not uncommon. It’s actually a key aspect to how it continues to successfully function.The combination of hypervisibility and invisibility supports desensitization and enables deadly realities such as Arbery’s to continue in its many iterations. Hypervisibility operates as an everlooming understanding that the problem is at the surface and so apparent it would be easier to lose your nose. While at the same time, invisibility masks occurrences as regularly scheduled programming, nothing out of the ordinary and completely on brand for the United States.
In other words, racism is there, but it’s not there… until it’s there, which eventually creates a monotonous loop, rocking people to sleep.
When law enforcement killed Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Philando Castille in previous years without any criminal prison time served, it set the precedent for the sad reality to continue. Such a normalization escalated to empowering Arbery’s assassins, Gregory and Travis McMichael, to confidently taking his life because they knew they could.
It’s a matter of white people deciding where Black people do not belong, irrespective of basic definitions of humanity, and going to the unthinkable to maintain the current, racist status quo.
Unfortunately, the frequency at which it happens and its escalating levels of aggressions inversely relate to accountability.
As seen with the progression from Trayvon Martin to Garner to Brown — that is, a fatal shooting that went to trial and ended in an acquittal, a choke hold that did not earn an indictment of the perpetrator and, lastly, multiple gunshots resulting in death that were not enough to garner an indictment — the criminal justice system and this country at large fail at two main concepts. One, protecting the Black community from those sworn to protect it and fellow community members. And secondly, holding the wrongdoers accountable. These failures are attributable to how racism is technically legal in a colorblind framework such as the United States, making it difficult to win cases arguing otherwise.
Yes, there are laws prohibiting employers from discriminating based on race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, etc. We’ve all read that disclosure note at the end of paperwork.
But in matters of wrongful killings, it is difficult to prove racism because the moral argument of how it’s wrong does not hold up in court. Plus colorblindness functions in a way that doesn’t consider race as a factor until it’s inserted into the conversation, only to then become a conversation of “reverse racism” because someone had the nerve to point it out and therefore must be the perpetrator by default.
In a country that is becoming progressively embolden by the trend of racism and Black death, Arbery’s story is not unique nor does it come as a surprise. Neither does the other victims who have been caught in the crosshairs of this treacherous farse masquerading as a post-racial, just country. And if history repeats itself, Arbery’s executioners will walk free.
Two days after Arbery’s death went viral, I went for my second run of the week. My chest felt tight and I was unsure how to feel about running again. I pounded out my frustrations through my feet and let them carry me away to my utopia. Even if only for a little while.