Today I’m turning this space over to Andrea Gourdine, who lives with her wife in a retirement community in California. A mutual friend sent me this article. Ms. Gourdine doesn’t have a wide audience of her own, but what she says here is more important than anything I could say on the matter. I’m hoping that whoever reads this will pass it on:
These are troubling times. What follows are my personal opinions that I hope will be useful to many of you going forward. People ask me, “Are you OK?” The answer is I’m trying to get there, but the struggle is not easy. I had a white friend say to me the other day, “I understand the protests, but I don’t understand the violence.” Here’s what a black person hears “OMG, you don’t understand at all.” The violent response I’m talking about excludes common criminals looking for targets of opportunity or from outside agitators seeking to use the protests as a vehicle to advance their own agendas. Those individual actors definitely should be roundly condemned, and punished to the extent the laws allow.
A black person’s response is deeply personal and emotional. I don’t know one black person who has not experienced a negative experience with the police, including me. I’m fortunate that mine were humiliating, but not deadly. However, I’m the product of a long history in this struggle. My great great great grandmother and great great grandmother, both named Amanda, were slaves of Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy. My great great grandmother was a personal maid to his wife, Varina. After she was “freed” she moved from Mississippi to Missouri. Her son-in-law, my great grandfather died for the cause. He was a minister at the turn of the 20th century, and in his obituary he was referred to as a “race man.” When I first read that term as a young person, I asked my grandmother what it meant. She told me in those days that’s what they called civil rights. It meant someone who was in favor of the advancement of the race. He was murdered, but no one ever established who did it. Was it blacks who thought he was trying to move too far and too fast or was it whites in segregated Cape Girardeau, Missouri? Their property was next to the Limbaugh’s, yes that Rush Limbaugh. We all go back a long way and that apple didn’t fall far from the tree.
I grew up in California, but I’m old enough to have been around for Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education, Emmet Till’s death, civil rights marches in reaction to Jim Crow south, riots and marches in reaction to Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy’s deaths, over prosecution and incarceration of People of Color, unequal access to health care, educational opportunities, job opportunities, and the list goes on. My family emphasized education as the way to acceptance and ability to take care of yourself and your family. My grandmother had six grandchildren, two with Bachelor’s degrees, three with Master’s degrees, and one with a PhD. Education did help, but the one thing we could never change was the color of our skin.
The veil has been drawn back; we are once again out in the open facing the back drop of everyday life for black people — being killed by police with impunity. We’re continually harassed, e.g. police being called because you’re simply barbecuing in the park, when a white woman felt that you didn’t belong in that public space, police being called when it turned out that you’re a black realtor showing homes — presumably in the perceived wrong neighborhood, or being stopped for simply walking down the street. Black people are pulled over without real cause when driving and end up dead, buying skittles in a hoodie and end up dead, playing with a toy gun in a park and end up dead, jogging down the street and end up dead, sleeping in your own bed in the middle of the night and end up dead, allegedly committing minor crimes e.g. selling loose cigarettes and end up dead. In reaction, there’s sometimes protests and news coverage and then it fades; we’re left to our solitary grief and outrage. No one seemed to be listening or attempting to resolve this problem.
Every black person feels this pain, whether you are the poorest of the poor or wealthy. Because at the end of the day, we are all black. That’s how you’re seen in the world along with the stereotypes that come with it. Ask any black person, if they’ve ever walked in a store and felt or were obviously watched. Or stared at if you were in an area where “you don’t belong.” It didn’t help that I was a woman. When I first looked for work, I was told things like, “you’re over qualified, we wanted a man, we’re not hiring today — even though I was responding to a want ad.” It’s humiliating and a reminder that you’re just another black body to be treated poorly.
And now, a man is essentially lynched for allegedly attempting to pass a counterfeit $20.00 bill to buy food in the middle of a pandemic and a massive economic downturn not seen since the Great Depression of the 1920’s. There was no judge or jury. Just a man, who it turns out had already suffered from Covid19, is forcibly lying in the street with the weight of police offers on his back and kneeing his neck while he cries out for his dead mother. The perpetrator was very comfortable with his hands in his pockets as he rocked his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck, showing me that he’d done this before. The two others on his back, meant to me that they were complicit and couldn’t tell on each other without implicating themselves. The very human emotion of Mr. Floyd’s cries that he couldn’t breathe and asking for help touched a lot of people, but it was viscerally felt by all black people.
So I want to scream when I hear people say, I don’t understand the violent response. This is years, decades, and centuries of abuse. Black people consider each one that died as the death of a relative, because it could so easily be someone we know. We can relate it to our child, sibling, cousin, uncle, aunt or understand that it could have been us that was killed. Consider it this way, assume you have three brothers and one sister. They have all been killed by the police, one by one in different years and circumstances. Each time through your tears and grief, you picked yourself up and kept going, hoping and praying for a better day. And now, before being officially notified, you see a TV videotape of the police killing your only child for allegedly a non violent crime!! Tell me, at that point, would you have patience, tolerance, and a peaceful attitude?? Or would you be angry?? Enraged?? Possibly violent??
Thankfully, I have had other friends who have contacted me as well, just to say I’m with you. Let me know how I can support you. For me, a kind word is all that’s needed. I don’t have to worry about housing, food, health care or income; but I have family who do. My cultural family is collectively calling out for help, and it deeply pains me. But, all is not lost. There are people who do understand. However, the struggle continues. I’m hopeful that once again, good will prevail. Just as the 1960’s protests brought us civil rights, voting rights. I’m hopeful that the 2020 protests will give us so much more, mainly because it’s brought together a cross section of America protesting, not just People of Color. I just hope I can be here to witness it.